"We just talked about it as a staff and with players and as a group came to the decision. We talked about what we want to get accomplished as a coaching staff and how we want to go about our weekly, daily business and what the players want to get out of it," head coach Jared Bednar said of the shift. "So we've come to that conclusion. We've liked our jump. I think our starts have been a little bit better, and we've been able to work them hard in practice and make sure we're getting what we need out of that.
"Our schedule has been strange. That's the best way I can put it. You look at the two big breaks at the start of the year, then Christmas break, then the bye week, and we seem to have [had] a lot of space in between games… So we've had lots of time to practice through the first half of the year. Now after this break, we play every second night. So we have to get work done and we have to give them rest at the same time. That's what we want to do kind of moving forward through the course of the season."
Video: Coach Jared Bednar before the Avs face the Canucks
Bednar said that the optional skate scenario allows the players to get what they need out of the morning, which still includes the usual team meetings and video sessions, in order for them to be prepared come puck drop.
"Without taking the whole team on the ice, it allows those guys to give a little bit of an individual attention to some of the things they want to work on," he said. "So some guys just want to shoot some pucks from certain areas of the ice or pass from certain areas of the ice that they may get looks at during the game or that they missed on or want to capitalize on. Some guys just want to go out and feel it. That's good. Some guys just want to do a spin and get their legs going. Some guys just want to do some maintenance. So I think it gives everyone the option to come here, we have our meeting and they can get what they need out of the morning so they're ready to play their best at night."
This means that practice time, which will be coming at a premium as there are just 34 dark days compared to the 36 contests remaining after the break, is serious, hardworking business. This was evident on Tuesday as the players skated hard and were breathless and tired after the on-ice session at Family Sports Center.
"We're making a habit of that in practice, making sure we're working hard in practice, especially now that we're giving the guys the mornings off on game day," Bednar said after that skate.
With Colorado largely playing well, but still not getting resulting wins, the new strategy appears to be paying off, which is what Bednar prefers to see.
Video: Matt Duchene before Avs game vs. Canucks
The shift also provides additional time for players like Matt Duchene (illness) and Tyson Barrie and Rene Bourque (lower-body injuries) to rest or rehab at their own pace, potentially minimizing their absences from the lineup.
While Barrie and Bourque were placed on injured reserve on Tuesday and will not play Wednesday versus the visiting Vancouver Canucks, Duchene is probable to return after missing Monday's match and Tuesday's practice.
"I'm feeling much better," Duchene said Wednesday morning. "I should be good for tonight."
The Avs recalled forward Jim O'Brien from San Antonio on Tuesday to provide support in case Duchene wasn't able to play. As such, O'Brien is expected to be one of the club's healthy scratches this evening.
"It doesn't look like [he'll play]," Bednar said of O'Brien. "Unless something happens with Dutchy and he takes a turn for the worse, but right now we're expecting him to play."
Video: Jim O'Brien on getting called up
Duchene, Colorado's leading goalscorer, is excited to return to the lineup, despite the situation the team is in. He admitted Wednesday that the season has been difficult for the squad, but it's important to remember that the players are in it together.
"Where we're at, it's really hard. It's tough for everybody. Waking up in the morning, it's not the same excitement going to the rink. I love to play the game, and I love the game for what the game is, but at this point it's hard," he said. "Knowing where we're at right now and what ou future holds is really difficult, but I think the biggest thing is, are you going to have a good game every night? No. Are you going to be the best every single night? No, you're not going to. You're going to have some tough nights. You're going to go through ups and downs. It's no different, whether you're on a good team or a bad team, it always happens.
"I think the biggest thing is you make sure you're taking care of what you can take care of, control what you can control and realize that it's a team game and a loss can't directly fall on one person, no matter how good or bad you were. A win or a loss doesn't fall on one person ever. It doesn't matter what team you're on. I think that's the biggest thing I've been trying to focus on, because in past years I've been way harder on myself than I probably should have been about team-related stuff that I couldn't control because it's a team game."
Perspective is certainly important for the team as it works toward sustained success, both game-to-game and season-to-season.
"I just enjoy being at the rink. Even in the worst days, you're still playing in the NHL. You're still doing what you grew up loving. As a group, we can still have some fun and enjoy what we're doing," Duchene said. "It's not fun losing, and that's never going to be fun. It doesn't matter what you're doing, but playing the game should always be fun, and getting to do what we do should always be fun. We're all blessed to be able to do it."
The Colorado Avalanche have been without netminder Semyon Varlamov since the 28-year-old Russian was shut down on Jan. 18.
The original timetable for Varlamov's return was roughly Jan. 30, or after the upcoming NHL All-Star break. However, that timetable could change if Varlamov isn't declared healthy enough to sustain regular game action.
"I don't like to speculate on that stuff. I don't know. When the doctors and the trainers and Varly get together, they'll come up with [something]," Bednar said of Varlamov's status. "We can't put him in the net if it's just going to be temporary, short-term stuff. So we have to come up with a way to make sure he's either playing or he's doing the right things so he is put in a position to be able to play a lot of games.
"I don't know if [surgery is] an option or not at this point. I would say that could be an option, yes."
It's been a tough situation for both the team and the goalie, as Varlamov has been in and out of the lineup for most of the season.
"I'm saying that that's frustrating for both parties. You need your players to be able to play their best. With Varly… it's my understating that [his groin] has given him issues at times before," Bednar said. "So now this year for me, he comes in, he plays a couple games. He can't sustain it because his groin is bothering him. He comes back out, he comes back in. He can't find the rhythm of play to be successful."
Varlamov's situation is ultimately dependent upon what the doctors, trainers and player decide to do moving forward.
"They're talking about doing a couple different things with him, and we'll just see," Bednar said. "We're not going to know until after All-Star break what we're doing with him."
BEAUCH HITS 800
Avalanche defenseman Francois Beauchemin will hit a major milestone in his NHL career Wednesday as the Avs take on the visiting Vancouver Canucks at Pepsi Center.
When Beauchemin takes the ice, it will be for his 800th career game.
The 36-year-old made his National Hockey League debut on Feb. 27, 2003, dressing for the Montreal Canadiens as the club faced the Minnesota Wild. Since then, the Sorel, Quebec, native has gone on to have a lofty career, which has included stops in Columbus, Anaheim, Toronto and Denver.
The veteran has 264 points (70 goals, 194 assists) in his 799 games, including two goals in his last five contests. He ranks 75th in the league among active players in games played.
For perspective, Avs veteran Jarome Iginla ranks second among active players in games played (1,519) and made his regular-season NHL debut with the Calgary Flames on Oct. 5, 1996 versus Vancouver. Tonight will be Iginla's 100th career regular season game against the Canucks, the most of any current skater. Iginla also has 84 points (33 goals, 51assists) in 99 career games against the Canucks, the most points and goals of any active player against Vancouver.
Beauchemin has 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 39 games against the Canucks.