It's been a long stretch at home for the Colorado Avalanche, and the team looks to wrap up its longest homestand of the season with a victory before going on its last road trip of the year to the East Coast.
Tonight's cross-conference matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets is the Avs' fifth game at Pepsi Center in 18 days, but their only victory in that time was in the opener against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 19. Colorado, which had its homestand split in half with nine day off in-between for the All-Star Break and its bye week, has dropped its past three contests but will face a Columbus squad that has lost five in a row.
"There is going to be desperation between two teams that haven't been winning games, but there is going to be desperation from here on out," said Alexander Kerfoot. "Coming down the stretch, we know how important the games are. It seems like our conference is so tight, it seems like everyone is still in it. There are going to be no easy nights."
Both clubs are on the edge of the playoff picture. The Blue Jackets presently hold the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference, and the Avalanche is ninth in the Western race but could move back into the postseason picture with a victory this evening.
"The motivation is where we are in the standings right now," said Sheldon Dries. "We're not happy with it. We know we're in a little bit of a slump. The only way to get out of it is start tonight and start the right way."
Colorado aims to open the game strong offensively and defensively versus Columbus and then sustain that effort for the entire night.
Head coach Jared Bednar said it's important that the Avs do the little things right defensively, as that has been what has hurt the club recently. He noted that if his players take care of their side of the ice first and foremost, the offensive success will follow.
"I've been hearing the right things in our room," Bednar said. "I'm confident our team is striving to get better and we're searching for solutions. Again, it's going to come down to the actions. We pay attention to the details, we know what we're supposed to do. It's just the inconsistencies of it and some of the reads."
This will be the final of two meetings this season between Colorado and Columbus. The teams' last matchup took place nearly four months ago on Oct. 9 at Nationwide Arena.
After this evening, the Avalanche will play at the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and Boston Bruins in a four-day span beginning on Thursday.
Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer will start in goal for tonight's contest against the Jackets.
This will be the keeper's second game of the campaign against Columbus, as he made his Colorado debut in the teams' first matchup on Oct. 9 in Ohio's capital city.
The Avs' forward combinations and defensive pairings are expected to be the same ones as they used during practice for the past two days
Mark Barberio is set to be the team's lone healthy scratch after being a full participant in the team's skate for the second straight day.
Barberio missed two games while recovering from a concussion sustained on Jan. 21 and practiced for the first three days out of the team's bye week wearing a red, non-contact jersey. He was in a regular defenseman practice sweater for Monday's 45-minute session and today's optional morning skate.
Defenseman Conor Timmins won't join the Avalanche on its upcoming road trip to the Eastern Conference, but he will still get some team practices in during that stretch.
Timmins, who has been on the club's injured non-roster since the start of the season with a concussion, will head to Loveland and join the Avs' American Hockey League affiliate for a few skates this week.
The Colorado Eagles are back home with two games this weekend after playing their last six contests on the road, but Timmins is not expected to play in any of them, only participating in the team practices.
"He's going to leave tomorrow and go up the road and skate with them while we're gone to give him the team aspect," Bednar said. "He's been in and out of contact drills, again making progress, but I don't really have any new updates on that, except for the fact that he's going to head up there for this road trip."
As Bednar mentioned, Timmins has been more involved in the Avalanche's practices as of late, but the rookie blueliner hasn't fully shed his red, non-contact jersey in that time. Colorado's second pick of the 2017 draft at No. 32 overall, Timmins' last game was in the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in May.
Center Alexander Kerfoot on the Avalanche's offense: "We generate enough chances where it's going to come around. You're not going to score five goals every game, but I think we're confident that if we play the right way that we can bury enough chances to win games."
Video: Kerfoot before the Avs take on the Blue Jackets
Center Sheldon Dries on scoring first: "It's not great playing from behind every game. Definitely want to establish a strong forecheck right off the start and try and get that first goal. If you're playing from behind each and every night, it's going to be tough to win. We need to get in the mindset of scoring first and keeping the pressure on."
Video: Sheldon Dries before the game against Columbus
Head Coach Jared Bednar on playing desperate hockey: "I don't think we haven't played desperate hockey, just not every night. The consistency is an issue for us, but I do believe this: a strong start and paying attention to the smaller details and sort of freeing us up to be the aggressors in these games is important."
Video: Avs head coach Jared Bednar after the morning skate