5 Storylines for Avalanche vs. Wild Season Opener


“It’s nice to see (Minnesota) right away, have a fresh chance at them.” – Ryan O’Reilly

The time is finally here. After that abbreviated playoff run and that too-long summer, October is here. The Colorado Avalanche are getting ready to play their first regular season game. And, lo and behold, it’s against those selfsame devils who knocked them out of the playoff prematurely — the Minnesota Wild.

So, while some of the storylines are concerned with the Avalanche’s preseason play and their projected lines, the top stories are about the continuation of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

#1: Mental Games

Every Avalanche player from Matt Duchene to newbie Zach Redmond who’s been asked about the significance of playing the Minnesota Wild in the first two games has stated, “We’re taking it one game at a time.” No doubt this is the doctrine of the locker room, and it makes sense.

That’s all well and good, but, let’s face it, the young bucks of the Avalanche are like any highly talented individuals — they can be high-strung at times. They had such difficulty scoring against the Wild’s cloggy defense. It’s bound to be in the back of their minds. Cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson said during a post-practice presser:

"“They beat us last year, so I can’t think of a better team to start the season off with right away. seeing those first two games against Minnesota – I think a lot of guys were happy to see that. It’s going to be a tough game, a tough two-game series. I think it’s a great team to start off against.”"

Center Ryan O’Reilly concurs:

"“These guys ended our stint last season, and I think we have something to prove. For us we have to prove we’re a different team, and we’re going to come back even stronger.”"

That’s where this new veteran leadership needs to step in. Defenseman Brad Stuart, third line center Daniel Briere and, especially, first line winger Jarome Iginla have no such nightmares about the Wild. Not only that, they’ve powered through similar situations in their history. This is why GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy brought these players to Colorado.

In fact, during a post-practice presser, Briere remarked:

"“Keeping your composure is a big component of the first game. Every year, everybody’s fired up, everybody’s very, very emotional, and they’re going to go a hundred miles an hour. So, the most important thing is to stay focused, keep your composure, and try not to get too emotional in your first game. And usually you might be able to get an edge there on other guys.”"

#2: New Rivalry

Longtime Avalanche fans don’t want to let go of the Detroit Red Wings rivalry. I understand — I’m one of them. I well remember all those vicious games, all those dirty plays they pulled against our team. Of course, I also have the memory of Wild forward Matt Cooke taking out offensive defenseman Tyson Barrie with a knee-on-knee hit.

There’s a reason the league scheduled these two games at the beginning of the season — they knew playoff memories run long. Indeed, opening night in Pepsi Center is already sold out.

Even star center Matt Duchene reckons there’s a budding rivalry:

"“We’ll open with anybody, but I think it gets it off with a bang, obviously, for us. It’s a bit of a new rivalry, so pretty exciting.”"

#3: Goal Scoring

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  • The Colorado Avalanche are a high-octane scoring team. Yet they struggled a bit to score in the preseason. Even when their top-two lines were intact, there was some difficulty with scoring. Granted, that was the preseason, and this is the regular season. As captain Gabriel Landeskog has pointed out more than once, the players well know the difference between the two.

    Unfortunately, though, the Wild are a stifling team. The Avalanche had difficulty scoring against them in the Xcel Energy Center when they were hot in the playoffs. Now they’re coming off of a rocky preseason.

    Basically, once the Avalanche score their first goal against the Wild in their home barn, it’s going to be a big relief — and it’s going to go a long way toward quelling those fears.

    #4: Line Combinations

    Yes, it’s pretty set that the forward lines will be the following:

    Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O’Reilly-Nate MacKinnon

    Alex Tanguay-Matt Duchene-Jarome Iginla

    Max Talbot-Daniel Briere-Jamie Mcginn

    Cody McLeod-Marc-Andre Cliche-Dennis Everberg

    Coach Roy fiddles with line combinations during the game, though — those top two lines only came about during the third period of the last preseason game. Make no mistake, O’Reilly and MacKinnon are still vying for that center position. Plus, O’Reilly showed a lot of chemistry with Duchene last season.

    If things aren’t working during the game, coach Roy may very well change those lines up. Speaking of…

    #5: Roy’s Tactics

    Coach Roy is a brilliant in-game tactician. The Avalanche have been cementing their system and becoming accustomed to each other, especially with the three practices leading up to the first regular season game.

    That said, if Roy doesn’t like what he sees on the ice, he will make the necessary changes lightning-quick. Cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson said of him:

    "“The way he makes in-game adjustments is really, really lucky for us. He’s fantastic at making little switches whether defensively, offensively. He’s very, very good at making adjustments in the zone.”"

    It will be a treat for the Avs Nation to watch the mastermind at work once again.