Colorado returned to Denver after that match, skated in two on home ice, and now the team is back out journeying around the league once more. While it may have been nice to sleep in their own beds, drive their own cars and change out some of their clothes, the players are still enjoying their time trekking around the league.
“Obviously, being at home is more comfortable, but being on the road is fun too. I think guys really enjoy getting to spend more time together versus at home,” center Nathan MacKinnon said from Barclays Center on Monday morning. “It is a tough stretch, you know. We played seven [on the] 15-day road trip. We have another four here, but we spend Christmas at home. We have a big stretch there. Get them out of the way now.”
The first of four out on the road is tonight against New York Islanders at their new home in Brooklyn. Just because the Avs don’t see the Islanders regularly—they only play twice a campaign—doesn’t mean they don’t know what their opponent will be like.
“We know that they have a lot of skill up front, and as well they’ve got some good shots from the back end in [Nick] Leddy and [Travis] Harmonic and [Johnny] Boychuk,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said following Monday’s morning skate. “For us, it’s just a matter of making sure that we keep this thing going, making sure that we stick to the game plan.”
The focus on offense from the defense is something that everyone in the Colorado lineup is aware of and planning for tonight.
“They’re a skilled forward group [with] ‘D’ that have heavy shots, and [there are] some skilled ‘D’ back there as well that will jump into the play,” rear guard Nick Holden said. “I think we’ve got to try and do what we’ve been doing the last few weeks here and get a good forecheck going and play in their zone as much as possible so it limits their offensive time.”
New York has its work cut out for it on Monday as well, as the Avalanche’s top line of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Matt Duchene has been an offensive force recently.
The trio leads the Avs in points, goals and, with the exception of defensemen Tyson Barrie (13) and Francois Beauchemin (11), assists as well.
In fact, the longer the ‘Nines line’ plays together, the better they seem to get.
“The more they’re playing together, the more they’re starting to have a feel for each other,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said. “[They have] speed. They’re a fast team. Landy is a strong guy, protects the puck well, goes to the net [and] opens up the ice for MacK and Dutchy. I think they fit well together. Like I said, they’re fast. They make quick decisions. One important thing for me is they eat a lot of minutes.
“We’re on a back-to-back, but these guys are young, and I know they’re capable of handling that.”
Landeskog attributes the sudden surge to a similar understanding of how to play.
“The three of us, I feel like we think the game in similar ways, and I feel like we work hard and we’re trying to make things happen out there,” he said. “I think we understand how important this stretch of the season is and how important it is for us to lead the way. Hopefully if we do our job, guys will follow, and I think that’s what the key has been.”
Leading by example paid off for the Avs on Saturday night in a 5-3 victory over the Jets at Pepsi Center. Colorado saw contributions from three different lines as Blake Comeau, Carl Soderberg and Chris Wagner joined Landeskog and Duchene on the scoresheet.
Wagner’s tally was his second in as many games. He’s been playing alongside veteran forward Jack Skille, and the two have made quite an impact while in a fourth-line role.
“I just think that we’re both playing predictable hockey. I think when you can predict what the other guy is going to do with the puck, it’s a lot easier to anticipate the play,” Skille said of playing with Wagner. “I think that’s kind of what’s going on right now. We’re playing so simple and we’re playing smart hockey. Anticipation is there [and] then you get chemistry out of that.”
It is that kind of secondary scoring, everyone contributing from all areas, that has helped the Avalanche pick up some victories.
“It’s very important in this league,” Skille said. “Obviously, the battles are special teams. That’s where the majority of the goals are scored in this league, but if you can sneak in a couple 5-on-5 against a team, that’s huge. That’s huge for momentum and obviously at the end of the night on the scoreboard.”
Another thing the Avs are doing well as of late is knocking down the number of shots coming from the opposing team.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of limiting the other team’s shots,” MacKinnon said. “The last couple seasons, even when we won the division there, it felt like Varly had to make 40 saves every night. I feel like this year we’ve been better defensively.”
“It’s not just focusing on each team. Every team’s going to take a lot of shots,” Holden added. “You’re just always trying to limit D-zone time and create more chances for you because obviously, if you’re in their zone, they’re not getting opportunities.”
Colorado will look to continue doing more of the same tonight in the club’s 14th game on the road this season. The puck drops at 5 p.m. MT.
Have no fear, Avs fans. Streaking forward Matt Duchene, who did not participate in the team’s morning skate in Brooklyn, is expected to play against the Islanders this evening.
“He didn't feel good last night, and we just told him to stay at the hotel this morning,” Roy said when asked about No. 9’s absence. “He’ll play tonight.”
The good news from Roy didn’t stop there either, as forward John Mitchell (oblique) could return Tuesday for the Avalanche’s second game of a back-to-back set.
“He’s very close,” said Roy. “I’m pretty confident that he is going to play tomorrow night in New Jersey.”