“We need these points. It’s a good opportunity for us,” centerman Nathan MacKinnon said following Saturday’s morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. “We won our last game of the season against these guys last year. We’ve had some trouble since the playoffs against these guys, in this building at least. It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, but we’re excited for it.”
These two foes haven’t collided since Oct. 8, Opening Night in Denver, and Colorado has hit a stride since then. The team is 2-1 on this stretch of the roadie and 8-8 in away games to date. The Avalanche is also coming off consecutive 2-1 victories in which the squad executed nearly perfectly in all areas of the ice.
Couple that with some familiarity of the opponent, and tonight’s tilt promises to be an important one for both organizations.
“I think we've seen lot of Minnesota the last few years. We know what to expect: a hard-working team,” rear guard Tyson Barrie said. “They play a tight game, and obviously, they’re in our division. So it’s a big game for us.”
“It’d be nice to go home with a win, no doubt about it, especially against a division team,” head coach Patrick Roy added. “It’s a division game, and when you’re in the position we are, the urgency of winning games is there. It will be important for us to have a strong game tonight.”
Roy isn’t one to put an emphasis on this meeting as being a pivotal point in the 2015-16 campaign, but obviously any match against a divisional opponent carries a little more weight.
“I don’t see it as a make or break, but this is an important moment in our season. There’s different times in the season where you really want to win some hockey games, and I think this one is going to be an important one for us,” Roy said. “It will be important to play some good hockey, a bit like we did when we played Winnipeg a couple weeks ago. We went there, and we had to find a way to win the game and that’s what we did. And they came back two games later, and we beat them again.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be the same thing. I’m just saying that these are keys games, and you want to make sure that you play some solid hockey against your own division.”
The Avs won the last meeting at Xcel Energy Center—in 2014-15—and want to use that game as a psychological stepping stone to further success against the Wild.
“Whenever you get wins, no matter how you get them, you forget about the stuff that happened before,” MacKinnon said of the importance of knowing the club can win in St. Paul. “We’re a different team. We’ve been playing some good hockey lately. We’re trying to get back to .500. We’re [11-14-1], so we’re close to that. We’re a confident bunch, right now. I think we’re going to be good tonight.”
Solid defense, especially against Minnesota’s top line, will be paramount for the Avalanche. So will continuing to clog up the center of the rink.
“I really feel that we’ve been playing good defensively. Our neutral-zone forecheck’s been really sharp, and I thought defensively we were very responsible as well. We’ve been cutting down chances,” Roy said. “I really feel that we’re improving in that area of the game.”
Said Johnson: “I think we’ve just been really good through the neutral zone. Haven’t had a lot of teams that really break in with speed off the rush, and they’ve been dumping the puck in. We’ve been having pretty clean exits, and I think when we do that it makes a big difference. Teams don’t have as many of those odd-man rushes against us.”
The game plan is the same: slow teams down, don’t give up high-quality scoring chances and keep opposing top lines and players as quiet as possible.
“They’ve got some high end talent, but it seems like every team does now,” Barrie said. “You know that [Zach] Parise, he’s going to play hard. He’s a skilled guy. He’s going to take it to the net, and they’ve got some good ‘D’ [in Ryan] Suter, [Jared] Spurgeon and [Matt] Dumba. They move the puck well, and they jump in the play, so you’ve got to be aware of that.”
Ultimately, the Avalanche’s goal is to dictate play throughout the night.
“We’ve got to make them adjust to us,” said Barrie.
For Johnson, there are three things to focus on if the club wants to have success.
“I’d say our start, special teams and [stopping] their top line,” he outlined. “Their top line’s been scoring a majority of their goals, and with Parise back it’s a big challenge. I’d say those three keys are probably the biggest.”
Whatever the situation, a high-octane battle between two hostile teams is certainly something Colorado is ready for.
“They’re always really good games and really hard-working games and spirited games. For us, it will be a big matchup, big test,” Johnson said. “Want to have a good first period. Up a goal, even, down a goal, anything like that is a good road period. We know we have a chance to win the game then.”
Heavy physicality, always a bonus in games like this, is also expected.
“I think we’re a bigger team than these guys, so we have that, but obviously it’s going to be fast and physical,” MacKinnon said. “They have some pretty big [guys on] defense, but we’re confident. We don’t mind that style of game. Playing in the West, you get used to that style.”
According to Roy, there will be no lineup changes for the contest and Semyon Varlamov will get the start.
“Varly will play tonight. He played really well last game in New York, and he’s had some good games here as well,” Roy said. “It will be interesting to see how he’s going do tonight.”
Andreas Martinsen and Zach Redmond will be healthy scratches.
700 AND COUNTING
Veteran Defenseman Francois Beauchemin is expected to skate in his 700th career game tonight as the Avs play in their
|Francois Beauchemin |
league-high 17th match on the road.
The 34-year-old Quebec native made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 27, 2003, and has gone on to skate with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs since then.
He has 232 points (62 goals, 170 assists) in his 699 contests to date, and is currently leading the Avalanche with an average of 23:54 of ice time per game.
Beauchemin will be the pregame interview tonight with Marc Moser on Altitude Radio’s pregame broadcast from Minnesota.