The Colorado Avalanche officially opens the 2017-18 campaign on Thursday night, taking on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. It's the first of three road games the team will play before returning to the Mile High City for its home opener on Oct. 11.
Colorado is 18-13-1-0 in 32 all-time meetings with New York (since 1995-96), including a 10-6-1-0 record as the road team in the series. The Avs have won four of the last six meetings at MSG, but they finished 0-2-0 against the Rangers last season.
Last Time They Met
The Avalanche and Rangers last squared off on Feb. 11 in New York. Colorado held a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play, but New York scored three goals in the final frame to take a 4-2 win. Gabriel Landeskog and John Mitchell were the goal scorers for the Avs, and Calvin Pickard finished with 26 saves.
What to Watch
After a season in which Colorado finished 22-56-4 and seventh in the Central Division, the Avalanche is looking forward to a fresh start.
While no one is dwelling on the campaign, the disappointment is more like fuel as the new season begins.
"I'm excited to be around more and try to lead by example on and off the ice. I know everyone is kind of excited to put last year in the past and remember how it felt and what it was like to go through," defenseman Erik Johnson told ColoradoAvalanche.com on Monday. "The beauty of it is no one has any expectations for us, so it really only matters what we think inside this room. No one is really giving us much of a chance, and no one really gave us a chance the year we won the division either. So it really only matters what you do on the ice. Anything can happen, and we believe in ourselves, so we're excited to get started."
A slew of new faces dot the Avalanche roster entering the 2017-18 campaign. Just nine players who skated in Colorado's season opener against Dallas last year are on the current roster.
Among the newcomers, Alexander Kerfoot and Nail Yakupov had particularly successful preseason performances. Kerfoot, who signed with the club as a college free agent on Aug. 24, finished second on the team with five points (two goals and three assists) in four exhibition contests. Yakupov, a former first overall NHL Draft pick who signed with Colorado as an unrestricted free agent on July 4, tallied four points (one goal and three assists) in three preseason contests.
The two skated on a line together with center Matt Duchene during the exhibition slate and showed promising chemistry.
Player to Watch
Defenseman Nikita Zadorov
Colorado's physical, hard-hitting defenseman missed the final 25 games of the season with a broken ankle. Zadorov still finished first on the team with 153 hits, which was tied for ninth among NHL defensemen at the time of his injury. Now entering his fifth pro campaign, Zadorov will be one of the Avs' top blueliners and heavily relied on as part of a defensive corps that's been infiltrated by a lot of youth.
Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk
The Rangers made headlines this offseason when they signed Shattenkirk in free agency. The puck-moving defenseman led all New York blueliners with three points (three assists) in three games during the preseason. During the 2016-17 campaign, Shattenkirk ranked fourth among NHL D-men with 56 points (13g, 43a) in 80 combined contests with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals.
Puck drop for Thursday's game is slated for 5 p.m. MT, and it can be watched live on Altitude TV. The radio broadcast can be heard on Altitude Sports Radio AM 950 or online at ColoradoAvalanche.com.
The Avalanche will hold its official season-opening watch party at Blake Street Tavern in downtown Denver on Thursday night as well. The festivities begin at 5 p.m.