By Dave Vest
The Coyotes will begin their 2011-12 season on Saturday with a game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. (AZ time).
Goalie Mike Smith
will make his debut with the Coyotes. Smith signed with Phoenix as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 to replace Ilya Bryzgalov, who was traded to Philadelphia in the off-season. Smith stopped 65 of 70 shots in the preseason and is ready to play.
“I think everyone is looking forward to getting the season started,” Smith said. “Camp isn’t as long as it used to be but it still seems to drag on forever. Guys are really looking forward to getting the first game underway.”
Other newcomers Daymond Langkow
, Raffi Torres
and Boyd Gordon
also will be in the lineup for the Coyotes, who are looking to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third consecutive season.
Coyotes center Martin Hanzal
, who signed a five-year contract extension on Thursday, will make his debut as an alternate captain tonight.
"It's a great honor, especially on a team that has Shane Doan
as captain," Hanzal said. "He's a great captain and I'm really looking forward to being his assistant captain. I will definitely keep playing the way I have been all these years, but with the "A" comes more responsibility. I will be a good example for the younger guys and everyone else because that is what assistant captains do."
Phoenix has won five consecutive season openers, but Head Coach Dave Tippett knows Saturday’s game will be a tough one.
“They are a solid team right throughout (the lineup),” Tippett said. “If you don’t play at your top level you’re going to be behind the game, so that will be our top goal.”
Coyotes captain Shane Doan
also is expecting a tough game from the Sharks, who have a few newcomers of their own to break in – including defenseman Brent Burns and forward Michal Handzus.
“They get after the puck hard, and they have a really good coach (Todd McClellan) over there and he does a good job of preparing them to start,” Doan said. “They usually come out guns blazing off the hop and you’ve got to be ready for that first push, especially if its their home opener.”
Thomas Greiss will start in goal for the Sharks, who have won the Pacific Division title four straight seasons. Antti Niemi, the team's No. 1 goaltender, is nursing a nagging knee injury.
"We're just not satisfied going to the Western Conference finals two years in a row," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Our standards have always been high ever since I've been here. We want to get to the Cup final and win the Stanley Cup for the Bay Area. We're focused and we're ready to go."
Forward Martin Havlat will not make his Sharks debut tonight reportedly because of a torn labrum he suffered during the IIHF World Championship in May.