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Avs Look for Fast Start Out of Holiday Break

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche has had the benefit of strong starts over the past few weeks, and it looks to have another such output this evening against the Arizona Coyotes.

Colorado has scored first in eight consecutive games, posting a 6-2-0 record in those contests. That mark included a season-high five-game winning streak the team had before it was snapped on Monday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Avs had a high-tempo practice on Saturday and an energetic morning skate earlier today to get their legs moving again and maybe burn off that extra piece of pie from the team's four-day holiday break.

"Yesterday, we did a lot of rush plays, a lot of flow drills and at the end we started to click more," said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. "This morning, I thought we were moving the puck better and better. I am curious, but at the same time I'm confident that we should have a good start."

The Coyotes played last night at home against the Los Angeles Kings and battled their way back to earn a point in a 4-3 overtime loss.

Conventional wisdom might lead you to believe that Colorado will have an advantage this evening, playing an Arizona team that is tired from travel and a long game the night before.

Roy doesn't see it that way.

"The worst thing you can do probably is to think because they played last night, it would be easier for us," Roy said. "Actually, it's an advantage for them in the first period. They had the game last night. They are on the road. They are going to be very focused for the start of the game."

Roy's club will also have to battle through the distraction of playing a game around the holidays. Some of the players still have family in town and many of them will be watching from the seats at Pepsi Center tonight.

Having a strong start and scoring first could help the Avs readjust to the speed of the game while giving a show to those in attendance.

"It's important to have a good game tonight, and find a way to play some good hockey despite the fact there is family in town," Roy said. "A lot of distractions, and we just want to make sure that we're ready for that game. We just want to challenge ourselves and make sure that we play a strong game."

Winners of eight of its last 11, the Avalanche has climbed back into the Western Conference playoff conversation. Colorado has 35 points and remains five points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild-card spot.

The Coyotes, who finished second to last in the league a season ago, also have 35 points and have been in the top three of the Pacific Division for much of their first 34 games this year. Strong performances from rookies Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have helped with their surprising turnaround, as Domi and Duclair are tied for second on the team in goals with 10 each.

"They are fast. Fast forwards," Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said of Arizona. "They're deep. They are a pretty solid team. Last year, they had a tough one. This year, obviously they are a much better hockey team and fighting for playoffs. We're in the hunt with them for a wild-card spot so it is going to be a good game tonight."

Getting a victory over a team competing for the same postseason position might be the best gift that any of the Avs receive this holiday.

NO. 100 FOR GRIGORENKO

Now in his fourth NHL campaign, Mikhail Grigorenko has seen the ups and downs of the league.

In the three previous seasons, Grigorenko played no more than 25 games in a campaign with the Buffalo Sabres before being sent back to junior with Quebec or to the minor leagues with Rochester.

Mikhail Grigorenko

With 31 contests under his belt this year with the Avalanche, Grigorenko has played more than he's ever had in his short NHL career and is expected to finally reach the 100-game milestone this evening.

"I'm really happy to have already played that many games," Grigorenko said of the mark Sunday morning. "Obviously it's not as many as other great players, but it's a good milestone and hopefully I'll be able to get to 200, 300, 400 and as many as possible. It's great. Growing up, I was dreaming of playing in the NHL and to already play 100 games, it's great."

The 21-year-old seems to have benefited from the stability the Avs have provided, playing in 31 of the team's 35 games this season. Known as a versatile player that has seen some time in the top six this season, Grigorenko has lately centered the fourth line with wingers Cody McLeod and Jack Skille.

The Khabarovsk, Russia, native has already posted a career high with 11 points (a goal and 10 assists) and has helped spark some offense recently for his line, which has three goals over the past two games.

"We play as hard as we can, and we're good on the forecheck and we'll shoot everything," Grigorenko said. 'We generate a lot of chances that way. Skille has a great shot so he scores from everywhere."

He credits playing and watching veteran teammates, like 31-year-old McLeod and 28-year-old Skille, in helping with his development over the past four years.

"I think I've grown a lot. Got more mature and learned a lot of things on and off the ice, especially learning from great players that I have played with and still playing (with)," he said. "Every day as a young guy, you learn a lot of things from the older guys. It's a great experience."

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel LandeskogJohn MitchellMatt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen
Carl SoderbergBlake Comeau
Alex Tanguay
Nathan MacKinnonJarome Iginla
Cody McLeod
Mikhail GrigorenkoJack Skille

Francois BeaucheminErik Johnson
Nick Holden
Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley
Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Calvin Pickard

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