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Avalanche focused on strong start vs. rival Wild

by Rick Sadowski

WILD (0-0-0) at AVALANCHE (0-0-0)


DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche begin their 20th season Thursday knowing they're in for a difficult test against the Minnesota Wild at Pepsi Center.

The Wild went 4-1-0 against the Avalanche last season with shutouts in the first three games, and Minnesota has gone 15-3-3 in the past 21 regular season games here.

"These are the kind of games you want to play in, especially at the start of the year; it gets you into the swing of things," Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said. "I think for us it's awesome, it gets you into a playoff mentality right from the get-go. That's a good team, they play hard and fast, so it'll be a good test for us."

The Avalanche can't afford a poor start like they had last season when they won four of their first 17 games before finishing 39-31-12 and missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs after winning the Central Division in 2013-14.

"I think we're more ready, more hungry," center Matt Duchene said. "We know it's not easy, that we can't just throw the gear on and go out there and show up and be successful. We all want to win, we all want to make the playoffs. We want to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe redemption's part of it. The last few days of practice were really good and I feel the hunger in this room. It's the start of a new chapter."

The Avalanche didn't have a morning skate Thursday, a ritual they plan to continue this season.

"We just want to rest and make sure the night before we're focused," coach Patrick Roy said. "The plan is if we don't practice the day before, we might go on the ice depending on the situation. If we have a practice the day before, we won't skate the next day. If we have a game, we won't skate the next morning."

The Wild, who did skate, have high expectations after going 46-28-8 last season and advancing to the Western Conference semifinals, where they were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks.

"Every team's got high expectations for themselves, the way they want to play and perform, and we're no different," Wild left wing Zach Parise said. "We know we've got a good team and if we play to our capabilities and play smart, more often than not things are going to fall into place. We're looking forward to building on the last couple of seasons."

The Wild and Avalanche have developed a rivalry since Minnesota won a seven-game playoff series in 2014.

"We had a great one with them that could have gone either way," Parise said. "They have really talented young players that are coming into their own and good goaltending. Those rivalries stem from good playoff series and it's turned into a good rivalry between the two teams. We've always had good games, it's just the competitiveness inside the division that you have with these teams."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Nino Niederreiter

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek - Tyler Graovac - Charlie Coyle

Chris Porter - Erik Haula - Ryan Carter

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba

Marco Scandella - Christian Folin

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper

Scratched: Niklas Backstrom, Nate Prosser

Injured: Justin Fontaine (upper body)


Blake Comeau - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alex Tanguay

Mikko Rantanen - Carl Soderberg - Borna Rendulic

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Jack Skille

Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nikita Zadorov - Nick Holden

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Brandon Gormley, Mikhail Grigorenko, Brad Stuart

Injured: Jesse Winchester (concussion issues)

Status report: Roy said Stuart and Gormley won't play because they weren't among the top six defensemen in camp. "Like I said to Brad, he's a leader, he has a lot of experience, [but] that doesn't mean much for me for tonight, mean much in the way that we want to win the hockey game," Roy said. "We know he's going to play a lot of games for us." ... The Wild are carrying three goalies and coach Mike Yeo said Kuemper will be the backup for the first two games. "There's a third guy (Backstrom) that can't just be left off to the side," he said. "We have to make sure we're keeping everybody sharp and involved. We don't have a long-term plan right now."

Who's hot: Dubnyk was 2-1-0 with a 1.35 goals-against average,.945 save percentage and a shutout against the Avalanche last season. ... Iginla had three goals in his final three games last season.

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