NHL teams with familiar faces hope to get jump

The 48-game sprint of a hockey season hasn’t even started, and

NHL players are already winded.

There is very little in terms of a blueprint on how to prep for

a lockout-shortened season that will be crammed into just 99 days

after less than a week of training camp.

But ready or not, the puck will drop on Saturday and there is a

small margin of error as every game now carries extra weight.

”It’s not a grind. We want this,” said Columbus Blue Jackets

president of hockey operations John Davidson, a former NHL goalie.

”We’ve been waiting months for this, to have this puck drop and

hear the skates, bodies banging, and guys with lots of energy.

”Coaches have had months and months and months to get ready.

It’s all good.”

Teams aren’t flying completely blind because this is the second

time a long NHL lockout forced a season to be cut from 82 games to

48 per team. Back in 1995, the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red

Wings made the most of their opportunities and reached the Stanley

Cup finals.

”It feels like we just came out of an All-Star break or

something like that. We’ve got the same team,” Phoenix Coyotes

coach Dave Tippett said. ”The guys understand what we’re trying to

do. We don’t have to put a lot of time explaining terms or what

we’re going to do.”

The Pittsburgh Penguins are trying to tap into the past to get a

leg up now. Player development coach Bill Guerin was a member of

those 1995 Devils, who got into the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in

the Eastern Conference and rode the wave to a sweep of the Red

Wings in the finals.

”They didn’t start well. They were starting under .500 their

first segment,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. ”They were a team

that did have a lot of veteran experience, and we’ve talked to

Billy about his experience, and how the team came back, and how

they rotated players in and out of the lineup, how the goalie was

played, what the talk in training camp was.”

History suggests clubs that rush into this season without having

to rely on nametags might already have an edge.

”We can look at that as a positive for sure,” Penguins captain

Sidney Crosby said. ”Guys understand their roles and what they

need to do, and there’s trust there. Maybe with some newer guys you

have to develop that a little bit more, but I would say it can’t

hurt. It certainly helps a little bit to have that

familiarity.”

The Buffalo Sabres are in a similar position. Even though they

failed to reach the playoffs last season, they are returning a core

of players that surged to a 15-5-4 finish that left them just short

of a postseason spot.

Only Brad Boyes isn’t back with this crew of hungry Sabres.

Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff doesn’t have to teach his system, so his

focus this week has been on conditioning and getting his club ready

to jump into game action.

”We’re going to concentrate on trying to ramp up tuning the

body and getting ready for a real hard compete,” he said.

Ruff, who has been behind the Sabres bench since 1997, can

harken back to his own experience as an assistant coach in 1995

with the Florida Panthers.

”I remember going into it, you just thought every game meant so

much,” Ruff said. ”I think what you have to really be careful of

is not putting too much into the wins, and not putting too much

into the losses.

”Try to keep a pretty level ground.”

That is an easy philosophy to adopt now, but it is one that can

quickly change after a club’s first three-game losing streak.

”Every game is like a playoff game,” said Devils president and

general manager Lou Lamoriello, who has held those posts since

1987. ”The game is different today than it was in 1995. It’s going

to be extremely interesting.”

Training camps opened last Sunday, and with only six or seven

days before each team was set to begin the regular-season schedule,

there was no time for any exhibition games. Some clubs held

scrimmages within their rosters or brought in a minor league

affiliate to play against just to create some type of game

atmosphere.

Teams that have multiple players on their rosters who went to

Europe to play during the long lockout might have an extra step

against clubs whose players remained home.

”For me not playing, I’m definitely a little winded out there,

even after a quick burst up and down the ice,” Philadelphia Flyers

forward Scott Hartnell said. ”You can definitely feel the lungs

burning a little bit. I haven’t really talked to many of the guys

who have played, but they’re not bending over their stick and

things like that.

”Definitely the first couple of weeks you want to keep the

shifts short, not get extended, not do something at the end of a

shift so that you’re going to get caught out there.”

The Minnesota Wild have quite a new look to their team and have

been waiting months to show off new high-priced acquisitions Zach

Parise up front and Ryan Suter on defense.

With talent like that, the Wild certainly aren’t too concerned

about getting their new stars comfortable on the ice.

”I think there will be a sense of urgency, definitely,” said

Suter, who along with Parise signed a 13-year, $98 million deals

early in free agency last July. ”A shortened schedule, guys know

we have to be going from Day 1. In the past, you could get away

with having a little slump. But now with the shortened schedule

you’re not going to be able to.”

That is why the San Jose Sharks are confident their slightly

altered team will be able to thrive right from the get-go and start

to erase the memory of a first-round playoff loss to St. Louis last

season.

”We just have to go over a little review,” Sharks captain Joe

Thornton said. ”There is not too many new faces in here. We know

what’s expected of us. We know what kind of game we’re supposed to

play. We just have to execute it. Hopefully not having too many new

faces will help us.”

Sharks coach Todd McLellan is not only relying on team

chemistry, he is even keeping line trios together.

Look for Thornton to join Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski on

the top line, and Logan Couture, Martin Havlat and Ryane Clowe to

make up line No. 2.

”We’d like to see some new combinations and we’d like to try

some, but right now we’re going to go with some familiar faces,”

McLellan said. ”The understanding of how each player reacts in a

certain situation allows them to maybe play faster and quicker.

We’ll go that route to start. I don’t know if that will stay that

way.”

Perhaps until that first two- or three-game losing streak.

”You look at how tight it is in an 82-game schedule at the end

of the year, there is not very many points separating fifth from

12th,” Wild forward Kyle Brodziak said. ”I think everyone

imagines it’s going to be that much tighter this year. Everyone

expects that.

”It’s going to be a battle every single night, and more often

than we’re used to. So it’s good. The coaches have a plan, and

that’s their job. We already know they do, and I’m sure they have a

good one.

”We just have to be ready to go to be a part of it.”

AP Sports Writers Rusty Miller, John Marshall, John Wawrow, Josh

Dubow, Dave Campbell, Will Graves, and Dan Gelston contributed to

this report.