MINNESOTA WILD AT COLORADO AVALANCHE
6:00PM Central Time, Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
Radio: KFAN 100.3 and affiliates
Fewer than 24 hours after the completion of yesterday’s 2-1 pre-season victory over the Mile High Meltdowns, the Wild will face the same divisional foe in another exhibition, only this time at the Pepsi Center in Denver. With many of its veterans in the lineup yesterday, Minnesota will go back to a look similar to what we saw in the pre-season opener, as Bruce Boudreau gives the majority of his roster incumbents another pass on traveling to play meaningless hockey. Minnesota’s group that night against Winnipeg was basically “The Iowa Wild featuring Charlie Coyle.” We’ll see that again tonight, as Coyle will be expected to carry the offensive weight once more, while Jonas Brodin will lead the charge from the blueline.
As we’ll discuss more in the Storylines section below, Joel Eriksson Ek finally makes his pre-season debut after getting “banged up” in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament earlier this month.
The official Hockey Wilderness opinion of the Avalanche has not changed since yesterday… This team still stinks.
We’re likely to get topsy turvied tonight in terms of roster selections, though, because Colorado dressed almost all prospects and AHLers for yesterday’s game in St. Paul. That means that we will almost certainly see the majority of their expected regular season squad on their home ice this evening, especially when noting that the Avs have to travel to Dallas for their third game in three days tomorrow. There’s no point in putting your core and veteran players through the ringer of a back-to-back with travel, so without actually knowing the roster, there’s a strong chance we see the Nathan MacKinnon’s, Gabriel Landeskog’s and Matt Duchene’s of the world this evening, unless any or all of them get traded in the next few hours. We do know for certain that Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in net.
The one guy that impressed me yesterday for Colorado’s B squad was Nikita Zadorov, who seemed to be plastering Wild players into the boards every time Minnesota touched the puck. Zadorov eventually had to “answer the bell,” as Mike Greenlay likes to call it, and fight Chris Stewart. At 22 years old, Zadorov clearly wasn’t interested in getting his teeth punched in by Stewart, but standing 6’5” tall and with arms like an orangutan, he seemed to have no problem just holding his opponent far enough away so that no real damage could be done. It was an excellent pre-season debut by the big Russian defenseman. Perhaps he’ll draw in today as well, as Colorado’s brass may want another chance to see if he can continue agitating the Wild.
The third line center role seems to be Eriksson Ek’s to lose, despite the fact that he hasn’t been able to participate in most of Training Camp so far, due to a variety of minor injuries sustained in the Prospect Tournament in Michigan a couple weeks ago. His competition is clearly Luke Kunin, but with Eriksson Ek out of the lineup until now, Kunin really didn’t seize the opportunity in his two games against Winnipeg, as many of us hoped he would. Kunin has instead been very quiet, so his inclusion on the initial NHL roster would seem like a long-shot at this point. With Coyle listed as a winger tonight, and Pat Cannone and Cal O’Reilly as the other two centers, Kunin and Eriksson Ek should both play pretty big roles.
Another big story that seems to be developing is the decision on who will man the blueline as part of the Wild’s third pairing when Training Camp breaks. After the top four of Suter, Spurgeon, Dumba, and Brodin, there are four guys vying for the last two spots (technically three if you count the Nate Prosser role). Mike Reilly, Gustav Olofsson, and offseason signee Kyle Quincey are the obvious options to make the roster, but Ryan Murphy, also signed during the summer, has impressed. He’s avoided glaring mistakes in the defensive end, and he brings a big shot from the blueline, a weapon only possessed through the rest of the defensive corps by Dumba, who coincidentally scored with a power play laser yesterday. Olofsson, Reilly, and Quincey will all dress in Denver, while Murphy sits this one out. Keep a close eye on those three players, because there is legitimate competition brewing.
We have now seen four different goaltenders—Niklas Svedberg, Steve Michalek, Alex Stalock, and Devan Dubnyk—man the crease this pre-season for the Wild. All four have had phenomenal first appearances, holding opponents to just three goals collectively over the course of three games. Dubnyk, who dealt with injury during last year’s Training Camp, was very solid in yesterday’s outing, looking like the calm, reliable Dubnyk that we know and love. He even made a highlight reel glove save in the second period that left Colorado’s Andrew Agozzino staring dejectedly at the rafters of the X, while Dubnyk hilariously gave him the stinkeye, as seen below.
It’s a great sign for both the Minnesota and Iowa versions of the Wild that this early in the pre-season all four goaltenders seem to be dialed in and ready to go. Boudreau will dress Michalek and Svedberg tonight.
Nick Seeler, Justin Kloos, and Sam Anas were assigned to Iowa after yesterday’s game. Put all three of their last names in a sentence, and you can come up with something extremely inappropriate if you work at it a little.
Mr. Russo had a solid story on Brennan Menell in The Athletic that’s worth a read.
Nothing new here, other than Eriksson Ek returning to game action.
We’ll have a Gamethread for you at 5:30PM Central. Here is the Wild roster, as tweeted by the official team account, though I haven’t seen anything on lines and defensive pairings yet. Also, how the hell did I write a thousand words again?! We just played these idiots yesterday!