The Colorado Avalanche defensive corps will have to step up in the wake of Nikita Zadorov's injury that will force him to miss the remainder of the regular season.
Zadorov was involved in a collision and got tangled up with Mikko Rantanen during Monday's practice, resulting in both young players falling to the ice. The big defenseman from Moscow, Russia, took the brunt of the load, fracturing his ankle in the process.
"It's disappointing because you see a young guy that is part of the future of the organization, and he is quietly having a season that is progressing," head coach Jared Bednar said Tuesday morning. "He's played top pair for us almost since [Erik Johnson] has gone out of the lineup and has been doing a nice job, working to improve his game as a whole."
Zadorov was a bright spot during what has been a tough season for the Avalanche, his second with the club after being acquired in a trade with Buffalo on June 26, 2015.
In 56 contests, the defenseman has 10 assists and leads the team in hits (153) and penalty minutes (73) while playing a career-high 19:02 per game. He had played over 20 minutes a night in 11 of the last 15 contests.
"It stings. It's tough when you lose a guy," said fellow defenseman Tyson Barrie. "I think 'Big Z' has been playing well lately, and it's tough to see him go down. He's been playing some big minutes. I guess other guys are going to have to step up and fill the role."
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
Bednar said the team will not make any call-ups at this time, meaning blueliner Cody Goloubef will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past two games.
The lack of reinforcements coming up from the minors is because defenseman Erik Johnson and forward Rene Bourque continue to make good progress from their injuries. Johnson has been out for the past 34 contests because of a broken fibula, while Bourque has missed the past nine since suffering a head injury in the Avs' last outing versus Los Angeles on Feb. 1.
"[Johnson] joined the team for part of practice (on Monday) in a non-contact jersey, but he was able to do some of the contact drills. So that's a positive sign," Bednar said. "Same thing with Bourque. He was in a non-contact jersey. He's progressing. Hopefully, we'll get those guys in the lineup in the near future."
The healthy defensemen on Colorado's active roster include Barrie, Goloubef, Mark Barberio, Francois Beauchemin, Fedor Tyutin and Patrick Wiercioch, and the mentality of the rear guards is to finish the year strong.
"Keep improving as a group," Wiercioch said. "Keep doing what the coach's asking us to do as a six-man unit. Hopefully, the results will follow that."
Video: Barrie on the loss of Zadorov
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Zadorov's towering presence will be tough to replace, but it will allow others to showcase their physicality and playmaking abilities in the final 25 contests of the season.
"He brings that big physical element to the game, and I think that is something that we're going to miss," Barrie said. "It gives other guys opportunities to step up and show that they can be physical as well and play bigger minutes."
For Zadorov, missing the final seven weeks of the year is less than ideal as the 21-year-old is trying to excel in one of the game's tougher positions to master.
It does however allow him to not rush back from the injury and have more time in his preparation for next season.
"It's a little disheartening for 'Z' because of the year and the ice time he's getting now and earning now," Bednar said. "Hopefully, at some point he can get out of his cast and boot and get a jumpstart in his summer training and put a lot of work into his body and his off-ice development."
FINAL MATCHUP AGAINST KINGS
The Avalanche had one of its better games of the season in its first matchup against the Los Angeles Kings, winning 4-1 on Nov. 15 in Denver. That was not the case in the second meeting on Feb. 1 as the Avs lost 5-0 in L.A.
Colorado will look to play how it did in that first outing this evening as the two clubs conclude their season series at Pepsi Center.
"They're a strong, physical team. They're heavy around our net," Wiercioch said of the Kings. "[For us,] sealing guys out, getting in those shot lanes and try and make it easier on our goalie."
The Avalanche has been playing with more consistency as of late and is coming off two overtime games, a 2-1 win at Carolina on Friday and a 3-2 loss at home against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
"I think we've been playing better hockey as of late," Barrie said. "There is no secret with what we have to do. We have to be exceptional if we want to win these games. We can't have an average game. We can't just play OK. We have to be good tonight if we want to beat these guys."
Colorado goaltender Calvin Pickard will get the start for the ninth time in the last 10 contests. The Avs' lineup be the same as on Sunday, other than Goloubef replacing the injured Zadorov on defense.
Video: Wiercioch on the loss of Zadorov
- Colorado ranks second in the league in faceoff percentage at 53.6 percent, trailing only Anaheim (54.7). The Avs rank first in offensive zone faceoff percentage (56.4 percent) and are among the top 10 in both defensive zone (fourth-52.0 percent) and neutral zone (eighth-52.3 percent).
- Matt Duchene leads all NHL players in faceoff percentage at 62.8 percent. Duchene has won 70.7 percent (133-55) over the last nine games,
- Colorado is 6-3 when playing beyond 60 minutes this season, 6-2 in overtime and 0-1 in shootouts.
- Carl Soderberg has the longest current ironman streak on the team at 226 games, followed by Jarome Iginla at 221. Soderberg played in his 300th NHL contest on Sunday.
- Mikhail Grigorenko needs four games for 200 in his NHL career.