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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 4:46 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Critical two points at stake for Avalanche, Wild

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild are running neck-and-neck in a race for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Western Conference heading into tonight's meeting at the Pepsi Center.

The teams are separated by one point -- the Avalanche have 54 points in 50 games, the Wild 53 points in 48 games -- and both are hoping to start building some momentum heading into the NHL All-Star break before the season's stretch run.

A couple of veterans will be in goal with Jean-Sebastien Giguere making his fourth consecutive start for the Avalanche and Niklas Backstrom getting the nod for the Wild. Backstrom has played just once in Minnesota's previous six games, but he missed two of those because of illness.

"They're all big games for us, but obviously we want to go into the break with a nice feeling, kind of how we did in the Christmas break a few weeks ago," Giguere said this morning.

The Avalanche have gone 13-6-1 in the past 20 games and 10-2-0 in the past 12 on home ice, but are coming off a tough 3-2 loss in Anaheim on Sunday when they outshot the Ducks 45-18.

The Avalanche and Wild split two earlier meetings this season, both at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Backstrom outdueled Giguere 1-0 on Nov. 17 and Giguere returned the favor in a 4-2 win on Dec. 26.

The Wild are winless in their past 11 road games (0-9-2), one short of the franchise record set in 2003-04, but Minnesota has gone 8-1-2 in the past 11 games at the Pepsi Center.

"They're a tough team," said Avalanche right wing Peter Mueller, who is from Bloomington, Minn. "We know what's at stake; these two points are huge. It was a tough game in Anaheim, but we're focusing on playing a full 60 here and trying to get the two points. We've got to be ready right from the start."

Neither team has had a great deal of success against Northwest Division opponents, with the Wild posting a 7-8-1 record and the Avalanche a 2-9-0 mark.

"Everybody looks at the standings, everyone's human and you're always checking to see where you are, but at the end of the day there's a certain number that you have to hit as far as reaching points," said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco, who needs one win for 100 in his NHL career, all with Colorado. "What that number is, everyone can argue. It's such a tough conference and these games are all so big and so important. You try to focus on smaller increments. We work on five-game segments. It helps us keep our focus on the smaller picture, not the big picture. Tonight's the start of a new segment."

Defenseman Ryan Wilson will return to the Avalanche lineup after missing two games with a groin injury. He replaces rookie Stefan Elliott, who has 3 assists in his past 11 games.

Except for Backstrom, the Wild is going with the same lineup they used in Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas. Josh Harding stopped 23 shots against the Stars to end the Wild's four-game winless streak.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 3:04 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Potential lineups for Wild, Avalanche

DENVER -- These are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

WILD
Dany Heatley - Kyle Brodziak - Nick Johnson
Cal Clutterbuck - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi
Darroll Powe - Warren Peters - Carson McMillan
Matt Kassian - Chad Rau - Jed Ortmeyer

Nick Schultz - Jared Spurgeon
Justin Falk - Nate Prosser
Greg Zanon - Clayton Stoner

Niklas Backstrom will start in goal, with Josh Harding the backup.

Injuries: RW Pierre-Marc Bouchard (concussion), C Mikko Koivu (shoulder), LW Guillaume Latendresse (concussion) and RW Jarod Palmer (concussion) are out.

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
TJ Galiardi - Paul Stastny - Peter Mueller
Daniel Winnik - Jay McClement - David Jones
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - Chuck Kobasew

Erik Johnson - Shane O'Brien
Kyle Quincey - Ryan Wilson
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal, with Semyon Varlamov the backup.

Injuries: LW Matt Duchene (knee) is out.
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Posted On Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 5:40 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Pepsi Center homecomings for Mueller, Fleischmann

DENVER -- It will be a homecoming of sorts for Peter Mueller and Tomas Fleischmann tonight when the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers meet at the Pepsi Center.

Mueller will play his first home game since opening night after he missed 41 consecutive games to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The 23-year-old right wing, who didn't play at all last season after suffering two concussions within a five-month period, returned to the Avalanche lineup last Thursday in Nashville and played in all three games of the road trip.

Fleischmann signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after collecting 8 goals and 13 assists in 22 games with the Avalanche last season. Acquired from Washington in a Nov. 30, 2010 trade in exchange for defenseman Scott Hannan, Fleischmann was a valuable offensive weapon but had to sit out the final 36 games after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs.

Fleischmann, 27, was put on medication and regained his health, and he's tied with Stephen Weiss for second in scoring on the Panthers with 15 goals and 19 assists in 44 games.

