At the quarter pole of the season, the Colorado Avalanche has been average. The team has nearly as many victories as defeats and has struggled to find consistency, having not put together a streak longer than two games, win or lose.
As the Avs enter game No. 21 of the year this evening at Pepsi Center against the Nashville Predators, the players seem to know they need to start picking up wins in bunches despite still having more than four full months left to play.
"Tons of time, but at the same time you have to win your games. One bad month and you're done," Matt Duchene reflected Tuesday morning. "We've been up and down all season; win one, lose one, win two, lose two. That's why we're [near] that .500 mark or whatever. We want to get above that, and we want to push above that and see where it gets us."
Colorado has done some good things over the past few weeks, but it has left too many points on the table by going 4-3-1 in its last eight contests.
The Avs have played well in stretches, sometimes for two periods or the majority of the contest, but their inability to put together a full-game effort is one of the reasons for their current situation: a 9-10-1 overall record and five points out of a wild-card spot.
"I think it's our [inability] to put 60 minutes together that's been hurting us," Duchene said. "Maybe we do it one game, but then the next game in the first period we're down 2-0. Maybe we come back, maybe we don't. It's our [inability] to stay with it and stay focused in terms of our game plan and continue to execute for 60 minutes has been our Achilles' heel this year."
Video: Matt Duchene on the first quarter of the year
Duchene said the team is working hard, but they just have to be a little cleaner in the details of the game to start stringing some wins together.
"It's not that we're not trying. It's not that we're trying to do the right thing or working hard or do all of that. We just need to give a little bit more and be a little smarter and make sure that we're making the right play at the right time," he said. "I think we start doing that, we're a team that is capable of going on a run."
The Predators offer a good chance for the Avalanche to begin that streak.
Nashville ranks ninth in the league with 2.86 goals per game, but its style of play opens up chances for opposing teams to take advantage of.
"They like the transition game," Duchene said of the Predators. "They move around a lot in the O-zone, and it's a team if we play solid against them defensively, we're going to get our looks and our chances. It's just a matter of them converting. If we're sloppy defensively, they're going to eat us alive. I think we know what to expect from them."
The Avalanche is a respectable 4-2 when it gets the first goal of the night. The problem is it has only opened the game's scoring six times in 20 outings. In hopes of getting an early lead, the Avs changed up their routine on game day by not having a morning skate on Tuesday.
There hasn't been much time this month for work with the team playing nearly every other day-Today's contest is the 14th in 29 days. Colorado had the luxury of not having a game the past two days, which allowed the coaching staff to have longer practices and work on specific things to help the team clean up a variety of areas.
"This was an opportunity for us instead of game, practice, game; we had two days (of practices)," head coach Jared Bednar said. "We had some things that we wanted to dig into. We played pretty good. We've got points in three of our last four, but we wanted to make sure that, while we're doing some good things, that we kind of get after our team a little bit and pay attention to the details of system and our work ethic in practice. We pushed them real hard the first day, yesterday we were longer again at just over an hour.
"Maybe they'll come in fresh and energized tonight. We'll try something different."
Tonight's meeting with the Predators will be the second of the season for the Avalanche after it opened the month against the Central Division foe. Colorado lost 5-1 in that game on Nov. 1 and would like to deliver a little payback before flipping the calendar to December.
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
Only three Avalanche players skated on Tuesday morning while the rest of the club did a light workout and its usual video session that occurs on game days. Nathan MacKinnon, Eric Gelinas and Semyon Varlamov worked with head coach Jared Bednar and assistant coach Dave Farrish for about 30 minutes during the team's usual pregame ice slot at Pepsi Center.
Only MacKinnon is expected to play against Nashville, as Gelinas should be a healthy scratch and Varlamov will backup Calvin Pickard as he continues to recover from a minor wrist injury.
Since MacKinnon missed Sunday's practice for a maintenance day after crashing hard into the boards the previous night, Bednar thought it would be good for the forward to get another skate in.
"He had an off day there after the game, so we wanted him to get out there and shoot," Bednar said.
Defenseman Erik Johnson was not at the arena this morning after also missing Monday's practice because of an illness, but he should be in the lineup this evening.
"We're expecting him to play tonight," Bednar said of Johnson. "He obviously hasn't felt great over the last 24-36 hours, so we told him to stay away from the rink, get some rest, get out and get moving this morning, and we'll have meetings with him tonight that we had with the team this morning. Just get him ready to go so he's rested and feeling the best he can."
Gabriel Landeskog won't dress for the sixth consecutive game tonight as he continues to heal from a lower-body injury. The Avalanche captain didn't skate for the fourth straight day.
"We really don't have anything else to report on except for the fact that we have to wait and see every day how he feels and start progressing as he feels better," Bednar said of Landeskog's status. "If he doesn't feel better, then we're leaving him out. It's too early in the season, and something we don't want to play with. He's not 100 percent, so he's basically on his own timetable with the trainers. They let me know if he is good to go and how much we can push him on the ice."
Mikko Rantanen - Nathan MacKinnon - Rene Bourque
Mikhail Grigorenko - Carl Soderberg - Matt Duchene
Blake Comeau - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod - Joe Colborne - Andreas Martinsen
Fedor Tyutin - Erik Johnson
Patrick Wiercioch - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Francois Beauchemin