If the Colorado Avalanche players knew how to emulate their play from the road to at home, they would.
The Avs have lost four games in a row at home but are coming off a 2-1-0 road trip, and the club felt its best outing was the one it lost on Sunday in Buffalo. Through 59 games, Colorado has posted an impressive 17-13-0 mark away from Pepsi Center while owning a 12-13-4 record on home ice.
"I don't know if there is an explanation to it," said Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay. "You play so many games that sometimes you go through good streaks and bad streaks. We just haven't been winning at home for any particular reason."
Getting a win tonight at home against the Montreal Canadiens, a club that has given up six goals in each of its last two games, might be just what the doctor ordered for Colorado, which hasn't been pleased with its offense the past month and a half.
Yes, the team has been finding ways to win by scoring timely goals and getting superb goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard, but the players expect more from themselves.
"Other than the power play, we haven't contributed a whole lot," Tanguay said. "The power play was what won us the game in Ottawa, and in Detroit we scored a couple goals, but we have to sustain more offense. We have to find ways to do it. [Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy] is switching around the lines to find the combinations that will allow us to do that. It's up to us to make it work."
Among those changes that Roy will make this evening will be putting Matt Duchene at center between Mikhail Grigorenko and Jarome Iginla and placing speedster Nathan MacKinnon at the pivot with Jack Skille, who also has some wheels on him, and playmaker Tanguay.
"The thing I like about having MacKinnon with Skille is speed," Roy said. "They are really fast, and Tanguay is capable of making plays. I think it is going to be an interesting line. I'm really curious how these guys are going to play together."
The Avs also look to build on what they did against the Sabres; they outshot them 35-21 and held a 60-42 edge in attempts.
"We felt like that was our best game of the road trip, and that just goes to show you where this game is sometimes. You have your best effort and you feel you're dominating, but you still lose 4-1," said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog. "We got to make sure that we take that offensive game with us that we played in Buffalo, where we felt like we created a lot of scoring chances. It's just a matter of putting the puck in the back of the net."
Roy hasn't been shy of admitting that his team likes the run-and-gun style of play, entering the opposing end on an odd-man rush to generate a scoring chance. The club has the personnel to get up the ice quickly with Duchene and MacKinnon at center.
However, Colorado also feels it can meticulously grind the other team down it its own zone, cycling the puck before striking at a prime chance.
"We feel like we played against Buffalo—the way we cycled the puck, the way we used the whole rink—it is definitely something we want to keep going, and we want to keep doing," Landeskog said. "Getting pucks and bodies to the front of the net is something that is important to score goals, making sure we hold on to the puck and wear them down, and eventually they are going to get tired and things are going to open up."
Scoring first this evening on Montreal goaltender Ben Scrivens, who let in three goals on eight shots in his last game on Friday in Buffalo, can also help Colorado open the offensive floodgates.
"They have given up a lot of goals late, and we want to take advantage of that like every other team is trying to," said John Mitchell. "We want to get pucks to the net, get bodies there, lots of shots. Eventually one will go in and you can get a second, third, fourth and go from there."
The Canadiens have fallen on tough times since losing goaltender Carey Price, last year's league MVP, to a lower-body injury in November. They have only won six games since the start of December, erasing a great start that had them go 13-2-1 in their first 16 contests.
"We know what Montreal is capable of doing. They are better than they have shown lately," Landeskog said. "We all know that, and I think everyone in the league knows that. You can't take anything for granted. Obviously it's a matter of winning a hockey game, whether it's 1-0 or a high-scoring game, it's a matter of making sure you're on top of that leaderboard."
MITCHELL TO PLAY
Center John Mitchell left Tuesday's practice early, but he is expected to play in tonight's contest. Mitchell said after today's morning skate that he suffered a zinger on his neck in practice but will be OK to go against the Canadiens.
He will lead the fourth line, which includes Cody McLeod and Andreas Martinsen on his wings.
"We want to try and control the puck," Mitchell said of his combo. "We have big bodies that can control the puck down low as much as we can and take care of business down there when we have the opportunity. Get pucks to the net, bodies to the net. Mac is going to get his shovel in there and try and shovel pucks in, and Marty will try and do the same thing. That's the objective for our line, certainly to get pucks to the net and get bodies there."
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Alex Tanguay—Nathan MacKinnon—Jack Skille
Mikhail Grigorenko—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Andreas Martinsen
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras—Andrew Bodnarchuk