On Saturday night, the defending Stanley Cup champs suffered a 5-2 beat down from the Chicago Blackhawks, while the Avs let the Wild take over the game to win 4-2. Thus, both teams will be working hard for the W, perhaps more than they would be in a traditional season. Start off 0-2, and you're setting a bad precedent in a 48-game season.
These two teams have what is developing into a nice little rivalry. Both have young clubs, an up-tempo style and some star players making names for themselves. The big difference is that the Kings have proven they're winners. Their run to the Cup last season about as close to perfect as you can get, with much of that success due to the Conn Smythe winner, Jonathan Quick. Unfortunately for the Kings, Quick was the polar opposite of his award-winning self in the team's season opener. Although one does not want to speculate, there's concern among Kings' fans that the goaltender has not fully recovered from surgery he had shortly after the conclusion of the Cup finals. In August, Quick went under the knife to repair a disc fragment and inflammatory cyst in his neck.
Missing from the Kings' roster on Saturday was Anze Kopitar, the centerpiece to the team's forward ranks. Kopitar suffered a knee injury from a collision along the boards while playing in Sweden during the lockout (all coaches' worst nightmare during this standoff). He started skating last week, and reports indicate he will be back on the ice in tonight's match up, much sooner than originally predicted. Also out was Willie Mitchell, who had surgery two months ago to remove cartilage from his knee. Unlike Kopi, Mitchell's recovery isn't going so well, and he remains on the IR. Another big blow to the Kings' roster comes with the season-ending back injury to defenseman Matt Greene on Saturday night.
For what seems like the first time in a long time, the Avalanche do not have any injuries to report (knock on wood). Chuck Kobasew missed Saturday's game due to illness, but skated Monday in practice with the rest of the guys. Defensemen Shane O'Brien and Matt Hunwick were healthy scratches, and it's hard to say if they'll be in the line up or not tonight. Yes, the boys on the ice had some trouble containing the Wild, but special teams were the culprit more than anything. Steve Downie's stupid penalties might put him in the press box, but it's pretty doubtful that only one game in, Sacco will choose Kobasew over him. The other option for Chuck is replacing Patrick Bordeleau on the fourth line; however, the Kings have always played a physical game against the Avalanche, and it's likely Sacco wants to keep the deterrent Bordy provides. Besides, the kid didn't play poorly on Saturday and even help set up McLeod's goal (despite what the score sheet says). Given Sacco's commitment to "being harder to play against," it would not be a surprise to see the forward lines remain the same. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see Shane O'Brien make it back into the line up.
The one thing we do know is that Semyon Varlamov will get the start.
The Kings and Avs have been fairly even in the win/loss ratio throughout the years. They've also scored a lot of goals: a game average of 3.58 goals per team. Expect a fast-paced, exciting game for Colorado's home opener.
What to watch for:
- Matt Duchene: It's a long story with this one, but he has talented wingers now. No excuses. He needs to step it up.
- John Mitchell: The guy has been damn good, both in Saturday's game and in practice on Monday. He was a sniper, getting pucks past both Varlamov and JS Giguere at will.
- Anze Kopitar: Will he be back to form or will he be a little slow out of the gate in his first game post-injury?
- Jonathan Quick: Who will we get: Conn Smythe or Sir Couldn't-Stop-a-Beach-Ball?
- Special teams: they make all the difference