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Avalanche Tilt Vs. Columbus Could Be Special

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

How sweet is man-advantage play in hockey?

One team is down a player due to an infraction of some sort and the other keeps right along with five—or six if the goalie is pulled. The ice opens like a vast, frozen lake, and the electricity on both sides of the puck is nearly palpable with the intensity it brings.

There is a renewed sense of urgency for both clubs, no matter what point of the game it is. One is desperately trying to survive the other’s power play. The other is hoping to truly turn it into an advantage with a puck in the back of the net.

Special teams play could factor heavily in tonight’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, as both clubs are among the top 10 most penalized teams in the league. Colorado (22nd) gives up 11 penalty minutes on average per game while Columbus (27th) allows 12.4.

These numbers are important when comparing the strengths and weaknesses of both squads, which have had largely identical seasons overall. The Avalanche (9th) has had outstanding success on the penalty kill, stopping 114-of-136 total chances while the Blue Jackets (24th) have struggled with a 78.5 percent success rate (102-of-130).

Meanwhile, Columbus has made up for that disparity by fielding the top power-play unit in the league. While up a skater, the Blue Jackets have have finished the opportunity with a goal in 31-of-126 chances, including in nine of their last 11 contests.

The Avs (25th) have struggled to capitalize (18-for-123) and will look to find that spark tonight.

“I don’t think we really look at percentages of the other teams too much, but we focus on what we have to do. We’ve definitely had some meetings about it, and we’ll be ready,” said Avalanche rear guard Tyson Barrie. “Our power play has got to be better, and tonight would be a good test to show what we can do.”

Basics bring success when the going gets tough, and that is something that another Avalanche defenseman, Jan Hejda, thinks will help find the home team to find the power-play ignition switch tonight in Denver.

“On the power play, we have to keep it simple. Don’t try to force the puck and have a lot of shots,” Hejda said. “We watched them last night—they played against [Arizona]—and [the Coyotes] scored, I believe, two or three goals on the power play just from a point shot. It’s going to be a [thing] to try.”

Indeed, Columbus did surrender three power-play tallies to a five-goal comeback for the Coyotes, but the visiting squad—now playing in a back-to-back—also managed a man-advantage point of its own.

“They have a good power play, so we’re going to have to match that,” said center and special teams staple Matt Duchene. “I think just having confidence, keeping it simple and making the right plays is the biggest thing to get back to.”

Said Hejda: “It’s always a challenge for us to play against a top power play in the league. At the same time, I don’t see a reason why we cannot shut them down.”

Silencing a squad like that means focusing on the biggest threats on the ice, namely Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno. Both players are having career years and each is key to bringing the Blue Jackets success on the scoreboard.

“Those are big, skilled guys. They play a physical game,” Barrie said of his opponents. “As a D-man, you have to be prepared for that, and you can’t just expect them to play a soft game. They’re going to play hard.”

For Duchene, finding success against Columbus means not fixing what isn’t broken. He wants to do “the same as we’ve done the last two games: manage the game well, play hard, possess the puck in the O-zone and be smart defensively.”

“The last 10 games, we’re 6-2-2. I feel that we’re playing well defensively, especially the stretch where we played Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit [and in] the shutout against St. Louis. We’ve been giving less and less goals, which is very good for us,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “Now we just need to get some confidence offensively, and I think we’ll be in a good position.”

One thing the Avs are hoping to do from the opening faceoff is take advantage of Columbus’ back-to-back scenario. With rest, speed and mental preparation, the Avs will look for a strong start to carry though to the end.

“It’ll be a good one because it’s both desperate teams. They’ve been playing good hockey lately and so have we,” said Barrie. “We know they played last night so a good start is going to be key for us.”

The puck drops at 6 p.m. MT at Pepsi Center.

Holden On

Nick Holden

After being a healthy scratch for four consecutive games in December, defenseman Nick Holden has found a bit of confidence in his game after returning to the lineup. According to Roy, Holden is starting to bring together the parts of his game that were so essential in his emergence in the NHL last season.

“He played really well. I think it was important to have a good game,” said Roy of Holden’s play versus Philadelphia on Tuesday. “I thought it brought a lot of confidence for him. He made a great pass [to Jarome Iginla] for that one-timer to tie the game 3-3. He finished plus. That’s something that he didn’t see for a while.

“And I thought last game [versus Edmonton] he was solid again. He had another good game. He was moving well and he’s skating well. I’m very happy with him.”

Expected Lineup

There will be a bit of line shuffling for tonight’s contest against Columbus, with Roy moving some parts around to create favorable pairings throughout his lineup.

Croatian forward Borna Rendulic will again be paired in the top nine, playing wing alongside Duchene and Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. Meanwhile, forward Nathan MacKinnon will partner with John Mitchell and Daniel Briere.

“I was very happy with Rendulic. I like his speed and size, and I’m going to put him with Dutchy and Landy,” said Roy. “And I’m going to put MacKinnon on the left side with Mitchell and Briere on the right side.”

Roy was also very proud of his fourth line pairing, saying: “I have a lot of confidence when they’re on the ice. They can play against pretty much every line and certainly gave us some momentum against the Flyers.”

Alex TanguayRyan O'ReillyJarome Iginla

Gabriel LandeskogMatt DucheneBorna Rendulic

Daniel BriereJohn MitchellNathan MacKinnon

Cody McLeodMarc-Andre ClicheMaxime Talbot

Jan HejdaErik Johnson

Nick HoldenBrad Stuart

Nate GueninTyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

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