Thursday's Game a Battle of Unbeatens, Brawn
At 6-foot-6 and nearly 230 pounds, Avalanche winger Patrick Bordeleau is an impressive and intimidating athlete.
Throw him on skates and pad him up with the typical hockey protection, and Bordeleau becomes an absolute physical force who provides Colorado with a presence not a lot of teams in the NHL can match.
Except for Boston.
When the Avs (3-0-0) and Bruins (2-0-0) face off at 5 p.m. Thursday at TD Garden, there will potentially be 35 skaters involved who measure 6-foot or taller, with Colorado accounting for 17 and Boston adding 18. Many of the teams across the NHL aim to build their rosters around size and strength, and these two teams do it about as well any.
But the tallest guy on the sheet—a sentence typically used when describing Bordeleau—will be Bruins’ defenseman and NHL veteran Zdeno Chara, who’s the tallest player in league history at 6-foot-9 and weighs nearly 260 pounds.
“I think he’s a bigger guy than me,” Bordeleau said following Thursday’s morning skate, “but I’m still going to go hard at him and try to knock him down like everyone else on the ice.”
Seems like Thursday’s game between a pair of unbeaten squads will be about as hotly contested as a game can be in the second week of August.
Chara heads up a Boston unit that also features Adam McQuaid (6-5), Dougie Hamilton (6-5) and Johnny Boychuck and Doug Thornton, who are both 6-2 but known for their physicality.
Bordeleau’s role on the Avalanche is to provide toughness and intimidation—he led Colorado last season in hits (116) and finished second in penalty minutes (70) and major penalties (six)—and he and fellow physical teammates Steven Downie (5-11, 191) and Cody McLeod (6-2, 210) will be called on tonight to further implement first-year coach Patrick Roy’s preseason mantra of the Avalanche being a team that plays with a relentless and firey personality.
“[Boston’s] a big team,” Bordeleau said. “They’ve got Chara, Thornton, those kind of guys, [Milan] Lucic, McQuaid, Boychuck … big squad. But I think on our side we have some big guys, too. We have big guys who can play hard, like Steve Downie—he plays hard on every shift.”
Downie, a fan favorite in Colorado who brings a level of intensity to each game that might match his Roy’s legendeary approach when he played, knows he’s outsized in a lot of one-on-ones, but he will stand right up there with Bordeleau and company in ensuring the Avalanche isn’t pushed around and knocked off its game.
“Boston’s a big physical team—they like to intimidate guys,” Downie said. “They’ve done it for the last couple of years; now that’s how they’ve built their team. We’ve got guys in here who can take care of it. We won’t back down. We won’t shy down. It’s going to be a good exciting game for the fans.
“Guys like Bordeleau have to step up and lead the way in the physical category, and we know that’s going to come. It’s going to be exciting out there, and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”
The Avalanche has had some great starts to seasons in its 18 years in Denver, but the club has never begun a season like it is doing in 2013-14.
Colorado is off to a 3-0-0 start for the first time since it moved to Denver and is taking aim at some of the best starts in franchise history, dating back to when it played its games in Quebec.
The Nordiques started 7-0-0 (1985-86), 3-0-0 (1987-88), 4-0-0 (1992-93) and 5-0-0 (1994-95), and all of those teams, except for the 1987-88 squad, qualified for the playoffs.
But that’s getting ahead of things.
For now, just three games into a new era for the team, with Roy now on the bench instead of back in Quebec coaching major junior hockey, the Avalanche knows it’s a fool’s errand to think of the team’s strong beginning, knowing it has no bearing on its end, let alone its result tonight in Boston.
“We notice all the hard work that we’re putting in—on all the systems that we’ve been working so hard to make sure they’re working—[is] paying off,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’re having a lot of fun, and I think we’re all enjoying ourselves. We’re noticing we’re all coming together as a group and having a lot of fun.
Added Downie: “I think things are just coming together. Hard work pays off. Guys are really working hard this year. You look at every practice, guys are going as hard as they can. When you work hard good things will come. But again we’ve got to put it all behind us and keep moving forward and getting better every day.”
JIGGY IN GOAL
Semyon Varlamov has been outstanding in the early going this year, allowing just one goal apiece in each of the Avalanche’s first three games. In the Avalanche’s 2-1 win Tuesday night at Toronto, Varlamov became the first goaltender in franchise history to allow one goal or less in his first three starts to the season.
But, as Downie alluded to, the NHL season is a long one, so “Varly” will take a break Thursday in Beantown.
Roy said in a post-practice news conference last weekend that Jean-Sebastien Giguere would start tonight in Boston, and he’s sticking to that plan, despite Varlamov’s strong start. Roy notably said early in the preseason that he doesn’t believe in the concept of a No. 1 or No. 2 goalie, instead referring to whoever is between the pipes that game as the No. 1 goalie that game.
Giguere, playing in his 15th NHL season, is ready to play his part against Boston in his first regular-season start of the year.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Giguere said. “At the end of the day you want to play some games—try to get in the groove and try to help the team. It’s a good place. Boston’s a great building, it’s a good team to play against. It should be a good battle.”