Preview: Wild at Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche are already reeling, and a visit by the Minnesota Wild could hurt their chances of turning things around just three weeks into the season.
If recent history is any indication, Colorado is in trouble.
The Wild have been a problem for the Avalanche since rallying to win their 2014 Western Conference quarterfinal series. Minnesota is 8-1-1 in the last 10 meetings with Colorado, including 4-0-1 at Pepsi Center in Denver, where the teams meet for a matinee game Saturday.
Colorado’s problems go deeper than just overcoming Minnesota. The Avalanche lost four of the last five, managed one goal in their last two games and were outscored 6-1 in their last two home games.
"There obviously are some mistakes we can fix," center Matt Duchene told The Denver Post after Thursday’s 4-0 loss in Chicago. "I think at times we’re too quick with the puck or we’re having brain cramps with the puck. I think we can be a lot better creating offense like that and on the rush."
First-year coach Jared Bednar switched Duchene to wing in the loss to the Blackhawks, putting him on a line with Nathan MacKinnon. It didn’t produce a goal, but Duchene is encouraged by the chances he got playing with MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
"We got some really good looks," he told The Denver Post. "Mikko was flying. If we stay together I think we can be a good line."
The Avalanche further shook things up by placing fourth-line center John Mitchell on waivers. The 31-year-old did not record a point in four games after missing the first five games with a hip injury. Mitchell is in the final year of his contract.
A concussion kept Mitchell out of the playoff series in 2014, where Minnesota established dominance over Colorado by winning four of the last five games to advance.
The Wild are a different team since that series — at least at the top. Bruce Boudreau was named the head coach this summer, and he has Minnesota second in the Central Division.
One of the many bright spots for the Wild is the play of 19-year-old rookie Joel Eriksson Ek. Ek has two goals and three assists in six games this season, and if he plays in 10 he will burn the first year of his three-year rookie contract.
Ek is playing well enough to consider keeping him instead of returning him to his professional team in Sweden, Farjestad.
"Burning a year of the contract means very little," Minnesota general manager Fletcher told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I don’t think it hurts the team, and I don’t really think it helps the player, or vice versa. I don’t care about the 10 games. If it takes us 20 or 30 games to figure it out, so be it."
Like Bednar, Boudreau is shaking up his lines. Left winger Jason Zucker is moving up to the first line to skate with Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle.
"Our top six are really important because we depend on them to score goals," Boudreau told The Star-Tribune.