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Avs Host Ducks In First Game After Bye

Colorado and Anaheim meet for the first of three matchups this month

by Danielle Bernstein @danibernstein / ColoradoAvalanche.com

Following four days off during its bye week, the Colorado Avalanche returns to action on Thursday night, hosting the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center. It's the first of three meetings against the Ducks this season--all of which will be played in the month of January--and Anaheim's only game at Pepsi Center. The Avs will play the Ducks twice in Anaheim, on Jan. 19 and 31.

The Avalanche is 37-27-16 overall against the Ducks and 20-15-5 on home ice. Colorado was 2-1-0 during the 2015-16 campaign, winning the first two games of the season series before dropping it final regular season contest at home.

Last Time Out

The Avalanche entered the bye week following a 2-1 overtime victory over the New York Islanders last Friday. Gabriel Landeskog got the Avalanche on the board first with his seventh marker of the season, and Nathan MacKinnon potted the game-winner in the extra frame, his second career regular-season OT goal. Colorado moved to 5-0 in overtime this season and is just one of two teams (New York Rangers) that has not lost in the extra frame in 2016-17.

The Ducks are coming off of a 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night that saw goaltender John Gibson pitch a 34-save shutout. Jakob Silfverberg recorded a goal and an assist in the win, and Anaheim was 1-for-4 on the power play while holding Dallas scoreless on three man-advantage opportunities.

Last Time They Met

Anaheim and Colorado met in the Avs' regular-season finale of the 2015-16 campaign, a 5-3 Ducks win on April 9 at Pepsi Center. Special teams starred, as the Anaheim scored two goals on four power-play opportunities and the Avalanche finished 1-for-7 with the man advantage.

What to Watch

Faceoff Battle

Thursday's matchup pits two of the NHL's top faceoff teams against one another. The Ducks rank first in the league in overall faceoff win percentage at 55.5, while the Avalanche ranks first in offensive zone win percentage at 57.2.

Antoine Vermette (64.0 percent) and Matt Duchene (61.2 percent) rank first and second in the NHL, respectively, in faceoff win percentage. Ryan Kesler's 57.9 success rate at the faceoff circle is seventh in the league, and his 541 faceoff wins are tops amongst all skaters. Nathan MacKinnon has won 387 faceoffs, and his 60.4 win percentage in the offensive zone ranks 11th in the league.

Avalanche Power Play

Colorado's overtime tally against the Islanders on Friday came on the power play, a much-needed man-advantage marker for a team that currently ranks 28th in the NHL with a 13.6 conversion rate with the extra skater.

"We need to see them shoot the puck more and get to the front of the net and kind of simplify things," head coach Jared Bednar said of his team's power play following an hour-long practice session on Wednesday afternoon at Family Sports Center. "I think when we're doing that, we're a little more successful. We track down pucks. We have to get more pucks to the net in a shorter amount of time. We can't be so selective."

Player to Watch

Colorado: Center Nathan MacKinnon

MacKinnon was named to the NHL's Central Division All-Star roster on Tuesday and comes out of the bye week as the Avalanche's leading scorer with 27 points, including a two-point effort (goal and assist) in Friday's win. He's notched five points (three goals, two assists) in six career games against the Ducks, registering a goal in his last three outings against them.  

Anaheim: Right Wing Corey Perry

In 37 career games against the Avalanche, Perry has totaled 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists), including a three-assist performance in the last meeting between the two teams. He's recorded 13 points through his last 19 games and ranks fifth in the league with 13 power-play assists.

Lineup Notes

After missing the last seven games with a groin injury, goaltender Semyon Varlamov will get the start in goal. Newly acquired forward Matt Nieto will play on the second line with Duchene and Rene Bourque after skating with them at Wednesday's practice.

"I don't know if that's the best spot for him either, but we need someone to kind of help spark and find some chemistry with Duchene there, and we've kind of been running with that first line (Landeskog, MacKinnon, Rantanen) a lot. And they've been pretty good, so we don't really want to break that up," said Bednar. "We have to find some supporting offense from our other lines, and obviously the place where it should come from is the Duchene line. We like the looks of that line on paper right now. They have some speed. They have some size, and we'll see how it goes. We're experimenting there to find some production."

The Details

Thursday night's clash between the Avs and the Ducks begins at 7 p.m. MT at Pepsi Center, and tickets are still available. Fans can watch live on Altitude 2 and listen in on Altitude Sports Radio AM950 or online at ColoradoAvalanche.com.

Thursday's game is also UCHealth's Mental Health Night, as the Avalanche looks to help raise awareness for mental health issues.

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