SAN JOSE -- Ready or not, two points will up for grabs next time the Calgary Flames hit the ice.
And it's legitimate to wonder if they are indeed ready for a real battle.
True, it's the exhibition schedule and they were without half the defence corps -- including the top pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr -- as well as a few other key players while the Sharks iced pretty much their starting lineup but the Flames fell again in a 5-1 clash last night at the HP Pavilion at San Jose.
The result means little in the big scheme but captain Jarome Iginla wasn't going to wash it away that easily.
"It doesn't feel good. We wanted to win this game," Iginla said. "At the same time, it's about preparing now.
"We can all be better, all be sharper. We're gonna think about it and look at ways to improve. We all realize there are things we need to do to bring our game up."
The regular season begins Thursday in Edmonton, with the home-opener at the Saddledome two nights later against the Oilers.
Head coach Jim Playfair has until Tuesday to make his roster decisions and said that's been more his focus in the last week as opposed to wins and losses.
"We answered some questions, certainly, in these last three games. We know more about where we collectively have to get better and we know where our kids are. That's what we wanted to find out," Playfair said.
Which means he's not all that concerned about the three-game slide.
"When you look at how we moved our lineup around and how we tried to put players in positions, that's been more of a focal point," Playfair said. "You want to win, trust me we're not happy with the three losses, but we weren't jumping for joy with the three wins at the start of camp either."
That said, all's not rosy among the defending Northwest Division champs.
The Sharks are as good a bet as any to be the class of the Western Conference -- thanks to their potent top two lines -- and the Flames were nowhere close to matching them, being outscored 11-4 in two pre-season meetings.
Last night, Milan Michalek was the offensive standout scoring twice for the hosts. Joe Thornton, Mark Bell and Patrick Marleau also tallied.
Andrei Zyuzin scored late for the Flames to spoil Vesa Toskala's shutout bid.
The only other highlight for Calgary was goaltender Jamie McLennan holding the fort against Michalek on a penalty shot.
Otherwise, it was an effort that has the Flames knowing full well they better bring their game up a notch -- and soon.
"The coaches will have things for us to work on," Iginla said. "It'll be defensive-zone wise and the last couple of games we've been taking penalties, usually meaning we weren't quick enough.
"And our game is still physical. We're a little more talented than we were but it's still going to be about -- right from our d-men out -- physical play and intensity.
"In these games, it wasn't as good as it should have been and we don't like the results."
ICE CHIPS: Flames regulars not dressed were G Miikka Kiprusoff, D Dion Phaneuf, C Daymond Langkow, C Jamie Lundmark and D Robyn Regehr plus injured D Rhett Warrener (knee) and C Stephane Yelle (ankle/lower leg). The team did not update Yelle's status or any information about his injury, saying he'll be re-evaluated today in Calgary ... The only Sharks not playing but expected to be on the ice opening night were C Mark Smith and G Evgeni Nabokov.