The Colorado Avalanche have been mired in a serious slump the past two weeks and have watched their early season road success completely evaporate to a 8-9-1 record. New captain Milan Hejduk believes this Avalanche team is better than their record -- and he may be right -- but inconsistent defensive efforts and mediocre play from goalie Semyon Varlamov have played an integral part in their recent struggles.
Another warning sign is their record in divisional play, where the Avalanche are still winless in four attempts. They have their first shot at the Northwest Division leading Minnesota Wild Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild rebuilt their roster this offseason, making several trades with the San Jose Sharks to bring in Devin Setoguchi and Dany Heatley to supplement one of the league's worst offenses last season. That duo has scored 10 of the team's 40 goals this year, though the Wild have been led by the ageless Matt Cullen, 35, who has a team-high eight goals.
The Wild's hallmarks of stout defense and quality goaltending still remain, even with the trade of top defenseman Brent Burns to the Sharks. Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding have been exceptional in net, combining for a 2.02 GAA and a .936 SV%.
Colorado will start Jean-Sebastien Giguere in net against Minnesota. With Varlamov's recent struggles, it's not a surprising move.
Puck drops at 6:00 p.m. MDT.
For more coverage, visit our Avalanche blog Mile High Hockey and our Wild blog Hockey Wilderness.