Following a three-game homestand that can be categorized as a success, the Colorado Avalanche has another big challenge on its plate this coming week.
The Avs will kick off a four-game road swing Monday night with a contest against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. Detroit hasn’t exactly experienced the “Stanley Cup hangover” that hampers some clubs. In fact, the Wings lead the Central Division with 44 points (a full nine points more than the second place Chicago Blackhawks) and currently rank No. 2 in the Western Conference.
A team that thrives on puck possession and has a stable of skilled forwards – including Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen – can be tough to stop. Add in the offseason addition of right wing Marian Hossa, who leads the team in scoring with 30 points (15g/15a), and that lineup becomes even more formidable. So how does the Avalanche plan to counter the attack?
“You have to try to limit their time and space. At the same time, when you have the puck you can’t give it up,” said defenseman John-Michael Liles. “You have to make smart plays, but at the same time you have to remember that the more time you have the puck, the more you take them out of their game.”
Andrew Raycroft will get the start in goal against Detroit. Raycroft has a 2-1-0 record with a 1.85 goals-against average in three career outings against the Red Wings.
Monday’s meeting will be the first between the teams since Detroit eliminated the Avalanche in last year’s Western Conference Semifinals.
A match-up with the Philadelphia Flyers (with Peter Budaj getting the start in net) will take place the next evening, while the team will also face Tampa Bay (Thursday) and Florida (Sunday) before returning to Denver.
Considering the Avalanche’s recent success against Eastern Conference foes, the trip may be a good opportunity for the club to pick up a few crucial road points. Colorado is 3-1-0 against the East this year after posting an 8-2-0 mark in interconference play a season ago.
When questioned about the differences in style of play between the Eastern and Western Conference, Liles downplays the significance. While he admits that the East may be a bit more “free-flowing” at times, he also notes that the variations are more on a team-by-team basis, rather than a sweeping discrepancy throughout the conference.
“I think there’s a slight difference,” said the Indianapolis native. “When you play a team more often, you get to know the tendencies of the players. I think there is a bit of a style difference, but it’s not as drastic as most people think.”
Injury Updates Darcy Tucker (knee) and Ben Guite (ribs) were both on the ice this morning, sporting bright orange non-contact jerseys. Both players joined the team when it embarked on its road trip this afternoon.
“I think they’ll both be able to play on the trip…I would doubt tomorrow night,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato. “We had them in a little bit of physical stuff today. It was the first time, so I’d like to get them a little bit more before they get the okay to play. But they battled pretty hard today in practice and it was a big first step.”
Granato also mentioned that Marek Svatos (back) has not skated since suffering his injury against Los Angeles, but will be on the trip. While an exact return date for the forward is unclear, he should see game action before the team returns to Denver.
Avalanche Reassigns Cumiskey The Avalanche announced Saturday that it has reassigned defenseman Kyle Cumiskey to the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League.
Cumiskey was recalled on November 25 and played in two games (Nov. 26 vs. St. Louis; Nov. 29 vs. Tampa Bay).
With Adam Foote now back in the lineup and Cumiskey being reassigned, the Avalanche currently has seven healthy defensemen on its roster.