The Colorado Avalanche are playing the Anaheim Ducks at the Pepsi Center in Denver. And at the Honda Center in Anaheim. For the first pre-season game of both teams, they’re participating in a split-squad series that both take place Monday, September 22.
The Avalanche just finished three days of rookie camp and two days of main camp followed by their annual Burgundy and White scrimmage at DU’s Magness Arena. The Ducks are coming off of four days of training camp split into morning and afternoon sessions. Both teams, of course, are attempting to incorporate new players and fresh systems while getting into game mode.
As star center Matt Duchene put it:
"“There’s some wrinkles to iron out still – there’s always going to be this time of year. But it’s a good start.”"
So, here’s the storylines to keep track of.
#1: Home-and-Away Split-Squad Series
Last season, the Avalanche also started the pre-season against the Ducks, but they did so in the traditional manner. The Ducks came for a visit to the Pepsi Center with the standard number of players and managed to hand Colorado a loss.
This year, several teams are participating in the split-squad tradition, allowing more prospects to play and show their worth. The Avalanche have already cut 11 players so that only 56 remain. Prospects are still fighting for potential spots on the team.
The rosters for each squad have not been released yet.
#2: Forwards Chemistry
The Colorado Avalanche have new line combinations at all four levels for forwards. However, it’s the top-two lines that are most intriguing. Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly have a new winger in Jarome Iginla. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon also have a newish winger, Alex Tanguay, who spent most of last season on injured reserve.
Iginla said of the new linemates situation:
"“It’s nice when you’re joining a line when the other guys have played together. They know each other’s tendencies. I’m learning two different [styles]. Everybody does things a little bit different, and it takes time.”"
The Ducks aren’t immune to that situation either. Center Ryan Kesler just joined the team over the summer, and he’s been centering a line with Patrick Maroon and Jakob Silfverberg. The dynamic duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf also have a new linemate — pure scorer Dany Heatley.
That’s a particularly storyline to watch. For one, Dany Heatley is supposed to be on the decline, though he’s looking for a fresh chance in Anaheim. Second, Perry and Getzlaf have been playing together a long time, and they don’t like to share — as Duchene discovered when they played keepaway with him at the Olympics.
#3: Defensemen Chemistry
Sometimes the chemistry between defensemen is more important than that between forwards. They have to communicate well and operate in tandem.
Last season, cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson was paired with Jan Hejda. However, the Avalanche acquired Brad Stuart over the summer, and Roy has said he will be paired with Johnson at least for the pre-season. He added:
"“We’ll see how they connect together. In every pre-season game, they’re going to play together. And we’ll see how they connect – I think it’ll be a nice challenge for both of them to play together.”"
Stuart has good hockey instincts, and he’s not afraid of physical play. He looked pretty good during the Burgundy and White game with Johnson. However, there were times when Johnson skated circles around him.
The Ducks also have a similar situation as Clayton Stoner was a free agency signing over the summer. He’s been paired with Sami Vatanen so far.
#4: New Centermen
Technically, Nathan MacKinnon is not new, of course — he was the Colorado Avalanche’s prize rookie last season. However, he also spent the majority of the season playing right wing to Paul Stastny’s centering. This season coach Roy has made it clear that MacKinnon is playing at center.
When asked about MacKinnon’s having become a man, linemate Gabriel Landeskog joked, “I don’t know about the man part yet.” In seriousness, he added:
"“But he’s certainly playing like a man. He’s extremely explosive and quick. He’s very aware on the ice. The scrimmages we’ve been doing and the casual practices we’ve been doing before camp – he’s certainly looking good.”"
Kesler is new to the Ducks as a centerman. New linemate Jakob Silfverberg said of him:
"“He’s one of the top players in the league. He’s a big guy and a really strong skater. He’s really strong on the puck. He’s good on one-on-ones, and he’s really going to help us out a lot. I’m sure he’s going to have a good year.”"
It would be intriguing if the two ended up facing off against each other.
#5: Goalie Questions
Big Reto Berra looks solid as the number-two goalie in Colorado. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
Needless to say, there’s not really any question about Semyon Varlamov and his position as the Avalanche’s number-one goalie. It’s all about who is backup is going to be.
Swiss goalie Reto Berra is meant to serve as Varlamov’s backup, but the Avs Nation lost some faith in him after he had two dismal starts in net last season. However, he worked extensively with goalie coach Francois Allaire over the summer, and he says he could feel himself “improving every day.” Indeed, he had a good training camp showing and was more solid in net than Varlamov during the Burgundy and White game.
Nonetheless, Roman Will and Sami Aittokallio would like shots at the position, as would Francois Tremblay. To be honest, their training camp and scrimmage showings were not as solid as Berra’s.
The Ducks let their own Swiss goalie, Jonas Hiller, go after last season. They’ve got a young goal tending tandem in Frederik Andersen and John Gibson. Andersen is somewhat the front-runner for the number-one position, but Gibson proved himself to be something of a clutch goalie in last season’s playoffs.