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Flames start year at home against Pens

The Calgary Flames will lift the lid on their 2011-12 campaign tonight, when the Pittsburgh Penguins invade the Saddledome.

Calgary has been a model of consistency for almost a decade now, having won at least 40 games in seven straight seasons. However, it missed the postseason for a second consecutive year in 2010-11 and hasn't won a single playoff series since the spring of 2004.

After the Flames got off to a 14-18-3 start last season, Calgary general manager Darryl Sutter stepped down and the Flames hired Jay Feaster as his replacement. The Flames, who are coached by Brent Sutter, went 27-11-9 under Feaster and missed the postseason by just three points.

Sutter seemed anxious to get this season going on the club's site.

"You hear about it, you read about it, it's talked about. Let's play now," Sutter said. "Let's get playing."

Superstar forward Jarome Iginla may not be ready to lace up the skates because of back spasms that have been bothering the Flames' top goal scorer since the preseason. Iginla led the team with 86 points a year ago, including 43 goals. It was the most goals since he netted 50 back in 2007-08. Iginla has played in all 82 regular-season games the previous four years and appeared ready to go for Saturday's game during practice this week.

"It was great to be out there and just be part of practice and be around the guys," Iginla said. "I'm getting ready for the first game. It's coming quick."

Returning to the ice won't be quick for center Mikael Backlund, who suffered a broken finger during practice this past weekend. He had surgery Tuesday to correct the problem and was expected to play alongside Iginla and Alex Tanguay on the top line. David Moss is expected to play in Backlund's place.

Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff has been with the Flames since the 2003-04 season and compiled a 37-24-6 mark a year ago with a 2.63 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Kiprusoff, a former Vezina Trophy honoree, has appeared in at least 71 games the past six seasons. Henrik Karlsson is the backup.

Meanwhile, the Penguins opened their 2011-12 campaign with a 4-3 shootout win at Vancouver. With Pens superstar Sidney Crosby still out with a concussion suffered midway through last season, Pittsburgh registered the game-winning marker by Kris Letang against Canucks goaltender Robert Luongo.

Matt Cooke scored twice and James Neal had the other goal in regulation for the Penguins, who finished last season fourth in the Eastern Conference with 106 points, but were defeated in seven games by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 33 shots and both shooters he faced in the shootout.

"It wasn't perfect for us but we battled through and got the two points. That's most important," Cooke said about the win.

Crosby has not played since January and opens the season on injured reserve as his return date is still up in the air. He did travel with the team, but is not likely to play on the team's three-game swing out west.

Flames defenseman Mark Giordano expressed his views on Crosby.

"Crosby's, In my opinion, the best player in the world. That's a loss for them but you saw how they played without him last year. They were still one of the best teams in the league.

"They have a lot of weapons there and a lot of great players. We know it's going to be a challenge."

The Penguins have made the postseason in each of their last five seasons, posting no less than 45 wins a year in that period. They defeated the Flames the last time they faced them in a 4-1 win on Nov. 27, 2010, as Crosby recorded a hat rick and extended his points streak to 12 games at the time.

Pittsburgh has won four straight against the Flames and is 10-3-1 in the last 14 encounters in this matchup. Pittsburgh is 3-1-1 in its last five visits to the Saddledome.