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Head coach Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks reacts to a call during a pre-season game in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Head coach Todd McLellan of the San Jose Sharks reacts to a call during a pre-season game in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

NHL Notebook

McLellan feels fans' pain Add to ...

"Only one team wins the last game they play and everybody else wonders what they did wrong."

At the beginning of training camp, McLellan said he addressed the Sharks' players and told them: "Our focus right now isn't on April, May and June. We turned over 10, 11, 12 players from our roster last year; that's a big chunk of the team. We have to re-establish our equity with each other and in the league and that's our very first goal. We'll go from there; we'll see where it takes us.

"The ingredients for our third and fourth lines (Manny Malhotra, Scott Nichol, others) will be different than in the past. There's a little more sandpaper there, which is often nice to have in those positions.

"Our team will take some time jelling I think because of all those changes - and it won't be a bad thing. It'll be a good thing.

"Will we get off to the start we did last year? We all hope we do. But if we don't, we'll have our share of adversity earlier in the year and maybe we can find a way of dealing with it better than we did."

Coaches call games such as Thursday night's clunker against the Avalanche "teaching" moments. Maybe, as McLellan theorized, having a few of them early on will make them better as the season unfolds.

SAKIC BIDS GOODBYE: Nice ceremony to honour one of the most admirable players of his generation, future Hall Of Famer Joe Sakic, who had his No. 19 jersey retired by the Avalanche prior to the opener. Sakic teased the crowd by saying home openers always gave him the itch to play again, but he quickly quashed the murmur of excitement that the remark caused. Of greater interest may have been a question that analyst Eddie Olczyk put to Sakic on the Versus broadcast. Olczyk wondered if the presence of the 2010 Olympics in his hometown of Vancouver gave Sakic any pause. Sakic answered: "It definitely went through my mind," and then Wojtek Wolski scored, interrupting his thought. Olczyk didn't return to the topic before Sakic ended his visit. Too bad, it would have been nice to get a clarification of just how seriously the lure of Vancouver played into his decision.

THRASHING AROUND NO MORE? One of the favourite pre-season exercises is to identify a darkhorse playoff contender from among the perennial also-rans and for me, it might be the Atlanta Thrashers. It's not as if the Thrashers' key additions have a known playoff track record either: Ex-Leaf Nikolai Antropov was not the answer for the New York Rangers to get out of the first round last year; and Max Afinogenov couldn't even get into the Buffalo Sabres' line-up, with their playoff hopes on the line.

Still, the moves made by general manager Don Waddell - adding Tomas Kubina from Toronto was the other key puzzle piece - supplements a line-up that finally saw a pair of home-grown players, forward Bryan Little and defenceman Zach Bogosian, finally break through. Little will start the season on the top line with Antropov and Ilya Kovalchuk; while Afinogenov moves onto the second line with Slava Kozlov and Todd White.

For the moment, the Thrashers are populating their third line with scorers as well - Rich Peverley, who was a nice addition on waivers from Nashville; Colby Armstrong and rookie Evander Kane. If Kane doesn't stick beyond the 10-game mark, coach John Anderson will likely move Marty Reasoner up the depth chart.

The primary difference, according to Waddell, is that for the first time in team history, the Thrashers have four reliable defencemen that can play as top-four defencemen. Bogosian plays with Tobias Enstrom; Kubina with Ron Hainsey and the net effect is the Thrashers are kind of a poor man's Washington, a team guided by a coach - Anderson, who like the Capitals' Bruce Boudreau bided his time in the minors before finally getting an NHL opportunity; and deploying a go-go-go offensive philosophy. If nothing else, the Thrashers should score a lot of goals and should be fun to watch - two qualities that cannot be understated in a market that probably isn't going to rush to the turnstiles to buy tickets, until the team starts winning games on a more regular basis.

Also like Washington, Atlanta also enters the season with questions in goal, because of Kari Lehtonen's ongoing health woes. The Thrashers will use veteran Johan Hedberg and promising youngster Ondrej Pavelec, and Waddell's only concern is that they don't put too much pressure on a 22-year-old net-minder and retard his development that way.

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