"He's a great kid and I enjoyed working with him last year," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said this morning. "He had some good production when he was with us; he had some good games when he was with us. Unfortunately, he got sidetracked by the injury there. Obviously, we went in a different direction in the offseason, but I'm glad to see that he's doing very well. I'm happy for him."

Sacco also has been pleased with the play of Mueller, who is still seeking his first point but had 11 shots on the three-game trip. He'll skate on a line with left wing TJ Galiardi and center Paul Stastny tonight.

"Good progression every game," Sacco said. "He feels more comfortable out there, and you can see that his energy level is increasing every time he steps on the ice. He's generated some scoring chances for himself and for his linemates. I think he's headed in the right direction. I know that he wants to get (a goal), and maybe feel a little better about himself. But I really like the way he's played, the way he's moving his feet. He's involved in the game physically, had three or four hits last game (Monday against Phoenix), so he's not shying away from the physical side of it.

"He's a good kid and he's gone through a long battle over the last couple of years. The guys in the room certainly are pushing for him and we're pushing for him and pulling for him and I'm hoping that he stays healthy and contributes to our team."

Mueller is excited to play before the home fans and is hopeful of returning to the form he displayed in 2009-10 when he had 9 goals and 11 assists in 15 games following his March 10, 2010 acquisition with Kevin Porter from Phoenix in exchange for Wojtek Wolski.

"I feel great. I definitely feel better than I did in the beginning of the year (when he played in the first three games)," Mueller said. "It seems like every game I've been getting more comfortable, and my ice time has been getting increased, which is nice. I'm still looking for that first (goal), but it's going to come sooner or later."

Tonight's game will be Mueller's first at the Pepsi Center since Oct. 8, when he had three shots in the Avalanche's 3-0 loss to Detroit.

"It's been quite some time," said Mueller, who is wearing a helmet with special padding and a tinted visor because bright arena lights can be difficult for concussion victims to handle. "I'm excited. It's going to be good to be in front of the home crowd and to hear the noise and just to be on the home ice. It's still a little weird waking up and knowing that you're going to play. It's a good feeling. I'm excited to be coming to the rink and being a part of the everyday situation."

Surgery for Jovo:
The Panthers announced today that defenseman Ed Jovanovski will undergo hand surgery on Thursday at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla., and will be sidelined indefinitely. Jovanovski, 35, was injured in a first-period fight with Boston's Daniel Paille on Monday. Keaton Ellerby, who has 2 assists in 15 games, is expected to take Jovanovski's place against the Avalanche.

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Posted On Wednesday, 01.18.2012 / 4:16 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Panthers, Avs

DENVER -- These are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Shawn Matthias - John Madden - Michal Repik
Krys Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Jose Theodore will start in goal with Scott Clemmensen the backup.

The Panthers will be without defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who had hand surgery today, for up to two months. Left wing Marco Sturm (concussion) als is out.  Left wing Sean Bergenheim (groin), right wing Jack Skille (shoulder) and left wing Scottie Upshall (hip) are day to day.

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
T.J. Galiardi - Paul Stastny - Peter Mueller
Chuck Kobasew - Jay McClement - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - David Jones

Ryan Wilson - Erik Johnson
Kyle Quincey - Stefan Elliott
Shane O'Brien - Ryan O'Byrne

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal, with Semyon Varlamov the backup.

The Avs are without left wing Matt Duchene (knee) and defenseman Jan Hejda (groin).
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 5:00 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Avs lose Johnson, O'Brien, but get Wilson back

DENVER -- Just when it looked like the Colorado Avalanche were starting to get healthy, their defense corps has taken a double hit with the losses of Erik Johnson to a hand injury and Shane O'Brien to a knee injury.

Neither will play tonight when the Avalanche faces the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center in the opener of a home-and-home series that resumes Thursday in Music City.

The good news for the Avalanche is that defenseman Ryan Wilson will play for the first time since he suffered a concussion in a Dec. 6 game in Vancouver. The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Wilson was arguably the team's best defenseman when he was injured on a hit from behind by Maxim Lapierre that didn't result in a penalty or supplemental discipline.

"It's a great feeling," Wilson said this morning. "Coming to the rink all those days knowing that you're not playing, it gets to you. You're just waiting for this one moment to get back in the lineup. I felt good on the ice this morning and hopefully I can carry it into the game."

Wilson is a big hitter, but he's only been assessed 24 penalty minutes in 28 games. He's been a solid two-way defenseman with 1 goal, 13 assists and a plus-5 rating.

