The Colorado Avalanche will face a dangerous and desperate team tomorrow in the Columbus Blue Jackets—a club where its winless 0-8-0 record doesn't really portray its talent and skill.
After relieving head coach Todd Richards and then hiring the winningest American-born coach in NHL history in John Tortorella on Wednesday morning, the Blue Jackets are looking to get out of their surprising early-season funk.
"You never know what to expect from a desperate team like that," Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said after Friday's practice at Family Sports Center. "I mean Torts, his reputation for himself and that he's going to get the guys to work hard and compete… It's going to be battle tomorrow."
Columbus is coming off a 3-2 loss on Thursday night to the Minnesota Wild and is anxious to get in the win column, but so is the 2-3-1 Avalanche.
"We have to be just as desperate as them," MacKinnon said. "We're not 0-8-0 or anything, but we haven't had the start that we wanted this season so we're going to be hungry as well."
The Avs fell 1-0 in overtime on Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes but have played solid defensively over their last three contests, only giving up two regulation goals.
Now the Avalanche is looking to get its offense going, and MacKinnon said a good way to jump-start it is to create more chances closer to the net.
"Off the rush, we need to use our speed," said the 20-year-old center, who is tied for the team lead with six points. "When we get it below the goal line, that is when we need to cycle, use our body, kind of use the D. Just try to handle them, break them down and eventually something will open up. We did that the first three games this season, we scored lots off of that."
There will be a new face in the Avalanche lineup Saturday as forward Dennis Everberg will make his season debut. The Swedish right wing was called up from San Antonio late Thursday, replacing 18-year-old rookie Mikko Rantanen who was sent down, and had his first practice with the club on Friday. He'll be on a line with John Mitchell and Carl Soderberg against Columbus.
"I feel very good," Everberg said. "I had a few couple good games in San Antonio. We got a couple wins too so that was a good feeling. I'm ready to go."
Everberg was forced to miss most of the preseason because of an injury after playing just three shifts and two minutes in the first exhibition contest on Sept. 22 against the Anaheim Ducks.
Because of the lack of preseason in-game prep, the Avs sent Everberg to the American Hockey League to get some playing time to begin the year. He responded with three goals and five points in the Rampage's first three games.
"It was a small bruise, and I missed that week when we had four (preseason) games," Everberg said. "I mean it was nothing [you could] do. You go down, work hard, and if you work hard you're going to get rewarded."
Blake Comeau will take Rantanen's spot on the Matt Duchene-Jarome Iginla line after playing with Mitchell and Soderberg the last couple games.
The Avs are expected to use the same defensive pairings Saturday that they used against the Hurricanes: Francois Beauchemin and Erik Johnson, Nate Guenin and Nikita Zadorov, and Brandon Gormley and Nick Holden.
Semyon Varlamov will make his second straight start after stopping Carolina's first 18 shots before the 3-on-3 OT winner.
Saturday's game is "Celebration of Hockey in Colorado" night where the organization will honor the history of the game in the state. Among those in attendance will be several former Colorado Rockies NHL players, including Lanny McDonald and Barry Beck. The Avs will also debut their new third jerseys, which features a modern redesign look of the classic Rockies logo.