WINNIPEG, Manitoba--Over the course of 82 games and seven months, there are going to be plenty of highs and lows along the way. There will be winning streaks and losing streaks during an NHL season, but the key for any team is to have the negative runs be few and far between.
The Colorado Avalanche has responded from its most recent downturn with two solid victories and aims to keep the winning going tonight up north at the Winnipeg Jets. It is the start of a five-game road trip for the Avs that features stops in four Western Canadian cities before finishing up at the Minnesota Wild.
"We want to get off on the right foot, kind of continue what we did the last couple games at home," said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. "Took a positive step, a step in the right direction after a little bit of a skid. Guys are playing hard and we're getting contributions from a bunch of different guys, and we're defending well."
After starting the 2019-20 campaign with an 8-1-1 record, Colorado recorded only one point in its next five outings (0-4-1) before breaking out of the funk in a big way last Thursday against the Nashville Predators. The Avs won 9-4 for its largest offensive output in nearly 12 years (Dec. 9, 2007, 9-5 win over St. Louis at Pepsi Center).
Colorado backed up that dominant performance with a 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets in its last outing on Saturday. Cale Makar scored twice in the second period, and the Avs tallied three straight after trailing 2-1 after the opening 20 minutes.
"We couldn't let this thing linger, right? We didn't have a choice, we had to stop up," said Erik Johnson on the Avalanche's recent response. "We talked about it a lot. You can only talk so much. For us, it was tired of talking about it and going out and doing it. Nice to get off the schneid for sure."
The wins against the Preds and Jackets were also key in that the club didn't get down on itself after trailing in both outings. They stuck with the game plan and got rewarded.
Bednar said he liked how his squad has worked together as a single unit at both ends of the ice in each contest.
"No. 1 thing, being more of a connected group, both on the defensive side of things and the offensive side of things," Bednar said. "I think we did a really nice job at home in the last couple games, playing in the interior of the ice in the offensive zone, we didn't do that for our [five] game skid."
Playing at the division-rival Jets has always been a challenge for the Avs, who have only picked up four wins at Bell MTS Place since the team moved to Manitoba in 2011. Winnipeg owns a 10-7-1 record this year but has played better hockey as of late, going 4-0-1 in its last five games.
"It's not going to be easy, these guys come hard, and we're going to have to do everything we can to weather it and have a good start of our own," said Nathan MacKinnon. "There are talented players over there, we can't give them too much space. I know it's cliché, but the key is to have a good start tonight."
MAKAR'S WESTERN TOUR
Western Canada will get its first live look at rookie Cale Makar as the Avs defenseman returns to his home region in his native country during the club's road trip.
This isn't a full-on homecoming for the Calgary, Alberta, native, as Makar played in Game 5 of the Avalanche's first-round series versus the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome, a contest Colorado won to clinch the series. However, the blueliner will be playing in three other Canadian rinks for the first time.
Nathan MacKinnon can relate to Makar, as the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native recalled his first time playing NHL games north of the border as an 18-year-old in 2013-14.
"I just remember coming to new rinks," MacKinnon said. "I have some family that live in Winnipeg, and they came to the game. Vancouver, same thing. Cale is from Calgary so I think Western Canada, he is very comfortable here. He played in the playoffs, but this is sort of the real lifestyle, traveling city to city, playing in new rinks.
"He's been playing so well recently. Obviously third star of the week. He's been amazing. It will be great for everyone to see him out in Western Canada."
Makar was named the NHL's Third Star last week after producing three goals and six points in three games. He leads all rookies in scoring and is just the fourth defenseman in league history to collect at least 17 points (four goals, 13 assists) through his first 17 career regular-season contests.
Tyson Jost will move back to center to take the spot that was previously held by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who is in concussion protocol after getting hurt on Saturday versus Columbus.
Colorado recalled defenseman Kevin Connauton and forward Logan O'Connor from the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles on Monday, but neither will dress against the Jets. Jayson Megna will be in the lineup for the fifth time this year.
Goalie Pavel Francouz is expected to make his third consecutive start in net.