Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said the team will ice a more veteran lineup for Thursday's preseason outing against the Dallas Stars, and it looks as if he's following through.
The Avs will dress eight players that played regularly in the NHL last season and another 13 skaters who have played at least one game in the league. Among those that will play for Colorado are Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, J.T. Compher, Sven Andrighetto and goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Varlamov appears to be getting the start in net this evening in what will be his first NHL game in eight months. He was the first goalie off the ice following morning skate, usually the indication of that night's starter.
The Russian netminder was limited to just 24 games last season and finished the year on the injured-reserve list after having hip surgeries to fix his groin. Varlamov, who's last contest was Jan. 17 versus the Chicago Blackhawks, played the entire Burgundy/White intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday and finished with 23 saves.
"It was good that I had a chance to play for the full 60 minutes because it's been a long time since I've played," Varlamov said after the Avalanche's annual contest at the University of Denver. "I felt a little uncomfortable in the beginning and then as the game went on felt more and more comfortable."
Tonight marks the first preseason contest of the year for 17 players. Only Gabriel Bourque, Alexander Kerfoot and Spencer Martin will dress for a second-straight contest after playing in the Avs' opener on Tuesday against the Vegas Golden Knights.
Video: Gabe Landeskog on the preseason
Colorado lost 4-1 to Vegas in its first game of exhibition play, and while the team hopes to get a victory tonight against Dallas, it's not the most important thing with four games still remaining before opening night.
"You definitely want to win these games and get in that winning frame of mind, because it's hard to flip the switch once regular season comes around," said forward Gabriel Landeskog. "But we also know from previous experiences, I mean last year we went 6-0 in the preseason and it didn't really translate. We just have to make sure that we are focusing on the systems, making sure we are all on the same page, making sure the effort is always going to be there."
The preseason is a time for players to get their game to where they want it to be for opening night on Oct. 6, and for Landeskog that means playing the same way as he does when the contests count in the standings.
"I don't approach it really any different way than any other game. Just try to go out there and have fun and really just get back into things and feel good and create some good habits," Landeskog said. "I think I feel better this time of year than I usually do coming out of training camp. So just go out there and do my job, really make sure we are all ready to go when the puck drops because we want to make sure we are winning well here at home and start winning smart games."
A main focus of today's morning skate was on special teams after the Avalanche had eight power plays and six penalty kills against the Golden Knights.
Bednar admitted after that contest the club had only began implementing special teams into its practices and that they would be working on in it more in the coming days.
Video: Chris Bigras before preseason game vs. Stars
Having a strong penalty kill at the start of the year will be key for Colorado if the first preseason contest is any indication of things to come. There were 16 penalties (one matching) in the first outing, with eight being from stick infractions (hooking and slashing).
The league is trying to curtail the use of slashes and the general nature of using one's stick to stop an opposing player, and it will be a bit of an adjustment for the players to execute the new rules effectively.
"You saw all the penalties called (the other night), it's going to be a huge part of the preseason games that are coming up here," said defenseman Chris Bigras. "It's important to dial it in here early.
"You just have to mentally get around it, and use your feet to defend instead of your stick on their hands. It has to be stick on puck and move your feet at all times."
Bigras will be one of the "veterans" playing this evening with 31 NHL games and 82 American Hockey Leagues games to his credit. He'll be paired on backend with Sergei Boikov, who just finished his first pro season with the AHL's San Antonio Rampage and ECHL's Colorado Eagles last year.
Below are the even-strength line combinations that the Avalanche used at morning skate.
Projected Line Combinations
Alexander Kerfoot - Matt Duchene - Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Landeskog - J.T. Compher - Sven Andrighetto
A.J. Greer - Trent Vogelhuber - Brendan Ranford
Gabriel Bourque - Felix Girard - Reid Petryk
Anton Lindholm - David Warsofsky
Andrei Mironov - Mark Barberio
Chris Bigras - Sergei Boikov