Familiar rivals square off on the SAP Center ice tonight, as the San Jose Sharks host the Vancouver Canucks in the NHL season opener. Last season, the Sharks chewed up the Canucks in a four-game sweep of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Alas, that was the high water mark.

The Sharks, who have made the playoffs the last nine years, went on to lose an agonizing seven-game series to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference semifinals.

Usual suspects continue to fill the San Jose roster, with the core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, who signed a five-year extension during the offseason, make up the front line. The club also added forward Tyler Kennedy from Pittsburgh to provide another scoring threat.

One player who will be sorely missed is forward Raffi Torres, who is recovering from a knee injury. His aggressive style will be missed, as Torres was considered a catalyst in changing the Sharks’ playing style to a tougher, more up-tempo approach. Winger Martin Havlat is also on the mend. The club hopes both will be back in time for a late season push to the playoffs.

Antti Niemi will return in goal, and he’s coming off his best season as a Shark. Defenseman Dan Boyle, the oldest Sharks player at 37, will be counted on to move the puck from the back end, and Matt Irwin also will be a key player in stifling opposing attacks.

Unlike last season, when the NHL lockout dragged into January, every club has had a full training camp for the upcoming campaign.

But the eternal question for Sharks fans remains: Is this the year?