The Colorado Avalanche returned to practice after the NHL-mandated bye week with a new sense of energy and excitement, ready to build off the break.
While the team took advantage of the time to recuperate, goaltender Semyon Varlamov was hard at work. He spent his days preparing for his first start between the pipes since facing the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 22 when he sustained a groin injury.
"Varly is ready to go," head coach Jared Bednar said on Wednesday after practice. "Trainers say he's good. He had that time to skate on his own. He wouldn't have backed up last game if he wasn't pretty much ready to go. But again, we felt like the five extra days before he started would be good for him, so hopefully he's well rested now and ready to go."
"It's nice to have a break," Varlamov said of the extra time to prepare. "Five days seems like a short break. It's nice to go somewhere and just not think about hockey in the middle of the season, because right now everyone came back and everyone is excited."
Video: Semyon Varlamov a full participant in practice
Being able to take some time without the presence of the team has provided the coaches a chance to mix things up as well. Matt Nieto, who made his Avalanche debut just before the break, will now have the chance to skate alongside Matt Duchene and Rene Bourque on the team's second line.
"I liked his game a lot," Bednar said. "I mean he played with pace. He created some scoring chances. He made plays on the offensive side of the puck [and] the defense side."
The five extra days of rest has rejuvenated the locker room as well, as some players traveled home, to the mountains or just relaxed during the time away from hockey. The break was a little sweeter as the team entered the stretch with a 2-1 overtime victory against the New York Islanders on Friday.
Video: Gabriel Landeskog after the Avs' bye week
"I think obviously that win before the break at home was big for us and being back on the winning side of things, and I think we had one of our better practices of the year today," Gabriel Landeskog said. "Guys were sharper and guys were excited to be back. So I think we're going to take off here.
"I thought [the bye] was great. I thought it was really good, everybody got to rest up and recharge and unplug for a bit and come back, and everybody is excited to be back."
Even though the players are feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, Tuesdays game against the visiting Anaheim Ducks will present a tough challenge.
Video: Coach Jared Bednar after the team's bye week
"It's going to be tough coming out of the bye week, you know. You haven't skated in [a while], you need that energy and that passion" Bednar said. "Hopefully we're reinvigorated mentally because having five days off usually isn't a good thing when you're playing a team that has been playing and practicing every day."