CENTENNIAL, Colo.--It feels like a whole season has passed in the time between the Colorado Avalanche's last game in Florida and the next one on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center.
While some clubs in the league have already played eight contests this year, the Avs have skated in just five, posting a 3-2 record in that time. So its safe to say that although it has been a long period without an Avalanche match, the squad have been hard at work at Family Sports Center, fine-tuning its game ahead of a run that will see Colorado square off in 16 contests in the next 34 days.
"We had a good hard work day, a mediocre day and today we just ramped it up and went with more offensive-type stuff to score some more goals," head coach Jared Bednar said after Thursday's practice session. "The guys worked hard. I don't know about keeping it fresh, but we needed to get some work done and we did."
The team worked on everything from special-teams play to neutral-zone forecheck to playing with and without the puck.
Video: Grigorenko on the week of practice
"We worked a lot on the special units like power play and PK, and worked a lot on forecheck and D-zone coverage," forward Mikhail Grigorenko said. "I thought we touched base on pretty much everything, all aspects of our game. Hopefully, we'll be able to tighten those things up and be a better team."
There was skating, there was teaching, there was team bonding and, for those nursing injuries, there was some time to heal up.
"It's nice that we had a big break between last weekend's game in Florida and tomorrow's game against Winnipeg. It gave me a lot of time to recover," said Rene Bourque, who returned to full practice Wednesday after missing the previous two games with a groin injury. "You usually don't get those breaks this early, so I guess the timing of it was good where I could take an extra couple days off to make sure I was going to come back 100 percent."
A buffer for the bumps and bruises to fade is never a bad thing, and it provided an opportunity for rookie Mikko Rantanen, who was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage on Monday afternoon, to work on getting up to speed.
Video: Rene Bourque talks about returning to the ice
"Hopefully we got rested. We were able to continue with all our system work and spend some time on special teams, our power play and penalty kill," said Bednar. "We actually went through almost everything in our system. Went through some 5-on-3 power plays, refreshed some memories, got Mikko Rantanen up to speed, so a lot of good came out of this week."
A particular area of focus during the dog days of practice, the Avalanche's penalty kill is something Bednar expects to be improved moving forward. For the coach, shoring up that aspect of the game comes with more discipline before an infraction is called.
"In the games our kill hasn't done well, we've taken too many penalties. I've said before, it's an extension of our 5-on-5 [play], so if we get standing around 5-on-5--we're not first on the puck all the time--then you tend to defend more, get tired and take more penalties," said Bednar. "We've had a lot of what I call undisciplined penalties, like not skating, stick penalties, penalties in the offensive zone. And if you look at the stats for the league, the teams that are the most penalized also have the worst penalty kills.
"So that tells you, you can kill two or three penalties a night, but you start getting into five-six range, you're going to give up goals and your penalty kill is going to suffer because of it. We have to clean it up. If we're on our toes and playing hard, we're going to take fewer penalties."
Video: Coach Bednar talks about the past week's practices
Colorado's lineup for Friday's contest has also become clearer throughout the week. John Mitchell and Rene Bourque both returned from minor injuries and are expected to be in the lineup, as is Rantanen. Rear guard Fedor Tyutin has yet to resume skating, so he's doubtful to play, and according to Bednar, goaltender Semyon Varlamov will get the start on Friday against Winnipeg while Calvin Pickard will backstop the club on Saturday versus the Arizona Coyotes.
"They're a good team. I think they're kind of like us, they want to play fast hockey, use their speed," Bourque said of what he expects from the Jets. "They have some big D-men on the backend, and they play physical. So I'm expecting a fast, physical game."
Bednar also said he has expectations for the contest, both on the ice and in the stands.
"Last time we were in our building, we had a sold out building. Great fan base, great energy, great passion," he said. "Our guys played fast and put on a good show for them. I'd like to see us play with the same juice offensively and be tighter defensively."
The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT and tickets still are available.