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Avalanche Looks To Take Advantage Of Homestand

Colorado plays its next five games at Pepsi Center

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

The only travel the Colorado Avalanche will be doing for the next 11 days will be the 16 miles on Interstate 25 between its practice facility in Centennial to its home arena in downtown Denver.

Colorado begins a five-game homestand this evening as it hosts the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center in an 8 p.m. start time due to it being on national television in Canada. The Avs' five contests from Nov. 25-Dec. 5 marks their second-longest stretch in Denver of the season.

"I think it is key for us at this time of the year to have five games at home. It should help us to play in our building," said forward Nail Yakupov. "We're not going to have much travel. We're going to have some time between games, and we just have to be ready. I think we have everything to be the good team for all five games at home."

The Avalanche has played 13 of its first 21 outings away from its home barn. There is not too drastic of a difference with its home-road splits, but that number also includes a 4,000-plus-mile trip to Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this month for two games against the Ottawa Senators as part of the NHL Global Series.

Yakupov is in his first season with Colorado after signing as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason and is ready to spend some more time in his new home city.

"I think we're happy to be home," Yakupov said. "The last couple of months we've been on the road a lot, we went to Sweden, and we haven't stayed much at home. Now we have five games at home. We're happy to be playing in our building with our fans and our ice and our pregame meal."

Video: Yakupov before Avs host Flames

The Avs have taken advantage of their limited home contests so far in the early part of the season. They have a 7-1-1 record, which adjusts to 7-1-0 at Pepsi Center when factoring in that they were technically the home team for one of the outings in Sweden.

Colorado's has picked up victories in its last five games in Denver and has recorded 40 goals on home ice in its nine home contests xcontests, scoring three or more in each one (4.44 average).

"We like the way we've been playing at home," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. "We've had good energy. We've got out to some good starts. So same thing here tonight.

"We have a real tough opponent coming in that has had a real good road trip. A real good road record. Some dangerous guys up front. Same kind of game plan. We have to take advantage of this stretch here because after that it gets tough on the road."

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar before hosting the Flames

The Avalanche has been fairly pleased with its play since returning from Sweden following the Nov. 10-11 games. The club is 3-1-1 in those five outings and has liked how it has performed in those losses.

That includes its most recent contest on Friday night, a 3-2 shootout loss at the Minnesota Wild where Colorado held a 30-27 edge in shots on goal and a 58-42 advantage in total shots attempted.

Bednar said he wants his team to keep playing with the same tenacity over the next two weeks and beyond.

"For me, it's keep playing to our identity--our energy, passion and spirit that we've come to play with. And then the attention to detail I think is key for us," Bednar said. "When we play with the right level of intensity, our execution is good. I think if you don't come with the right level of intensity to play then your execution will start getting a little sloppy. We've seen that at times. We're still a work in progress, but those are the things we'll key on."

Much of the Avs' success at home has come from their play on special teams. Colorado's home power play (27.8 percent) and penalty kill (92.6 percent) both rank fourth in the NHL, compared to 28th and 31st, respectively, on the road.

The top line of center Nathan MacKinnon, left wing Gabriel Landeskog and right wing Mikko Rantanen have also been equally strong in the Avalanche's home barn. The trio has combined for 43 points (15 goals and 28 assists) at home, with Landeskog currently riding a six-game home point streak (six goals and three assists) and MacKinnon registering 14 points (four goals and 10 assists) in his last five home outings. Rantanen has 15 points (four goals and 11 assists) in nine home games.

Colorado's No. 1 forward group has helped make Pepsi Center a rocking place recently, and Bednar wants that electric atmosphere to continue.

"We're trying to prove something here at home. It's a goal of ours to play really well in front of our fans and sort of build our fan base back and get the city excited about this group. To this point, we've done that," Bednar said. "We got to make sure we're still taking it game by game. We can't look at it as a five-game homestand. We have to break it to down game by game and even period by period, and it starts tonight against the Flames."

A victory would give the Avalanche 17 points at home this season, its third-most output through 10 games since moving to Denver in 1995. The squad recorded a 9-1-0 (18 points) record through 10 home contests in 2007-08 and marks of 8-0-2 (18 points) in 1995-96 and 8-1-1 (17 points) in 2000-01. 

VARLAMOV STILL OUT, BERNIER STILL IN

Goaltender Semyon Varlamov skated for the third straight day on Saturday morning as he continues to recover from an illness, but he won't dress for the Avalanche's game this evening against the Flames. Jonathan Bernier will make his fourth consecutive start in net, while Andrew Hammond will be the backup netminder.

"Varly is skating again, obviously. He hasn't gotten a lot of practice time," Bednar said. "He is still bouncing back from his sickness. Berns has been real good. He was real good last night in Minny, and he'll get another crack at it tonight."

Varlamov said he feels better but isn't quite ready to guard the pipes. He is aiming for a return on Wednesday against the Winnipeg Jets.

"I was not ready 100 percent," he said after the club's optional morning skate. "If you're not ready 100 percent, you shouldn't play.

"After this game, I'll have three days between games and it should be enough time to prepare myself for the next game."

Video: Varlamov talks about his health

Varlamov's latest outing was last Saturday when he made 19 saves at the Nashville Predators.

Bernier is 2-0-1 in his three contests in relief of Varlamov. He recorded a 28-save shutout on Wednesday versus the Dallas Stars and stopped 25-of-27 shots through overtime in Colorado's shootout loss at Minnesota on Friday afternoon.

The Avalanche will roster the same squad as it did in Minnesota, making no lineup changes. Defenseman Chris Bigras and forward Gabriel Bourque will join Varlamov as the team's scratches.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Colin Wilson - Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher
Blake Comeau - Carl Soderberg - Matt Nieto
Sven Andrighetto - Dominic Toninato - Nail Yakupov

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Mark Barberio
Andrei Mironov - Tyson Barrie

Jonathan Bernier
Andrew Hammond

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