VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Willie Desjardins is aware of the dire predictions, but the Vancouver Canucks coach thinks his club could surprise people this season.
"We have to believe that," said Desjardins as the Canucks prepared this week for their regular-season opener Saturday against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena.
"I think that's how you approach it. I like certain parts of our team, for sure."
But most pundits do not.
Critics were quick to put down the Canucks in the preseason -- way down. Many observers, including USA Today and EA Sports, have picked the Canucks to finish dead last in the 30-team league after compiling a 31-38-13 record and missing the playoffs in a 2015-16 campaign plagued by numerous injuries and inconsistency.
"I think we're solid," said Desjardins. "I think we're a better team than we were last year. But it doesn't really matter what you think. It's what you do on the ice. We just have to prove it. We can't say we're going to be a good team. We have to prove that we can be a good team. Until we do that, people get to pick us there."
Much of the proof will come if the Canucks can produce more goals after ranking last in the NHL with 186 in 2015-16. Vancouver's newcomers include high-scoring winger Loui Eriksson (via free agency), defenseman Erik Gudbranson (via trade) and Jack Skille (signed after preseason tryout.) According to Gudbranson, who was acquired from Florida for 2014 first-round draft choice (24th overall) Jared McCann in a deal that included draft picks, the Canucks are a good team with plenty of talent.
"We've set really high expectations of ourselves," said Gudbranson. "We've pushed ourselves over the last month of us being here. That's a tough pill to swallow, when you see everybody putting you at the bottom of the league. We have an opportunity to prove everyone -- everything -- wrong, and that's going to fuel us to come out strong here on Saturday and get off to a good start."
The Canucks also hope the season opener will help them get in the habit of winning at home. They went 15-21-5 at Rogers Arena in 2015-16. Gudbranson said the Canucks need to make sure they take care of business at home this season.
"It sucks to lose on the road -- don't get me wrong -- but it's embarrassing to lose at home in front of your fans, especially when you're playing poorly," said Gudbranson. "I think we have to have that in the back of our minds."
To start well at home Saturday, the Canucks will have to limit Calgary's top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Kris Versteeg, who was signed as a free agent in the preseason after initially trying out for Edmonton. Versteeg, a two-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago, indicated it will still take some time to get used to his offensively gifted new linemates. But he likes what he has seen thus far.
"You can really read their hockey I.Q. right away and see how smart they are -- and the plays they want to make," said Versteeg.
While the Canucks suit up for their first game, the Flames will be playing their third contest in four nights. But the Flames are still looking for their first win -- and point -- after bowing 5-3 at home to the Oilers on Friday night and losing 7-4 in Edmonton on Wednesday.
"This one stings," Calgary captain Mark Giordano said after Friday's loss. "But we've got to get one back right away (Saturday). It's going to be a tough game. It's the home opener for them. They're going to have a lot of energy obviously, and we've got to bring (a better effort)."
Offense was not much of a problem for the Flames in their first two games, as they produced their seven goals from a combined total of 76 shots. But the Flames will need to cut down on penalties, which severely limited their scoring chances Friday. Calgary recorded 24 shots in the first period, but only three in the second as penalties took their toll.
Calgary went scoreless on five power plays Friday, while the Oilers converted two of four man-advantage opportunities.
New Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, who served as a Canucks assistant for the past three seasons, hopes that his club will get more game action right after Friday's loss.
"That's your only saving grace," Gulutzan said. "You can't dwell too long, but we've certainly got to get better in a couple areas. (Friday), with our special teams, we made a couple mistakes -- so we've got to get better there. We're just going to keep going at it until we get good at it."
Backup goaltender Chad Johnson is expected to make his regular-season debut for the Flames after Brian Elliott took both of the opening losses. Ryan Miller is slated to start in goal for the Canucks.