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About To Get Wild

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

When it comes to facing the Minnesota Wild, Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov has played at the top of his game.

Varlamov has been solid in his career against the Wild with him posting a 4-0 record, a 1.00 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage.

Head coach Joe Sacco said he thinks Varlamov has looked extremely good during the team’s training camp activities this week.

“He looks sharp, he looks focused, he looks prepared, he looks ready,” Sacco said of Varlamov earlier in the week.

Last season was the Russian goaltender’s first in Colorado and after an inconsistent start, he found his rhythm in the second half of the year.

Varlamov went 11-6-1 in his last 18 starts with a 1.88 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and two shutouts. Only Vancouver’s Cory Schneider (.953%) and Phoenix’s Mike Smith (.939%) had higher save percentages during that stretch and only Schneider (1.42) and Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov (1.76) had a lower goals-against average.

He also went 10-2 through a 12-game stretch in February and March, which includes a point where he won five straight games.

Sacco will look for another year of solid play from ‘Varly’ this season.

“With that position being the key position that it is on a hockey club, certainly when you have your top goaltender playing on a consistent basis, as a coach you are pretty excited about that,” Sacco said.

Varlamov will have to be at his best on Saturday night in the season opener against a reloaded Minnesota team (7 p.m. MST, Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.).

The Wild signed the two most coveted free agents in the offseason, left wing Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter - a move that many people around the country believe makes Minnesota instant contenders to win not only the Northwest Division but also the Western Conference.

“I think it will give them a different look,” said Colorado center Matt Duchene earlier in the week. “Those are two great hockey players (Parise and Suter) and it is definitely going to add a big element to that team so we have to be ready.”

Other than what they see of him on television, Parise is pretty unfamiliar to Avs fans as he had spent his entire career in the Eastern Conference with the New Jersey Devils. His numbers though are impressive as he’s scored at least 30 goals and finished with 60 or more points in five of the last six seasons.

However the success that the former Devils captain has had recently has not translated to his games versus the Avalanche.

Since entering the league in 2005, Parise has only played Colorado seven times with his teams going 3-3-1 in those games. In the past three seasons with the Devils, he has played the Avalanche four times (twice in 2011-12), but the Minnesota native has had only one point in those games (an assist on Nov. 30, 2011) and only five points in the seven total matchups.

But those numbers don’t mean that the Avs players are going to take Parise lightly.

“He is a workhorse and wins a lot of battles,” said left wing PA Parenteau, who played against him for two seasons in the Atlantic Division as a member of the New York Islanders. “He is all over the place, but I think if we play our solid defensive game and everyone does their job, we will be fine.”

The Avalanche and its fans are much more familiar with Suter and what he will bring to the ice as he’s played Colorado four times in each of the last seven seasons while in Nashville.

His former team, the Predators, was also the last club the Avalanche played, coming into the Pepsi Center for the season finale last year.

Suter’s numbers include him picking up 30 or more points in each of the last four seasons, including scoring 40 or more points in two of them with a career-high 46 points last year.

As a defenseman, Suter doesn’t put up the point totals like Parise does, but that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt out on the ice.

“He is going to play 30 minutes a night,” said Shane O’Brien, who played on the same defense with Suter during the 2010-11 season in Nashville. “He will be out there for half of the game. With Parise, he is a complete player. He can play in all three zones extremely well and they are a better team.”

Suter has 12 assists in his games against Colorado.

The season opener against the Wild will also mark the first game in the captaincy of Gabriel Landeskog.

He became the youngest captain in NHL (19 years, 286 days) and the fourth in team history when he was named to the position on Sept. 4, 2012. Landeskog beat out Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who was named to his captain position in 2007, by 11 days (19 years, 297 days).

The now 20-year-old Landeskog said he doesn’t expect anything to be different about his game when he leads the team out on the ice versus the Wild.

“It’s just like any other game, except for the jersey,” he said Thursday.

Other Notes:

  • Defenseman Erik Johnson is one of two Americans on the current roster and a Minnesota native. He grew up in Bloomington, which is about 12 miles south of Minneapolis.
  • Chuck Kobasew and Greg Zanon are former Minnesota Wild players on the current Avs roster. Kobasew played for the Wild from 2009-2011, while Zanon played most of the last three seasons in Minnesota before being traded to Boston late last year.
  • The Avalanche is 34-24-3-8 all-time against the Wild, including a 15-11-1-7 mark in St. Paul. Colorado went 3-3-0 last season versus Minnesota.
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