It's only the seventh game of the season, but there is a sense of urgency with the Colorado Avalanche.
A 1-4-1 record was not the way the team wanted to start the year, and in a highly competitive Western Conference the Avs enter a stretch where they don't want to fall too much farther in the standings and be forced to make up more points later in the season.
"I think it is going to be important for us to string some wins together and make sure that we really play to our level, the way we are capable of playing," Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay said after today's morning skate. "It's important that we don't fall too far back, and certainly for us these games are crucial."
Colorado has played its last four and five of its first six games on the road, but the club returns home to Pepsi Center where it will play seven of its next nine contests. Other than two one-game road contests in Winnipeg (Oct. 26) and St. Louis (Nov. 1), Colorado will be enjoying home-ice advantage for most of the next three weeks.
Defenseman Tyson Barrie said the team is looking to take advantage of this home stretch, which begins tonight against the Florida Panthers.
"We love playing in front of these fans. We have to get something started here," Barrie said. "This is a time for us to be urgent, be desperate. You don't want to let things get away from you too quick. We're going to give them (the Panthers) everything we got."
|Ryan O'Reilly has four goals and six points in six career games against Floirda (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images). |
Head coach Patrick Roy has done a bit of line shuffling over the last week, trying to figure out the right combination to score goals and help the team win. He's settled on a starting lineup this evening that will include speed and physicality in his top three forward pairings.
Roy said he will have Matt Duchene center a line with Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla, Nathan MacKinnon with Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly, and John Mitchell with Jamie McGinn and Daniel Briere.
The Avs' fourth line will include center Marc-Andre Cliche and wingers Cody McLeod and Maxime Talbot.
"We try and find mix of speed and grit on every line," Roy said. "I like that. We certainly want to move the puck quick. We certainly want to simplify our game, bringing a lot of pucks to the net. We want to make sure that we skate well on our forecheck, get some pucks back and generate some offense."
The Avalanche has struggled to find the back of the net so far in the early season, and the club only scored 10 times on the recent four-game road trip. Colorado is averaging 1.5 goals-per-game and will face a Florida team that is last in the league in that category with a 1.0 average.
However, Florida's goal-scoring woes aren't a worry for the Avs. Barrie said the club is focusing on themselves and how they can execute better on offense.
"They do have some firepower, but I think for us, the way we have started, I think it's more about how hard we're going to play and how urgent we're going to be," Barrie said. "We've done the X's and O's, now it's time for us to get desperate and play, as bad as it sounds going into our seventh game, but it might be time to start playing some 'playoff hockey.' We have to do a better job of blocking shots, and be more urgent around the net. We're going to find a way to bear down and score some goals."
Goalie Reto Berra will make his third start of the season this evening as he has been cleared to play after missing the Avs' last game on Saturday with a neck injury. Berra suffered the injury just 2:46 into Thursday's game in Ottawa after an opposing player ran into him. He was helped off the ice by the Colorado training staff and did not return to the contest.
Calvin Pickard replaced Berra in net on Saturday in Montreal, making his first NHL start. Pickard will backup Berra tonight against Florida.
Berra was originally not scheduled to be in goal in Ottawa, but Semyon Varlamov suffered a minor groin injury earlier in the day and was placed on the injured-reserve list as a precaution.
Roy has said he is hopeful Varlamov will start Friday when the Avalanche hosts the Vancouver Canucks at Pepsi Center.
"He's having another skate tomorrow," Roy said of Varlamov. "It's a day off for our players, but Varly will skate with [goaltending coach Francois Allaire]… then we'll know more."
Roy said if Varlamov is cleared to play, the team will then reassign Pickard and Sami Aittokallio, who was recalled Friday and was the backup on Saturday, to Lake Erie.
MORE MORNING NOTES
- Jesse Winchester skated with the team for the second straight day in a red non-contact jersey, but Roy said he is still at least a week away from returning to the lineup. Winchester has missed all of the regular season so far after suffering a head injury in a preseason game on Sept. 30 at Calgary.
- Defensemen Nate Guenin and Zach Redmond will be healthy scratches for the Avalanche this evening.
- Entering tonight's contest, the Avs have only played one home game this season, tied for the fewest in the NHL (Calgary, Minnesota, New Jersey and San Jose have also had just one home game).
- Jarome Iginla's next goal will not only break the tie he has with Guy Lafleur (560) for 24th place on the NHL all-time goals list, but it will also tie him with Mike Modano (561) for 23rd all-time.
- Cody McLeod needs three penalty minutes to reach 1,000 for his career. He will become the first player in Avalanche history and sixth in franchise history to surpass 1,000 penalty minutes.
- Alex Tanguay needs one point to tie Valeri Kamensky (414) for ninth place on the franchise's all-time scoring list.
- Jan Hejda needs one assist to reach 100 NHL assists.