News and notes from Colorado Avalanche practice.
After a day away from the rink, the Avs were back at it on Friday, skating in a full 55-minute practice at Family Sports Center before heading out on the road for three Central Division contests.
“I think we all know how important these three games are,” John Mitchell said after the skate. “These are very important for us. We’ve got to win these games because it’s a big four-point swing in our division. Not a ton has been said. I think everybody knows.”
If it seems like the Avalanche has hardly played any division games, it is because the team hasn’t. Colorado is 4-2 after just six divisional matches. Having played 18 of 29 games against the Eastern Conference, the schedule is starting to tighten up as the Avs play in Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago in the next four days.
“It’s huge. Any time you get those division games, it’s almost like a four-point swing just because you’re playing teams that you’re chasing,” defenseman Erik Johnson said. “We really need a good trip; 3-0, 2-1 would be huge, to comeback with some points in our pocket. We have a lot of games at home after that coming up, and it would be nice to be on a little bit of a streak.”
The Avalanche is 5-4 in it’s last nine games and, despite a third-period setback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, has been playing solid hockey, especially on the road.
“We’re good on the road. I think we simplify a lot more,” Johnson said. “I think at home, we maybe try and look for plays that aren’t there and try and be a little too cute. Just because we’re at home, we want to put on a good show for our fans, but at the same time, I think when we’re on the road we’re just a little bit more simple, a little bit more streamlined. It makes a little bit more of a difference in our game.
“We didn’t play a very good game [Wednesday], even when we had the lead. I think, for the majority of the game, Pittsburgh carried the play, especially in the second. There’s going to be nights where we’re not going to have our game, but we’re going to be having a lead like we did. Somehow you’ve just got to try and find a way to get the win, [even] if you’re not at your best.”
Avalanche head coach offered an injury update on captain Gabriel Landeskog, who missed Wednesday’s contest with back spasms.
“He’s much better today,” Roy said after practice. “He’s going to come on the road with us, and he’s going to be evaluated every day.”
In Landeskog’s absence, Mikhail Grigorenko is one player that could spend time in the left-wing slot on the team’s top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene. The young Russian started there on Wednesday before he was moved to the fourth line with Jack Skille and Chris Wagner.
After the match, Roy said he moved Grigorenko down the depth chart due to his effort in puck battles against the Penguins. The coach said he wants more out of his forward and that he will get the chance to play with MacKinnon and Duchene again if he works hard and proves that he deserves it.
“I’m harder on him because I like him a lot, and I think he can play at this level and he could be dominant at this level,” Roy said after practice. “The reason why he was unable to bring the team to the next level is his compete level could have been better, and the reason why he cannot play right now on the top line is because his compete level is not where it should be. Yes, I’m going to be a little tougher on him because of it. I think he’s got a great IQ. He’s got great talent. He’s got a great shot. He has all the tools to play at our level.
“I will give him all the chances possible to play on that line, I can tell you that, but as soon as [I] see him [stop] competing, I’m going to bring him back. That’s the plan.”
Roy also said that netminder Semyon Varlamov will get the start in Nashville on Saturday night. With back-to-back games this weekend, the coaching staff will adjust the rotation between Varlamov and backup goalie Reto Berra as needed.