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Avs Balance Rest And Practice During Busy Stretch

Colorado practiced for the first time in a week due to tough schedule

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab /

BUFFALO, N.Y.--Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar has had to find the right blend of rest and practice with his club having played four contests in the last seven days and with two more coming up before the end of the week.

The Avs are three games into a five-game road trip and close out the trek out east with a back-to-back set on Thursday and Friday at the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. In preparation for that, Colorado held nearly an hour-long practice on Wednesday afternoon at KeyBank Center, this despite playing the night before in New Jersey.

It was the Avalanche's first on-ice session in a week, as the previous time the team practiced was last Wednesday as it was getting ready for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's a careful balance to make sure that we're rested," said head coach Jared Bednar, whose squad will end up playing five times in a matter of seven days during this season-long trip. "We had a day off when we left New York going into Jersey.

"Today, we just went a lighter, high-tempo practice and we did a lengthy video session before, going over some of the things that we did right and some of the things we did wrong over the last couple games, making sure that we get our teaching in there. Still spend some time working on it in practice, and then try to give them all the rest that they need."

Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar gives an update after practice

The practice at the home arena of the Sabres didn't involve any tough skating, but rather just some on-ice review of stuff that the club hasn't been able to work on due to the schedule.

Colorado has the busiest stretch to close out the season with it playing a league-high 36 games in the final 69 days, so the coaches have had to pick their spots on when to have a practice and when to give the players rest.

"We have a lot of games, but it's not a bad thing," said defenseman Nikita Zadorov. "It's always fun to go out there and play hockey. We need some rest so we didn't practice too much lately. It's nice to finally get a practice and get some drills going. It's a tough schedule for us. We have a lot of games coming up, so we also need to take some rest."

One player that didn't participate in practice was Matt Duchene, as he was given a maintenance day and just did off-ice work at the rink.

"He was a little sore after last night's game," Bednar said. "Nothing that will keep him out of our lineup, but we felt with two games coming up on a back-to-back it would be better and he would benefit from a day off today."

Taking Duchene's spot at center between Mikhail Grigorenko and Matt Nieto during the session was Carl Soderberg, who had been playing on a line with Joe Colborne and Andreas Martinsen. Defenseman Patrick Wiercioch practiced with the Colborne and Martinsen for 5-on-5 drills.

Video: Nikita Zadorov on facing the Sabres

Erik Johnson joined the club in New Jersey on Monday and skated for the second time during the trip before the Wednesday's practice. He was out on the ice for nearly an hour before the Avalanche's team session, working with assistant coach Nolan Pratt.

Johnson continues to improve as he recovers from a broken fibula, and the frequency and intensity of his skating sessions are good signs. However, there is still no timetable for his return to game action.

"Spent 45 minutes to 50 minutes with the coaches on both days, and he is starting to push himself harder and harder here," Bednar said of Johnson. "It looks like his conditioning is pretty good, and now it is just a matter of him working through some of the pain and soreness that he has from the injury in order to keep ramping him up so he can get ready and play sometime in the near future."

Forward Rene Bourque is not with the Avs on the trip as he stayed in Colorado to continue to recover from a head injury. He could return to the lineup when the club plays its next home game on Sunday versus the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"He had a good day of practice and skating today on his own (in Denver)," Bednar said of Bourque, who last played Feb. 1 at Los Angeles. "It seems like he is moving in the right direction, and hopefully he'll be cleared to play by the time we get back, but you never know with that type of injury."

Video: Mikhail Grigorenko on playing Buffalo

Goaltender Calvin Pickard will get the start in the crease against the Sabres, which is the beginning of the Avalanche's eighth back-to-back set of the year and the second on this road trip.

Bednar said the team will then decide on the starting netminder for the contest in Carolina after Thursday's outing.

Backup goalie Jeremy Smith could get the nod for the second half of the back-to-back, as he is coming off a 37-save performance in his NHL debut on Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.

"Jeremy Smith did a real good job for us," Bednar said. "I believe he probably earned another start here at some point; we just don't know if it's going to be over the next two nights."

Smith's 37 saves were the most in a first career game by a goalie in franchise history.

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