Dany Heatley, Semyon Varlamov

Wild, Avs go back-to-back starting tonight


The Wild and Avalanche both have 34 points. Tonight, after they meet in Minnesota, that tie in the standings will be broken. But tomorrow, after they play in Colorado, they could be tied again. Or, one team could be four points up on the other. Or, one team could be three points up on the other. Sorry, pulling a bit of a rambling Darryl Sutter here. Here’s what both teams have been up to:

The Wild (15-7-4) have lost two straight, 3-0 at St. Louis and 3-1 to Phoenix. So yeah, scoring goals has been an issue of late. On the bright side, Minnesota could have Zach Parise (foot) back in the lineup tonight, which would help. Parise practiced yesterday on the first line with Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle, but we’ll have to wait until later in the day to find out if he’s in for sure. One forward who definitely won’t be in the lineup is Mikael Granlund, who’s out at least a week with an upper-body injury.

The Avs (17-6-0) are a modest 5-5-0 in their last 10. They did, however, earn consecutive victories over Chicago, Phoenix and Los Angeles before losing to St. Louis on Wednesday. Patrick Roy’s troops still have a lot to prove, but they haven’t completely fallen apart like some were expecting them to. The high number of shots they allow (an average of 32.0, the seventh most in the NHL) will only be an issue if their goalie tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere can’t maintain their high level of play.

With 34 points each, both teams are three points clear of ninth-place Vancouver in the Western Conference standings. But both have to be cognizant that the Canucks, despite a 3-4-3 record in their last 10, have in fact been playing quite well. The race for the playoffs is going to be a fascinating one in the West.

Panarin impresses ‘Hawks with his preseason debut

Artemi Panarin
AP Photo

Will Artem Panarin‘s overwhelming success in the KHL translate to North America? The 23-year-old forward has a lot to prove, but his first big test was a success.

Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin made his preseason debut in Chicago’s finale on Saturday. He registered two assists while giving his teammates reason to be optimistic about him.

“For not being on the ice he looks really relaxed. He’s great with the puck, has nice moves and I think we’ll see a lot of this,” Marian Hossa told CSN Chicago. “He has unbelievable skill. People here in Chicago are going to have a good time watching this guy dangling.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Panarin as well and liked that line as a whole.

The fact that the trio seemed to hit it off quickly has to come as a relief after an upper-body injury prevented Panarin from getting the most out of this year’s training camp. At the end of the day though, the fact that he was able to at least get in one preseason contest is a big silver lining. How smoothly his adjustment goes from here is still a big X-factor, but at least now he’s going into the regular season with a better idea of what to expect.

Panarin is attempting to establish himself in the NHL after leading the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg to a championship last year. He was the team’s scoring leader, topping ex-NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk.

Gustavsson secures one-year contract with Bruins

Jonas Gustavsson
AP Photo
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There was stiff competition for the backup goaltending job in Boston, but with a signing this afternoon, it seems likely that the matter has been resolved.

The Boston Bruins announced that Jonas Gustavsson has agreed to a one-year, $700,000 deal. It’s a one-way contract, according to the Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin.

That contract is still small enough that the Bruins could bury it in the minors if they so desire, but it does set him apart from his last competitor for the goalie position, Jeremy Smith, who has a two-way deal. The fact that Boston went this route seems to imply that Gustavsson will serve as Tuukka Rask‘s understudy, although both netminders attended Sunday’s practice.

In Smith, the Bruins would be getting a 26-year-old goaltender who was dominant with the AHL’s Providence Bruins last season, but has no NHL experience. By contrast Gustavsson, 30, has played in almost 150 NHL games.

Boston sent Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban to the minors last week, but an argument could be made that either one of them is worthy of the backup job. However, both of them have a lot of potential and it’s not surprising that the Bruins felt they were better served by staying in the minors where they can play regularly and focus on honing their game.