The first week of the NHL season is finished, and the Colorado Avalanche will finally get the chance to play in front of its home fans.
Opening night at Pepsi Center is a special experience for both the Avs and their fans. It's the first real look at this year's team for the Colorado faithful, and the players want to have a good initial showing in a packed arena. That is especially the case after the Avalanche finished its three-game, season-opening road trip with a 2-1-0 record.
"It's always exciting. I think there is an extra bit of atmosphere and electricity in the building for the home opener," said Blake Comeau. "The fans are excited to get the season started at home. We had a pretty successful road trip going 2-1 in some tough buildings. I think everyone is excited to get home in front of our home fans, and we're going to be ready to play."
Avs head coach Jared Bednar could tell his team had some nervous energy during morning skate and said the key for his players tonight will be to balance the excitement of the home opener while also focusing on the task at hand.
"I think having controlled emotion but coming out and playing our game and getting on the attack is real important," Bednar said. "We went into two buildings on the road and it was their home opener, and there is an energy about it. Part of it is that it is a big game and we want to make sure that we get the two points, but also the way we play and show our fan base our new identity I think is important for our guys. They feel it deep down, and they want to make sure they're good in front of our crowd."
Video: Blake Comeau recaps road trip
Colorado's opponent for its first contest at Pepsi Center is none other than the club it just faced two days ago, the Boston Bruins. The season is still young, but the Avs played their best contest of the year against the Bruins on Monday, a 4-0 victory at TD Garden.
The Avalanche was buzzing around the puck all game, made sharp passes, was opportunistic with its goals and received a strong performance in net from Semyon Varlamov.
"We didn't turn the puck over," said Mikko Rantanen. "That is the biggest thing if we want to win games, we can't turn the puck over. That's what we did. We battled hard, were going to the net and got a couple big goals there."
The Colorado players are expecting to face tonight a different Bruins squad, one that is looking for some revenge in the clubs' second and last meeting of the regular season.
"We know they're dangerous, and we know they're going to come pissed off because they gave us the last game," said defenseman Nikita Zadorov. "It is not going to be an easy game for us, but we're ready for it and we're going to give it all we can."
A strength of Colorado's through the first three games has been its play while at 5-on-5. The Avalanche has yet to give up an even-strength goal--the only team in the league to do so.
Rantanen said the team's success in that area is because the Avs are working as a unit of five skaters on the ice to defend and transition the play out of their zone quickly.
"I think everyone is managing the puck well. We defend hard," Rantanen said. "Everyone knows what to do in the D-zone, get pucks out. Of course, the goalies have been great, both Bernie (Jonathan Bernier) and Varly. It's a good thing for us."
Varlamov will get the start for the home opener after posting two wins, a 1.00 goals-against average and .971 save percentage in his two outings this year. He stopped 37 shots on Thursday at the New York Rangers before recording a 29-save shutout on Monday at the Bruins.
Nail Yakupov tallied two goals in the Avs' most recent win and is getting ready to play in his first home game in Denver after signing with the club as a free agent in the offseason. It will be his ninth career outing at Pepsi Center after previously visiting as a member of the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues.
"I'm excited, can't wait," Yakupov said of the home opener. "Even when I played against the Avs, I enjoyed playing in this building. It's new, it's big. I think it's even better to play here at home."
Video: Nail Yakupov ready for Avs home opener
BARBERIO BACK IN THE LINEUP
Defenseman Mark Barberio returns to Colorado's lineup this evening after being a healthy scratch for the past two games. He will guard the blue line with Chris Bigras on the team's third defensive pairing.
Barberio played in all 34 games with the Avalanche last season after the team claimed him on waivers on Feb. 2 and skated in the club's season opener on Thursday at the New York Rangers.
With Barberio's return, rookie Anton Lindholm is the odd man out on the backend. He'll join forward Matt Nieto and defenseman Andrei Mironov as healthy scratches against the Bruins.
Video: Coach Bednar on the Avs' home opener
PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Sven Andrighetto - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Matt Duchene - Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Landeskog - Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher
Colin Wilson - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Mark Barberio - Chris Bigras