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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Thursday, October 9th (All times eastern)

San Jose Sharks (0-0-0-0) at Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0-0), 9 p.m.

(Sports Network) - The Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks kick off their 2003-04 campaigns this evening at Skyreach Centre.

Prior to tonight's tilt, the Oilers will retire the No. 31 of former goaltender Grant Fuhr, who will become the fourth player to have his sweater honored. Fuhr, who will enter the Hockey Hall of Fame this fall, joins Al Hamilton (#3), Jari Kurri (#17) and Wayne Gretzky (#99) in the rafters.

Edmonton earned the eighth seed in the West last season with 92 points (36-26-11-9), while San Jose was one of the league's most disappointing teams.

After winning the Pacific Division in 2001-02, the Sharks stumbled to a 14th place finish in the Western Conference with 73 points (28-37-9-8). San Jose's troubles ultimately led to the dismissals of head coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi.

Contract disputes with goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and defenseman Brad Stuart led to both players holding out and contributed to the Sharks poor beginning to the season.

When Nabokov, the 2001 Calder Trophy winner, finally did return he struggled and wound up just 19-28-8 with a 2.72 GAA and a .906 save percentage in 55 contests. He was even worse on the road, recording an 8-17-3 mark to go along with a 2.98 GAA and a .899 save percentage. This year he will have the benefit of a full training camp.

Head coach Ron Wilson begins his first full campaign with the Sharks and new general manager Doug Wilson is determined to make sure last season was an aberration.

To help his head coach the GM made sure there would be no contract problems to start camp this season and worked diligently over the summer to come to terms with young stars Patrick Marleau, Alyn McCauley, Marco Sturm, Scott Hannan, Mark Smith and Miikka Kiprusoff.

One player who will not be back, though, is leading scorer from a year ago Teemu Selanne (28g, 64a), who inked a deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

Edmonton put a scare into the top-seeded Dallas Stars in the 2003 playoffs, taking a 2-1 advantage in the series before falling in six games. Unfortunately for the Oilers, a playoff exit at the hands of the Stars is becoming an annual occurrence. Edmonton has lost to Dallas in the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, with the last four series losses coming in the first round.

The Oilers will open the season without restricted free agent center Mike Comrie, who is locked in a contract dispute with management.

Assuming Comrie doesn't return, Mike York, Marty Reasoner and Sean Horcoff line up behind Ryan Smyth at center. All three are 26-years-old or younger, and only York didn't register a career-high in points last season, falling 10 short of the 61 he recorded in 2001-02.

While Edmonton is fairly shaky on defense, team captain Jason Smith and 24- year-old Eric Brewer are two good reasons for Edmonton fans to smile.

There is no question mark between the pipes for the Oilers, who have had 32- year old Tommy Salo in net since he came to the team in a 1999 trade with the New York Islanders. Salo, however, posted his worst numbers -- a 2.71 GAA to go along with an .899 save percentage -- since the 1996-97 season.

The two teams split the season series a year ago (1-1-2). Edmonton, though, is unbeaten (1-0-2) in the last three meetings and 2-1-2 over the previous five matchups.

San Jose is winless in its last three (0-2-1) three trips to Edmonton after going unbeaten in its last five trips to the Skyreach Centre.

Edmonton is 11-9-4 on Opening Night, while the Sharks have posted just a 2-8-2 mark in their season openers.

10/09 12:45:40 ET


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