This is just the fourth time this season that the Avs will face an opponent from the rugged Central Division, making the game against the Jets all the more important.
“It’s another good test for us. Big points in our division, and they’re going to be hungry,” alternate captain Cody McLeod said after Colorado’s morning skate on Saturday. “We beat them last time in their building, so it should set up for a good match tonight.”
If the previous meeting between these clubs seems like a not so distant memory, that’s because they collided just five days ago when the Avalanche closed out a season-long seven-game road trip with a 4-1 victory at MTS Centre.
While it isn’t uncommon to face the same team repeatedly in a such short period of time, the consensus is that there doesn’t seem to be much of an advantage—or disadvantage—to the familiarity that comes with along with it.
“I don’t think it makes a difference. Obviously, we know what they’re all about, just playing them,” rear guard Brandon Gormley said. “It’s going to be a battle. It was a battle in Winnipeg. They’re a big, heavy, skilled team, and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
“I think both teams are in the same place in the way that we know each other, but for us it’s a division game,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy added. “This year we’re 2-1 in division games, and we all know how important those games are. If you want to have a chance to make the playoffs, you need to win those hockey games.”
Colorado, which plays in just its ninth game against a Western Conference team tonight, is 4-4 against those foes with a little less than three quarters of the campaign remaining. These kinds of contests, the ones that make or break a season, are more of what the Avs will see moving forward.
“I think usually in the schedule you play your conference and division games at the end anyway,” McLeod said. “It’s nice to get some division games, and these are big points in the standings.”
Winnipeg is a team that generates plenty of offense, especially by attempting a lot of shots at net. On Monday, the club finished its loss with 61 attempts at Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov, which includes 20 that the Avs blocked and another 20 that missed completely.
That same kind of offensive fervor, expected again this evening, is something the Avalanche’s D-men will strategize for.
“They definitely throw a lot of pucks at net. As defensemen, we’ve got to get good stick-on-puck and try to get in front of as many shots as [we] can,” Gormley said. “Even before that, standing up in the neutral zone and forcing them to dump pucks and not be able to carry it in. It should limit their chances.”
The Avs are also coming off of one of their best outings in years. Despite skating to a 5-3 loss after an empty-net tally sealed the game against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night, the home team recorded 83 shot attempts. That burst of productivity included 41 attempts in the third period alone and is something Colorado will look to duplicate tonight.
“Same kind of game plan. The more pucks you get at the net, the more chances you’re going to have to score. Just get bodies in front of the goalie and make sure that we’re shooting from everywhere. Same kind of mentality,” McLeod said. “We know that they played in Minny last night, so we want to make sure that we come out and [skate]. They’re a physical team, so we just want to get a lot of pucks on them.
“I know they played a good game last night, so they’ll be ready. Every time you play them, you know it’s going to be a battle.”
AGOZZINO’S 2015-16 DEBUT
The Avalanche recalled forward Andrew Agozzino from the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL on Friday and reassigned Swedish forward Dennis Everberg.
“I got told at practice yesterday. We were in Chicago on a road trip, and I came straight here,” Agozzino said. “I just walked into practice, and Dean [Chynoweth] pulled me aside before I got changed and let me know.
“I got in at about 7:30 last night.”
Agozzino earned a chance to play with the NHL club after leading the Rampage in goals (seven), points (16) and shots (45) through just 13 games. The 24-year-old wing led the Lake Erie Monsters in scoring the last three years—his first three in the AHL.
“He deserves a chance. He’s been our best scorer in the minors the past [three] years. Even this year, he’s having a really good start. He deserves a shot, and we’ll give him his chance,” Roy said after the club’s morning skate. “Obviously, I want to see him playing well defensively. I want to see some energy in his game. I got it, the physicality of his game will be different than what we expect from, for example, Everberg.
“He’s a smaller player, but I think he could protect his pucks. I think he could be tough to play against, and that’s what we like to see. Your fourth line sometimes is energy and spending more time in the offensive zone than your own zone. That was a bit of a problem from our fourth line the past games. They spent a lot of time in our end.”
Playing alongside Jack Skille and Chris Wagner, Agozzino said he knows what he needs to do in his role.
“Just to come out and just provide energy. Whatever they need me to do, I’m going to try and do it. Just play off excitement, just play off emotion, and try to do what I do best,” the Kleinburg, Ontario, native said. “Anyone who’s watched me play, grit’s always been a part of my game. When I’ve been successful, it’s when I’ve been gritty and getting to dirty areas. It doesn’t mean running over guys and this and that, but it’s being hard to play against and going through guys and just being tough out there.”
Agozzino will make his second NHL start and first of the 2015-16 season tonight against Winnipeg. He made his NHL debut last season on Nov. 22 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Anybody who’s played down in the American League, this is what you wait for. It’s exciting to get here and just to get going,” he said on Saturday morning. “It’s a bit of a different feeling than the first call up, obviously, but it’s still really exciting just to get underway here.”
SPORT YOUR STACHE NIGHT
Saturday is Sport Your Stache Night at Pepsi Center and the evening, a collaboration between the Colorado Avalanche, Floyd’s 99 Barbershop and the Movember Foundation, is aimed at helping raise awareness for men’s health initiatives.
“It’s great. It’s great awareness for Movember and prostate cancer,” Gormley said. “Some guys have got pretty questionable ‘staches, but fortunately I can grow one. It’s always a fun time of the year to grow one.
“It’s nice to see even some of the fans jumping in. It’s a lot of fun.”
With proceeds from each ticket going to the Movember Foundation to support their endeavors, fans are encouraged to bring a muzzy, real or not, with them to the game. If they do, they’ll blend in with guys like Gormley, who sports one of the better looking lip sweaters on the Avalanche.
“First of all, I never really clean shave. So that’s a transition for me, having to shave every other day,” Gormley said of rocking the duster for the last 28 days. “I’ve never had a problem growing facial hair, and this is the best it’s turned out yet. Like I said, it’s a good cause, and the boys have a lot of fun with it.”
Fans looking to donate to the players partaking in Movember, or to the Avalanche team as a whole, can do so here.
Coach Roy provided an injury update again after morning skate and mostly echoed what was said on Friday in regard to forwards John Mitchell (oblique) and Alex Tanguay (knee)—both of whom could play on the team’s upcoming weeklong road trip.
“I think they’re going to play on the trip,” Roy said. “Which game, I’m not sure, but they will play on the trip.”
He did offer insight on two others players absent from the lineup as well. Roy said that Brad Stuart (back) isn’t close to returning and “it’s going to be a longer term for him.” He also expanded on Jesse Winchester’s (head) situation, stating that the forward has been shutdown for the foreseeable future.
“It’s over. He’s not even around the team right now,” Roy said. “If something happens, he’ll call us, but right now he needs to do what’s best for him.”