"He was playing physical and he was chipping in offensively, which is a bonus," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "Things were just going well for him. I think it all stems from him being involved in the game physically. I think he's certainly established a reputation that when he's on the ice to have your head up. That's what we look for from Ryan, to make sure that he keeps the opposition on their toes and doing it with discipline and not crossing the line. He's been real good at judging that."

Wilson said he isn’t nervous about getting hit again. He suffered a facial cut and blurred vision that lasted a couple of days after his face slammed into the glass on Lapierre's hit.

"No, it happens," he said. "You play so many games and you're going to take a couple hits here and there. It's something that happened and I'm not thinking about it. I'm just going to go out there and play. I expect to get hit."

The Avalanche went 10-5 without Wilson and have won nine of the past 11 games, with both losses coming in the second game of a back-to-back situation.

"It was awesome," Wilson said. "It was great to watch the guys go out there and play so well. You want to get back in the lineup and help the team out, but when they're playing that good you feel like they might not need you at the time. It was good to get my rest and now hopefully I can help us continue."

Johnson and O'Brien were injured in Saturday's 4-0 loss in St. Louis. Johnson skated this morning and will accompany the team for Thursday's game in Nashville, but O'Brien will be sidelined for an indefinite period. Matt Hunwick, a healthy scratch the previous five games, will suit up tonight.

"It's unfortunate that we lost two guys that have been contributing, but that's why we have eight defensemen," Sacco said.

The Predators have had the Avalanche's number lately. They swept the four-game series last season by a combined score of 17-8 and have won five consecutive meetings between the teams.

Nashville is on a 10-4 roll and is seventh in the tightly-packed Western Conference with a 22-15-4 record and 48 points. Colorado is 10th with a 23-19-1 record and 47 points.

"They're a hard-working team and they skate well," Avalanche captain Milan Hejduk said. "Every year it seems like they make the playoffs. It's a tough team to play against. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to do well against them."

The Avalanche will only play three home games in January after playing 19 at the Pepsi Center in November and December.

"Maybe it's a little better than having a stretch of six or seven games in a row at home," Hejduk said. "When they're spread out, maybe you can get ready for it more because it's so unusual this month to play at home. We'll see."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.10.2012 / 4:14 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Predators, Avalanche

DENVER -- These are the projected lineups for tonight's game between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

PREDATORS
Colin Wilson - David Legwand - Patric Hornqvist
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - Nick Spaling - Jordin Tootoo
Matt Halischuk - Craig Smith - Jerred Smithson

Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein

Pekka Rinne
Anders Lindback

AVALANCHE

TJ Galiardi - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Chuck Kobasew - Jay McClement - Daniel Winnik
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - Kevin Porter

Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne
Ryan Wilson - Matt Hunwick
Kyle Quincey - Stefan Elliott

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Injuries: LW Matt Duchene (knee), D Erik Johnson (hand), LW Peter Mueller (head) and D Shane O'Brien (knee) are out.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 4:46 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Varlamov starts, Quincey, Kobasew back for Colorado

DENVER -- Defenseman Kyle Quincey, left wing Chuck Kobasew and goalie Semyon Varlamov will be back in the Colorado Avalanche lineup for tonight's game against the Phoenix Coyotes at the Pepsi Center.

Quincey, the Avalanche's top-scoring defenseman with 3 goals and 14 assists in 32 games, was a healthy scratch for the previous four games after missing two with a groin injury. Kobasew has missed eight games with a head injury and Varlamov's only appearance in the previous six games came in Monday’s 4-2 win in Minnesota.

Quincey was replaced by Matt Hunwick after getting hurt Dec. 15 in San Jose and remained out of the lineup because coach Joe Sacco didn't want to make changes during a five-game winning streak that ended Tuesday with a 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

Quincey will replace Hunwick as rookie Stefan Elliott's partner, and Kobasew will replace rookie Brad Malone on the third line with Jay McClement and TJ Galiardi.

"It was extremely frustrating (not to play), but I tried to look at the positives," Quincey said after this morning's skate. "It was a good time to get your legs back and fresh. It's almost at the halfway point (of the season) and I feel like I'm starting over again. It was like a little mini-training camp for me. I got back in the gym and had 10 great workouts. I'm fresh. I feel like it's my first game of the year again. It's a long season, a grind, and I guess I was fortunate to have a little vacation there."

Quincey didn't feel quite the same as last season when he missed the final 55 games to recover from a shoulder injury that required surgery. The Avalanche only won six of the last 36 games and finished 29th in the NHL standings.

