Dec 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding (37) waits for a shot from Minnesota Wild left wing Dany Heatley (15) in a shootout period at Pepsi Center. The Minnesota Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Avs vs. Wild

AVALANCHE PREPARE FOR A WILD NIGHT

7:00 PM MST, 1/30/14

The Avalanche host the Minnesota Wild Thursday in the fifth and final game of their season series. At this point in the season–and right before the Olympic break–every point matters in securing stable footing in the Western Conference playoff race. The Wild will try to move closer to the Avalanche’s 3rd place standing in the Central Division.

Factors:

Lockdown Defense: The Avalanche must do a better job breaking up passes into the crease, clearing rebound attempts, and in general protecting the net for Semyon Varlamov. While Varlamov was incredible Monday in Dallas (41 saves), the defense has allowed way too many chances for the opposition over the past few games. As such, Varlamov is in a bit of a rut himself, allowing 14 goals in his last 5 outings. He owned up to allowing a few of those Dallas goals on bad positioning, but can he steady his play for Colorado (and perhaps Team Russia)?

Ryan O’Reilly: Every night before bed I say a prayer for the Avalanche to get ROR signed long-term as soon as possible (really Joe, you can borrow my pen–get it done). O’Reilly does all the little things that might go unnoticed in highlights but help anchor a team’s identity on the ice. He makes smart passes, rarely gives up the puck, and is strong on the boards. He has also already set a new career high in goals despite a position change to Left Wing. O’Reilly lit the lamp twice against Minnesota the last time around; can he help spark the Avalanche offense on Thursday?

Matt Duchene: Matt is in a bit of a slump: one goal in the past 18 games qualifies. Not all of it is his fault; he doesn’t always get the hooking and holding calls other marquee players receive from the zebras, and he’s heard enough post chimes over the last few games to last a career. It should also be noted he is still chipping in helpers at a consistent pace. But his skating speed and wrister give him the opportunity to end that dry spell at any moment. With all their talented forwards healthy, Matt shouldn’t feel pressure to produce offensively. Hopefully that translates to him playing to his strengths and netting one for the home team.

The Wild: Minnesota is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, so they are coming to Pepsi Center hungry for points. As if being in the thick of the playoff chase wasn’t enough to boost their morale, the Wild defeated the Mighty Ducks 4-2 on Tuesday in Anaheim. Clearly Minnesota is playing some great hockey right now: the Wild just finished a brutal stretch of Western opponents (Chicago, San Jose, Anaheim) with five out of six possible points…the Avs better be ready.

Follow Mile High Sticking or myself on Twitter tonight during the game!

#GoAvsGo

 

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