While there will be some crossover of players, the majority of the Colorado Avalanche's roster this evening will look significantly different than the one that took the ice two days ago in the team's first preseason contest against the Anaheim Ducks.
The Avalanche hosts the Calgary Flames tonight at Pepsi Center with close to three-fourths of the team's skaters playing in their opening contest of the exhibition season. According to the pregame lineup, only six Colorado players will suit up for their second game of the preseason.
For those Avs that haven't touched the ice with another NHL squad on the other side, the Flames present a welcomed change.
"You do training camp and you play against your own teammates and stuff like that. You try and go hard, and you want to obviously go hard and do the right things in practice to prepare for a game, but getting to the game is a whole different thing," said center John Mitchell, who will be playing in his first contest. "I think everybody is excited, especially the guys who haven't played yet."
Like their teammates did on Tuesday night, tonight's players will use their first outing to get back up to speed after the "slower" pace of offseason workouts and intra-squad practices and scrimmages—though this year's training camp appeared to be anything but slow.
"I think you want to get yourself game ready and shake off the rust of not having played a game," said Brad Stuart, who is entering his second year in Colorado. "Just be solid, make smart plays, be sharp. You're probably not going to feel as good as you want to feel, but you got to make sure you're mentally sharp and work your way through it."
The 15-year NHL veteran defenseman also noted getting back to the physical nature of the sport, taking and giving hits, and talking with his blue line partner in the heat of the game.
Stuart's partner tonight is rookie Chris Bigras, who is entering his first full professional season after a 71-point campaign in junior last year, making communication even more important. The two rear guards haven't been together much over the last week.
"I'll be talking to him, and I'll make sure that he's talking to me," Stuart said. "Make sure that is something that we're doing a lot, communicating. That is something you can do easily, and I'll try and convey that to him and anybody else I happen to play with. When you talk and sort things out vocally, that is the best way to do it."
For Nick Holden, Jack Skille, Mikhail Grigorenko, Andreas Martinsen, Nathan MacKinnon and Mat Clark—the players who will be appearing in their second game—tonight's contest is a chance for them to work on fixing any errors from the first night while continue building toward Oct. 8.
Grigorenko is one of those players that wants to show improvement from the first game.
"I need to win my battles a little more," he said this morning. "Keep the puck a little bit longer and play with it and make some plays with it. Make something happen with the puck."
Grigorenko still has time. The whole point of the preseason is to be ready when the puck drops on opening night, with the players and the team as a whole fine-tuning things and making adjustments during the six-game slate.
"Each game we want to improve and make sure that we're building toward that first game. That is what is important. It is not necessarily the result in the preseason," Stuart said. "You want to go into the season having built a good foundation and having built some confidence, for the team and individually. That is how we're going to approach it."
The Avalanche had 22 players and eight defensemen out at morning skate; two more than will likely dress in the game. With preseason being a time to get game-ready, it wouldn't be surprising if all eight rear guards took the pregame warmup before a final decision is made on which two will be scratched.
BERRA TO START
Reto Berra will see his first action of the preseason and will play the entire game tonight against the Flames, head coach Patrick Roy said after Wednesday's practice.
Roy also gave the list of the starting netminders for the following two games as well, saying Semyon Varlamov will play Sunday against the Kings and Calvin Pickard, who is competing for the Avs' backup spot with Berra, will play the entire contest next Tuesday in Calgary.
The Colorado coach said it's still "too early" to tell who will be behind Varlamov on opening night, but expect the competition to start clearing up in the next week. After Tuesday's contest, the Avs only have two remaining preseason games, with one likely going to Varlamov as his final warm-up for the new year and the other going to the winner of the backup job.
TONIGHT'S PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
John Mitchell—Matt Duchene—Jack Skille
Andreas Martinsen—Mikhail Grigorenko—Nathan MacKinnon
Andrew Agozzino—Ben Street—Borna Rendulic
Cody McLeod—Marc-Andre Cliche—Patrick Bordeleau
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Chris Bigras—Brad Stuart
Nick Holden—Zach Redmond
Duncan Siemens—Mat Clark
Note: Colorado is likely to go with 12 forwards and six defensemen, so expect one D pairing to be scratched at game time.