#72 Colorado Avalanchevs.#71 Dallas Stars
Written by Matt Severance
When/Where: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Pepsi Center, Denver
Moneylines: Stars -105, Avs -105; total: 5.5
The Dallas Stars, who had the most points in the Western Conference last season, already have one game in the books in the new NHL season. The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, missed the playoffs in 2015-16 and try to start fixing that on Saturday night as they open the season at home.
Dallas finished with the most points in the Western Conference last year, before falling to division-rival St. Louis in the conference semifinals, and looked very good in its season opener with a 4-2 home win over reigning Pacific Division champion Anaheim. Well, very good after the first period in which the Stars he Stars were outshot 17-1 took four minor penalties and gave up a shorthanded goal yet escaped the period tied 1-1. Antoine Russell scored the tiebreaker goal at 1:23 of the third and Adam Cracknell added the clincher at the 9:37 mark. The Stars were 0-4 on the power play and 5-5 on the penalty kill. Dallas was outshot 35-20 and goaltender Antti Niemi was named the game’s No. 1 star. Lauri Korpikoski and Stephen Johns also scored for the Stars.
Cracknell and Korpikoski are new to the Stars this season. There are 10 new players who weren’t on last year’s opening night roster, and five of them are under the age of 25. You never know which goalie will start for Dallas as Niemi generally rotates with Kari Lehtonen. The Stars will won a division title last year for the first time since 2005-06, finished first overall in the West for the first time since 2002-03 and won a playoff round for the first time since 2008.
Colorado was in the wild-card race right down until the end last year but lost its final six games and finished with 82 points, five behind Minnesota for the West’s final playoff spot. In August, Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy surprised the team by quitting. He was both the head coach and vice president of hockey operations. The Avalanche won the Central Division in Roy’s rookie coaching year, earning him a landslide win in the Jack Adams Award voting as coach of the year. But the Avs lost in the first round of the 2014 playoffs and then missed the next two years. Colorado hired Jared Bednar, former coach of the American Hockey League champion Lake Erie Monsters (farm team of the Blue Jackets), to replace Roy behind the bench even though Bednar has no NHL playing or coaching experience. Last season was just Bednar’s fourth as a coach at the AHL level. He employs an aggressive, pressure game with an emphasis on speed.
The Avalanche have plenty of talent to get back to the postseason, led by centers Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, left wing and captain Gabriel Landeskog, defensemen Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Duchene led the team with 59 points and 30 goals last year. MacKinnon, the 2014 Calder Trophy winner, had two goals and one assist in three games with Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey. Varlamov was stellar one night and shaky the next, finishing with a 2.81 GAA and .914 save percentage. The Avs acquired defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch to help bolster the defense, while also adding forwards Joe Colborne, Rocco Grimaldi and Ben Smith. Injuries to John Mitchell (hip flexor) and Mikko Rantanen (ankle) will keep the lineup in flux ahead of the matchup with Dallas.
These teams split two meetings last year, with the Avalanche winning the first two and the Stars the final two. I normally back a team in its home opener, but I think it actually benefits the Stars having a game under their belts and the Avs might take a while to adjust to the new coach. The over is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
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Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.