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Avs Look to Find Their Groove in Preseason Opener

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

In the grand scheme of things, the results from the preseason really don't matter. Wins and losses don't necessarily correlate with how good or bad a season a team might have, but it is a time for players to fine-tune their game so they are ready to go when the puck drops in the first regular-season contest.

Getting back in the zone and the flow of things begins this evening for the Avalanche as its opens the preseason against the Anaheim Ducks.

"For us (veterans), we take it serious and we want to win and we want to get tuned up for the regular season," said defenseman Erik Johnson. "You don't want to peak in training camp or preseason, you want peak at the drop of the puck on opening night and maintain that all year long."

Colorado opens the preseason with two games tonight, as the club will participate in a split-squad home-and-away series with the Anaheim Ducks. Half of the Avs will play the Ducks at Pepsi Center at 7 p.m. MT, while the other half will be in Anaheim for a tilt at Honda Center at 8 p.m. MT.

With the Avalanche playing eight preseason games in the next two weeks and with a roster that currently consists of 56 players, many of the returning players won't play tonight or in several other of the warm-up contests before the Oct. 9 season opener in Minnesota.

Some notable players that won't play in either Colorado or Anaheim include goaltender Semyon Varlamov, defenseman Tyson Barrie and forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly.

However, that's not to say that the evening's games won't be packed with good NHL talent. Erik Johnson, Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Brad Stuart, Nathan MacKinnon, Alex Tanguay and Daniel Briere will be on the ice tonight in Denver. Also, several of the team's recent draft picks will be playing at Pepsi Center as Joey Hishon (2010, 17th overall), Duncan Siemens (2011, 11th overall) Mitchell Heard (2012, 41st overall), Chris Bigras (2013, 32nd overall) and this summer's first-round selection Conner Bleackley (23rd overall) will be in uniform.

Tonight will be a chance for Colorado's prospects to make a solid impression in their attempt to crack the club's opening-night roster. Veterans like Johnson understand this and that helps push them as well.

"You want to play good as a vet," Johnson said. "There are a lot of young kids that are trying to make the team. If you take it seriously, it could be the difference of a young kid cracking the lineup or not."

The split-squad games won't be televised, but each game will have its radio broadcast in Colorado and California. ColoradoAvalanche.com will have links to an online stream of both games this evening.

AN EASY TRANSITION

Forward Daniel Briere will play in his first 'real game' in an Avalanche uniform tonight, as he'll be part of the squad that will face the Ducks at Pepsi Center.

This year's training camp had a focus of scrimmaging and getting game-ready, as each player played in two minor scrimmages during the practice portion of camp and 42 players dressed on Sunday in the club's annual Burgundy/White intra-squad game at the University of Denver.

Daniel Briere
Career  - 16 seasons
Goals: 299 | Assists: 385 | Pts: 684
Games: 916 | +/-: -17
Playing games and in game-type situations before the season starts are things Briere appreciates.

"I know camp was kind of quick, but at the same time, all summer I've been thinking about starting to play games," Briere said. "Mostly about the first regular-season game, but tonight is a start. Get in some games, start to feel more comfortable and the only way to do that is play a real NHL-caliber game like tonight."

Briere has played in 16 NHL seasons with Phoenix, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Montreal, but this will be his first in Colorado, and he said the transition has been smooth so far.

"They make it real easy around here," Briere said of being a new member of the Avs. "Everything is clear cut, and what I've noticed the most is how much fun the guys are having coming to the rink every day. As an older veteran, it's really easy to follow up on everybody's footsteps when everyone is so eager to go out and work and work for whatever the coaching staff has for us. It's been good. It's been easy. Hopefully it stays that way."

MORNING SKATE NOTES

- Goalies Calvin Pickard and Sami Aittokallio will be playing at home this evening, while Reto Berra and Roman Will are in Anaheim. Pickard was the first one off the ice today, meaning he will likely start in net, but expect both sets of netminders to split time during the contests.

- The Avalanche did not hold a pregame skate this morning in Anaheim.

- While the players appeared to be playing on the lines that they might eventually be on during the season at Sunday's Burgundy/White Game, that won't be the case tonight. With several returning players not suiting up, this evening's lines will be more makeshift and will probably be similar to what they were on during the training camp scrimmages.

- This marks the second-straight year that the Avalanche has begun its preseason schedule against the Ducks. Colorado won both matchups versus Anaheim last preseason.

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