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Avalanche Aims To Play Better Defensively

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

So far, the Colorado Avalanche's three-game road trip through the Central Division has been a success. However, the club knows it will have to play better defensively if it wants to get a third win this evening in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

Colorado's victories in Nashville on Saturday and St. Louis on Sunday were nearly identical. Both times the Avs got up by two goals in the first period before finding a way to win in the end. The team received a late goal from Andreas Martinsen against the Predators and a goaltending spectacle by Semyon Varlamov against the Blues.

Varlamov had his best performance of the year against St. Louis, making a season-high 42 saves—including 17 each in the second and third periods—en route to his fourth win in his last five starts.

While Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy is pleased with his team coming out with a victory in both outings, he said the team can't give up as many shots or scoring chances late in games.

"We played OK against the Blues. Varly was phenomenal," Roy said Tuesday. "I thought we could have been better defensively, and that's what we're going to have to do tonight if we want a chance to win this hockey game.

"Back-to-back games, both were really hard-fought games. Nashville is a good hockey team. The Blues are a good team. The key was the start in those two games… You want to play with the lead on the road. I don't want us to sit back, but at the same time we want to play with the lead and keep going."

St. Louis outshot Colorado 35-12 in the last 40 minutes, and the final score could have been a lot different if Varlamov wasn't on top of his game.

"We know we stole one in St. Louis probably," said forward Matt Duchene. "We dominated the first half of the game, but we gave up way too much in the second half. Tonight, we want a good 60-minute effort."

Said Roy of his goalie against the Blues: "In the third, it was a 2-1 game and he made three or four solid [saves] after they scored on their power play. This is our story: we need our goalie to be our best player. It is pretty clear when you go on the road and play games like Chicago and Nashville or St. Louis like last game, if Varly is on top of his game, he's always going to give us a chance to win, and that's what we need from him."

Varlamov will be back in net against the Blackhawks, a team he and the Avs have had relative success with.

The Russian is 7-0 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .965 save percentage in seven starts against Chicago since the 2013-14 campaign, becoming the first netminder to win seven consecutive decisions against the Blackhawks since Ty Conklin (Nov 18. 2003 to Jan. 1, 2009). He also went 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average in three starts against Chicago last year, which included a 54-save shutout at United Center on Jan. 6.

As a team, Colorado is 7-3 against Chicago in its last 10 games, which includes a 4-1 record in the Windy City.

"It seems like we match well with them," Roy said of the Blackhawks. "The speed is something we like, and that is the type of hockey they like as well. It's a good fit for our team, and hopefully it will be the same thing tonight."

The first meeting of the season between the Avalanche and Blackhawks is not only the last stop on the current road trip against division foes, it also ends a stretch for the Avs of playing 18 of 25 games away from home. Beginning Thursday versus the New York Islanders, Colorado plays 17 of the next 24 at Pepsi Center.

Getting a victory against the defending Stanley Cup champions would be a nice thing to come home with.

"We have been finding ways to win on this road trip, both in Nashville and St. Louis. That's what it's all about, especially against division rivals you have to find ways," said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog. "Tonight is another good test for our club. Definitely, it would be a big difference coming back 3-0 and feeling confident and being able to keep this thing going on home ice."

This evening's contest will be nationally televised in the United States on NBCSN. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m. MT.

REDMOND BACK IN

The Avalanche will make only one change to its lineup for tonight's tilt in Chicago, adding Zach Redmond on defense.

Redmond will replace Brandon Gormley on the third defensive pairing with Nate Guenin. Redmond last played on Dec. 1 at New Jersey and has been a healthy scratch for the last six contests. Gormley had played in six straight games.

Colorado's only other healthy scratch will be forward Chris Wagner, who will miss his second straight game since being picked up on waivers by the team on Nov. 15.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonMatt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen
Carl SoderbergBlake Comeau
Alex Tanguay
—John Mitchell—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod
Mikhail GrigorenkoJack Skille

Francois BeaucheminErik Johnson
Nick Holden
Tyson Barrie
Nate Guenin
Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

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