Looking at the Colorado Avalanche schedule in the month of November, it's hard not to notice the grueling seven-game, 15-day road trip for the club that begins next Tuesday.
But before the Avs go on the trip that is tied for the longest since the team moved to Denver, they have some other business to take care of. Colorado is in a stretch where it plays 11 of 14 contests away from home, and that heavy road schedule continues tonight in Arizona against the Coyotes. The team then returns home to face the New York Rangers on Friday night in its last contest at Pepsi Center until Nov. 25.
"We have a couple games before the road trip. We have one in Arizona [today], which will be a good test for our team," Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said after Wednesday's practice. "They have been playing some good hockey. It's a young team. It's a team that works really hard, and then after that, the day after, we have the Rangers at home. I like to focus on those two games and then go from there. We'll take care of the [long road] trip when it comes."
Both contests in the back-to-back will be tough, beginning with this evening's matchup against a rested Coyotes team that has shown promise in the early part of the 2015-16 campaign. Arizona won its first three games of the year, but the squad has gone 2-5-1 in its next eight and most recently lost 4-3 on Friday against Vancouver.
The Coyotes currently sit fourth in the Pacific Division standings with 11 points (5-5-1), one point behind third-place San Jose and a point ahead of fifth-seeded Edmonton.
"They have plenty of skill. They have young legs, plenty of excitement in their lineup," Avs forward Alex Tanguay said on Wednesday. "We know the way they play. Dave Tippet, the coach there, has a solid system that has been successful for a lot of years, and we're just looking forward to building on what we have been doing and do our things and implement the style of the game that we want to play. That's really what we're looking for. I think if we do that, we're going to give ourselves a pretty good chance of coming out on top."
The Coyotes are led by rookie forwards Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, both whom have begun their NHL careers by finding the back of the net on a regular basis. They share the club lead in goals with five each.
Colorado forward Mikhail Grigorenko played with Duclair for three seasons while with the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL (2011-2014) and said he isn't surprised by his former teammate's early NHL success.
"He's a good player, really fast. We just have to play tight on him. I think if we play our best game, we shouldn't have problems with him," Grigorenko said on Wednesday.
"It's great for him, and I'm happy to see him succeed. Wish him the best of luck, but hopefully [today] he'll have zero points and zero shots."
Grigorenko himself is coming off one of his better games of the season in the Avs' 6-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday. He centered the third line with wingers Cody McLeod and Blake Comeau and finished with a season-high 14:33 of ice time.
"I feel better and better every game," said Grigorenko, who has registered two assists in nine contests this year. "I think I'm playing better too, and getting more offense and have kept playing good defensively. I've been pretty happy with how things are going. I'm getting better slowly."
Roy has also seen progress in Grigorenko's game recently but still sees plenty of areas for improvement.
"He had some good moments, and some moments where he wasn't so good, but overall I thought he did a good job. We see he is working hard," said Roy, who coached both Grigorenko and Duclair in Quebec.
The game against Calgary was one of Colorado's best all-around performances, if not the best, so far in the young season. After the Flames scored two straight to tie the game early in the third period, the Avalanche responded with three unanswered goals and finished the night with a season-high 42 shots while blocking 30 opposition attempts as well.
"I thought it was one of our good games," Roy said. "I think it was probably one of the best in that there were nights where we played better then we did defensively (against the Flames), but there were also nights where we did really well (defensively). But the both combined, it is probably our best."
The victory ended a two-game slide for the Avs, and the club now looks to flip that and win consecutive games.
"It was something we needed desperately. We needed to get wins," Tanguay said. "What happened [Tuesday] night is over with, and we look forward to [today] and get ourselves ready for that one."
Game time at Gila River Arena is set for 7 p.m. MT, with the Avalanche starting Semyon Varlamov in net. Goalie Reto Berra will face the Rangers on Friday in the latter half of the team's second back-to-back slate of the season.