What to watch on the Wild’s day off: Maple Leafs v. Avalanche

Two surprise teams face off tonight

The Wild have an off day before the Pens come into town on Tuesday, so it’s time once again for some suggested viewing during the Wild’s day off. The game for tonight is:

Toronto v. Colorado

Weeee! I scored!

Why: Both Toronto and Colorado have shot out to surprise starts and are atop their respective divisions. For Toronto, they’re undefeated at the friendly confines of the Air Canada Center and, for Colorado, they’ve yet to lose away from home after losing their first game at the Pepsi Center. Colorado’s offense has been out in force, scoring 17 goals in five games whileToronto’s defense has been the talk of the town, giving up just seven goals in three games. That’s not to say, though, that Toronto’s offense is a slouch, with Phil Kessel helping pace the NHL right now with eight points.

When: The puck drops tonight at 6 pm CST and is televised on Versus.

What to Watch For: Semyon Varlamov has been an absolute monster in net for the Avs. He’s faced 144 shots in just four games and has yet to face less than 30 shots in a contest. Now, the Avs defense needs to protect him quite a bit more, but Varlamov is certainly playing with the proverbial chip on his shoulder after being moved from Washington this off season and the Avs front office are looking like geniuses for picking him up.

What Else: I mentioned that Kessel has eight points in his first three games, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Joffrey Lupul. Lupul has five points in three games and is one of the big reasons why Kessel is buzzing as much as he is. ForColorado, keep an eye on Gabriel Landeskog, who has two goals and an assist so far this season.

State of Hockey Connections: Phil the Thrill starred for the Golden Gophers for a season before making the jump to the pros. Jake Gardiner hails from Deephaven and was a star at Minnetonka High School before going and plying his trade at theUniversity of Wisconsin for three seasons. Chuck Kobasew played 105 games in a Wild uniform and both Peter Mueller and Erik Johnson hail from Bloomington.

Fun Fact: At 35, Milan Hejduk will be the elder statesman in this game and one of five players that are 30 or older. J.S. Giguere (34) and Jan Hejda (33) are the over-30s forColorado and John-Michael Liles (30) and Tim Connolly (30) represent the 30-plus crowd for Toronto.

What to watch on the Wild’s day off: Sharks v. Ducks

This could be a barn burner.

Well, it’s another off day and as the Wild prepare for tomorrow’s tilt against the Red Wings, we prepare by, well, watching more hockey.

The more you know, right?

Tonight’s slate is woefully empty, but there’s one big one that you’ll want to watch, and that one is…

San Jose v. Anaheim

Why: Seriously? Why? This is one of the best rivalries in the NHL and you’re asking me why? Okay, so you need more of a reason than that to fire up your Center Ice orGameCenter package and watch this one. How about Brent Burns and, possibly, the Sharks debut of Martin Havlat? We only get to see them four times this season, so a couple more isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

These two teams don't really like each other.

When: The puck drops tonight at 9 pm CST, and you can find it on Center Ice or Game Center Online.

What to Watch For: This could be the game where the Ducks’ offense explodes. They’ve scored just twice in two games, but the Sharks’ two top goalies are both on the shelf. Antti Niemi is “50/50” for tonight’s game while Antero Nittymaki is still on the shelf for a couple of months. That is a good thing for the Ducks’ struggling top-line, who have tallied all of a shootout goal so far this season.

What Else: Brent Burns tallied an assist in the Sharks’ 6-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. For the Wild, he was pretty good against the Ducks, so watch for him to have a good game in tonight’s tilt.

State of Hockey Connections: The Ducks’ Kurtis Foster played defense for the Wild for four seasons (though he is on a conditioning assignment after surgery on his leg), Jason Blake (Moorhead) and Matt Smaby (Minneapolis) both hail from the State ofHockey and Saku Koivu is our captain, Mikko’s big brother. ForSan Jose, Brent Burns and Martin Havlat both played for the Wild and goaltender Alex Stalock hails fromSt. Paul.

Fun Fact: Brent Burns and his former defensive partner on the Wild, Nick Schultz, have a contest going to see who can go without cutting their hair the longest. Hopefully it goes for a while longer.

