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Avalanche Experimenting on Defense

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

It isn't necessarily the same experimenting as in high school chemistry, but the Colorado Avalanche will be doing a little testing of its own on defense this evening for its contest against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Colorado's top D-pairing of Francois Beauchemin and Erik Johnson had remained untouched for most of the season, but that won't be the case in Tennessee. The duo will be broken up to help some of the team's younger players continue to adjust to life in the NHL.

The left-shot Beauchemin will play on the right side with Nikita Zadorov, who was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Sunday for his third stint with the Avs this season. The right-shot Johnson will be paired with rookie blueliner Chris Bigras, who has been a staple on the third pairing with Andrew Bodnarchuk and Zach Redmond.

Bigras
Johnson

The only time this season where the 35-year-old Beauchemin and 28-year-old Johnson haven't skated together during even strength came in a nine-game stint in January when Johnson was out with a lower-body injury.

"Like I mentioned to them, it's not because we're giving up [on them], it's because we feel that we're going to play a lot of games, and I think we need three solid pairings," said Colorado head coach Patrick Roy of splitting Beauchemin and Johnson. "I think that makes us three good pairings."

Zadorov
Beauchemin

Colorado's other defensive combination of Tyson Barrie and Nick Holden will remain unchanged for the start of Monday's contest. Bodnarchuk and Redmond are the planned scratches, along with injured players Matt Duchene, Eric Gelinas and Nathan MacKinnon.

The promotion of Bigras, 21, and Zadorov, 20, provides them with a situation where they can learn and adjust to the faster league from two veterans.

"How are the young guys going to perform? That is going to be the challenge," Roy said.

"I remember my '86 year in Montreal, where we were seven rookies coming in and the vets took care of us and made sure that we're capable of performing with some experience around us. It helped us a lot. I told Beauch and EJ, 'Make sure you're big brothers to them and help them.' I think it's going to help our team. I think it's going to benefit our team, and I believe that will give us the best chance possible and that will make us a much more solid team."

Bigras was called up to the Avs on Jan. 13 after starting the season in the AHL and has appeared in 27 games with the NHL club, registering a goal and two assists. He played in the each of the first 23 contests following his recall before being sidelined briefly with a head injury.

Zadorov began the season on the Avalanche's opening-night roster, but he was later reassigned to San Antonio on Nov. 7. The 6-foot-5 Russian was recalled with Bigras on Jan. 13 before being sent down 10 days later after Johnson returned from his injury. Zadorov has two assists in 16 NHL contests this season.

Both players seem to have made the most of their opportunity with San Antonio. Bigras totaled 19 points (six goals and 13 assists) in 37 games with the Rampage, while Zadorov registered 29 points (10 goals and 19 assists) and 90 penalty minutes in 50 contests in the AHL.

Colorado will also make a slight adjustment to its forward combinations, as Blake Comeau will be reunited on a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg. Comeau and Soderberg had played together for most of the season until being separated on March 7 as the Avs were looking to field a more balanced lineup.

Roy had complimented the group of Comeau, Landeskog and Soderberg prior to the split and said many times in January and February that it was one the best pairings. He's looking for the trio to find that same magic against a Predators squad that can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a win.

"Landy with Comeau and big Carl, I'm sure they are capable of giving us a little more," Roy said. "It will be interesting to see."

Shawn Matthias, who previously played with Landeskog and Soderberg, will take Comeau's spot on a top-six combo with center Mikhail Grigorenko and wing Mikkel Boedker. The Avs' third line of center John Mitchell and wings Jarome Iginla and Andreas Martinsen will stay the same.

Agozzino

Forward Andrew Agozzino was also recalled from the Rampage on Sunday, and he will center the fourth line with left wing Cody McLeod and right wing Jack Skille. This will be Agozzino's fourth ever NHL contest, and his skill set should fit well with his two linemates.

"I like to bring a lot of energy," Agozzino said. "I like to move out there and be engaged physically and challenge guys. It will be fun."

Agozzino was called up by Colorado earlier this season on Nov. 27 before being reassigned to San Antonio on Dec. 2 after two games. He made his NHL debut on Nov. 22, 2014 versus Carolina.

Semyon Varlamov is going to get the start in net this evening, and Roy said he is leaning toward also playing the goaltender in Tuesday's contest at St. Louis to close out a two-game road trip.

DUCHENE, MACKINNON UPDATE

Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon will miss their fifth and fourth consecutive games, respectively, with knee injuries. Neither of the team's top two scorers is on the trip.

Duchene may be the closer of the two to returning, as Roy said after today's morning skate that Duchene skated on his own on Sunday in Colorado. That is a good sign that the center might be able to return for Friday's home game against the league-leading Washington Capitals.

Duchene injured his knee during the contest at Vancouver on Jan. 16, while MacKinnon got hurt two days later in Calgary.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Shawn Matthias—Mikhail Grigorenko—Mikkel Boedker
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Andreas Martinsen—John Mitchell—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Andrew Agozzino—Jack Skille

Chris Bigras—Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov—Francois Beauchemin
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Calvin Pickard
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