"I can go back to last year and how (bad) the feeling was," he said. "The biggest thing was not being able to help the team when they needed it the most. I don't want to say it seemed like they didn't need me (this time), but we were winning and everything was good around here. The boys were happy and it wasn't anything like last year, when it was pretty depressing."

The Avalanche won eight home games in a row before Tuesday's loss and have won five of their past six games overall and six of eight to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race.

Tonight's game is especially important because the Avalanche open a four-game road trip on New Year's Eve in Anaheim and will play nine of 12 games in January on the road.

"We need to regroup," Sacco said. "We talked about a month ago about our team improving our home record, and certainly that's something that we did. This is a big game against a conference opponent. A team that plays a style that Phoenix does, you want to make sure you start the game on time and it's always nice to get a lead and give yourself a better chance to win. They play a very structured game and we have to be diligent with the puck and when we get our opportunities to make sure we get second and third efforts on the net."

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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 4:44 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Banged-up Coyotes try to continue success in Denver

DENVER -- The Phoenix Coyotes didn't skate this morning after playing Wednesday night at home, where they lost 2-1 in overtime to Boston. Like their opponents tonight, the Colorado Avalanche, the Coyotes have lost a number of players to injuries, including goalie Mike Smith (groin) and center Martin Hanzal (head).

The Coyotes are in 11th place in the West with 40 points, one point behind eighth-place Dallas. The Avalanche are in 12th place with 39 points.

The Coyotes have won the last three meetings with the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center by the combined score of 11-3. Phoenix defeated Colorado 4-1 on Nov. 2.

Jason LaBarbera has started four consecutive games in goal for the Coyotes, and made 27 saves against the Bruins on Wednesday. He's gone 2-5 against Colorado in eight previous appearances with a shutout, a 3.23 goals-against average and .893 save percentage.

With Smith out, the Coyotes recalled Curtis McElhinney on Monday from the Portland Pirates in the American Hockey League. McElhinney owns a 2-1 career record against the Avalanche with one shutout, a 2.67 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.

A four-year NHL veteran, McElhinney played four years at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He played for Calgary, Anaheim and Ottawa before signing with Phoenix as a free agent on July 4. McElhinney went 9-11 with Portland this season with a 2.95 average and .910 save percentage.
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 4:42 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wilson nearing return for Avalanche

DENVER -- Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson will miss his 11th consecutive game since getting hit from behind by Vancouver's Maxim Lapierre in a Dec. 6 game, but he skated for the third day in a row and is hopeful of playing next week. Wilson went face first into the glass, suffered a cut lip and blurred vision that lasted for a couple of days.

The Avalanche weren't pleased that Lapierre wasn't penalized or suspended.

"Any time you get your head run like that, you have to get a rest and let your brain heal," Wilson said. "It would have been nice for the team to get a power play there, but I guess the refs thought it wasn't that bad of a hit. Maybe they didn’t see my head go right into the glass, but I felt it pretty good."
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Posted On Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 3:24 PM

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Coyotes, Avalanche

These are the projected lineups for tonight’s game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center:

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Lauri Korpikoski - Andy Miele - Radim Vrbata
Raffi Torres - Cal O'Reilly - Mikkel Boedker
Taylor Pyatt - Kyle Chipchura - Paul Bissonnette

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Michal Rozsival
Rostislav Klesla - David Schlemko

Curtis McElhinney
Jason LaBarbera

Injuries: C Boyd Gordon (lower body), C Martin Hanzal (head) and G Mike Smith (groin) are out. D Adrian Aucoin (lower body) is day to day.

AVALANCHE
Matt Duchene - Paul Stastny - Daniel Winnik
Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Milan Hejduk
Chuck Kobasew - Jay McClement - TJ Galiardi
Cody McLeod - David Van Der Gulik - Kevin Porter

Shane O'Brien - Erik Johnson
Kyle Quincey - Stefan Elliott
Jan Hejda - Ryan O'Byrne

Semyon Varlamov
Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Injuries: RW David Jones (groin), LW Peter Mueller (head), C Mark Olver (head) and D Ryan Wilson (head) are out.

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Quote of the Day

It was a big dream. [Messi] is probably the best athlete out there, so it's a big honor, for [Kuznetzov] as well. It's maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the best player in soccer right now. I'm a big Barcelona fan and Messi fan, so it's huge. You can take [Michael] Jordan, [Mark] Messier, [Wayne] Gretzky, those kinds of [people]. It's an honor to meet. It's nice to be in that position.

— Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin told told Monumental Network after meeting soccer star Lionel Messi prior to Argentina's practice at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Md. on Friday