What to Watch on the Wild’s Day Off: Flyers v. Canucks

The Canucks travel to Philly for tonight's tilt

So, it’s another off day for the Wild and another edition of What to Watch tonight. The game that we will be focusing on, today, is:

Philadelphia v. Vancouver

Why: Well, it’s always a good time when two Stanley Cup hopefuls get together for a game and this should be no different. The beauty part of this match up is that you don’t know what you’re going to get. Both of these team have the personnel to either make this a goaltender duel (two great defenses, two great goaltenders) or an offensive shootout (the Sedins or Jagr and Giroux). Something for everyone.

When: The puck drops tonight at 6:30 CST, and you’ll want Center Ice or Game Center Live to watch this one.

What to Watch For: Roberto Luongo has all of the pressure in the world on him right now, but now the question is how will he

This could be a spirited one, which would be fun

respond? He had the long off season wait after the Game Seven inVancouver and he came out in the first game of the season and didn’t fare much better. How is he going to bounce back from that disappointment? Well, time will tell but that’s exactly what you want to watch for tonight.

What Else: The Flyers offense has struggled to produce goals so far this season, tallying just five goals in their first two games. Even without Carter and Richards, they’ve still got enough offensive firepower to put the puck in the net. It’s only matter of time before the floodgates open and the Flyers start scoring big goals again.

State of Hockey Connections: The Flyers have no connections toMinnesota on their roster, but the Canucks have a few. Andrew Ebbett played 49 games for the Wild back in the ’09-’10 season and Andrew Alberts is from Minneapolis and Keith Ballard from Baudette.

Fun Fact: The Canucks haven’t lost a game inPhiladelphia since 2003.

Live Blog?: Not for this one. We’ll get one up soon though.

What to watch on the Wild’s day off: Rangers v. Kings

So, the NHL season is started and it’s going to see us make a bit of a change to our schedule. We’ll obviously be keeping you appraised of all the goings on in the State of Hockey and the NHL, but one of the big changes you’ll see is that, on off days, we’ll be highlighting a NHL game that we think you should pay attention to because we think it’s going to be pretty fun to watch.

Before we get started, though, some cheap plugging (you should know by now I’m not above that):

Our Staff Predictions at HPT (Note: Mine are at the top because my opinions are most important, obviously, not because it’s alphabetical)
Building off of that, here are my East and West predictions for this season
Also, I simmed the playoffs in NHL ’12 based on my predictions.
And finally, my Three Stars from last night’s action.

* * * * *

We still like Willie here

Now that I’m done with my shameless self-promotion, it’s on to the game tonight that I think you all should be watching.

And that game is….. *drumroll*

New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings

Why: Apart from the fact that it’s the lone televised game if you don’t have Center Ice (which I know all of you do), it’s because both the Rangers and the Kings have brought in some big new blood this off season, and this is your first chance to see them each in full action (we all know the preseason doesn’t really count).

When: The puck drops at 12pm CST on Versus

Marian Gaborik

He likes when people pass him the puck

What to Watch For: How will elite playmaker Brad Richards fit with enigmatic sniper (and favorite Wild Nation punching bag) Marian Gaborik? My guess is that it will be a pretty good fit, as Gaborik has never had a number one center the likes of Richards to work with and he’s not necessarily one that can create his own offense.

What Else: Henrik Lundqvist started at a turtle’s pace last season, but ended up being the hare at the end of the season with yet another spectacular year. Can King Henrik start out a bit quicker this season in front of his countrymen?

State of Hockey Connections: Apart from the obvious (you know, that guy that kept the number 10 warm for Devin Setoguchi), the Rangers feature three Minnesota natives – Derek Stepan (Hastings), Ryan McDonagh (St. Paul), and Michael Sauer (St. Cloud). Over in LA’s locker room, the Kings don’t have a single Minnesotan on their roster (one Wisconsinite, but we won’t hold that against them), and feature former Wild captain and fan favorite defenseman Willie Mitchell on their blue line.

Fun Fact: Teams that have opened in Europe have gone on to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons. So, you know, they’ve got that going for them.

Live Blog?: Alas, not this time. There will be plenty of time for that, my friends.