Reeling Wild hope to halt Avalanche
AVALANCHE (6-1-1) at WILD (1-6-0)
This is the first of six meetings between these clubs. Last season, Minnesota won four of six contests -- twice at home and twice on the road. Pierre-Marc Bouchard (4 goals, 2 assists) and Mikko Koivu (1 goal, 5 assists) tied for the series scoring lead with 6 points apiece. Owen Nolan added four goals in five games, and goalie Niklas Backstrom went 4-1-1 with a 2.06 goals-against average. Ryan Smyth paced the Avalanche with 3 goals and 4 points, and Paul Stastny
added 2 goals and 2 assists in four games. Goalie Peter Budaj
went 2-2-1 with a 2.53 GAA.
These teams are at opposite ends of the Northwest Division standings. Colorado’s worst-to-first transformation is one of the NHL’s feel-good stories of the early season. Minnesota’s only luck so far has been bad, with a crowded trainers room full of injured players.
This is the final game on Colorado’s seven-game road trip. The team has gone 4-1-1 since hitting the road on Oct. 8 in Nashville.
On Monday, goaltender Craig Anderson
was named the NHL's Second Star for the week ending Oct. 18, and it was his second time earning the honor this month. From Oct. 12-18, Anderson recorded four consecutive road victories with a 2.20 goals-against average and .928 save percentage as Colorado climbed to first place in the Northwest Division.
Anderson began the week with a sweep of Northeast Division opponents, recording 29 saves in a 4-3 win against Boston, turning aside 30-of-31 shots in a 4-1 victory against Toronto, and making 29 saves in a 3-2 win against Montreal. He finished the week by stopping 28 shots and two of three shootout attempts in a 4-3 victory against Detroit. Anderson has started all eight games for the Avalanche this season, posting a 6-1-1 record with a 2.09 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and one shutout.
Minnesota is playing its first home game since Oct. 6. It went 0-5-0 on a five-game road trip between games at Xcel Energy Center, and three of those losses were by two or more goals.
This game will probably see the Minnesota debut of newly-acquired right wing Chuck Kobasew, who was picked up in a trade with Boston on Sunday. He had one assist and a minus-2 rating in seven games with the Bruins. The Wild were in desperate need of veteran help with a crippling rash of injuries. Kobasew told the Pioneer Press, "They have a good group of guys, good players, and there's no reason we can’t turn it around."
"He's a proven NHL player," GM Chuck Fletcher said. "He scored 20 goals in three of the last four seasons, and we think he'll bring some speed and competitiveness and some scoring depth to our roster.
"He's willing to get to the net and battle for pucks; he can score some of those goals around the net that are difficult to do."
"It's a new opportunity for me," Kobasew said. "It's a beautiful building and great fans, so I'm looking forward to playing for them."
For the Avalanche, right wing David Jones
has two goals and three assists in his last four games. Left wing Cody McLeod
has two goals and an assist in his last two games. Rookie center Ryan O’Reilly has a goal and two assists in his last two games. For the Wild, center Eric Belanger has two goals and six assists in his last six games, while left wing Andrew Brunette has four goals and three assists in that span.
The Wild have 14 total games missed due to injury. Right wing Cal Clutterbuck is sidelined indefinitely with a sprained left ankle. Center Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion) and right wings Petr Sykora (groin) and Martin Havlat (groin) are day-to-day. For the Avalanche, defensemen Ruslan Salei (back) and Tom Preissing (knee) are on injured reserve, and defenseman John-Michael Liles
is out two weeks with a shoulder injury.
The Avalanche scored at least one power-play goal in each of their first six games, their best season-opening stretch since 1997-98 (nine straight). Their streak was snapped in last Thursday's win in Montreal.
Minnesota is 8-1-2 in its last 11 meetings against Colorado, and Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom is 11-2-2 with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 16 career starts against the Avalanche. Will these advantages continue to hold up for Minnesota in the wake of its banged-up roster?
-- Rocky Bonanno, NHL.com