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Jersey Provides Avs A Dangerous Test

Colorado needs to be aware of Devils' offense

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

At the National Hockey League level, every player is good and every team has the ability to win on any given night.

So while the New Jersey Devils enter tonight's game at Pepsi Center against the Colorado Avalanche with a 9-16-5 mark and in eighth place in the Metropolitan Division, that record might not properly reflect their overall play.

For Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, he sees a club that has high offensive ability and could be on the verge of breaking out.

"I've looked at their numbers and some of the analytics of Jersey, I mean they're a positive expected-goals-for team in the last 10 games. They got some dangerous guys on their team, so you can't sleep on these guys, that's for sure," Bednar said. "You got to be ready to go because this is a hardworking, hard skating group with some pretty good team speed. They're committed to their defensive structure, we just have to find ways to break them down and make it a hard night for them."

Taylor Hall (25 points) and Kyle Palmieri (19 points) lead the Devils in scoring, but the team has plenty of other skaters that have the ability to pot a couple in Wayne Simmonds, P.K. Subban, first overall picks Jack Hughes (2019) and Nico Hischier (2017)--the latter of which is expected to return to the lineup after missing three games with an illness.

Video: Avs d-man Mark Barberio before playing the Devils

"They have a lot of high-skilled players, some speed. They have some guys with size and good touch around the net," said defenseman Mark Barberio. "It's important for us to establish our game early. I think the start is going to be key for us. I think we're playing our best when we get pucks in deep, we're getting on the forecheck, we're forcing them to defend. That's when we can create some turnovers in the offensive zone and create some offensive opportunities."

Subban, a defenseman that has hit at least 50 points four times previously in his career, only has two goals and five points this season but is a threat to score from the blue line every time he touches the puck.

Colorado has its own dynamic defensemen in Samuel Girard and Cale Makar, but neither have won a Norris Trophy like Subban has already in his career. Barberio has a unique view of Subban as he was part of a defensive corps with him when the two played for the Montreal Canadiens (2015-2017).

"He's a very well-rounded defenseman, he can do a bit of everything out there," Barberio said of Subban. "Like any time you're facing a good player, you obviously have to be aware when they're on the ice, but you can't just completely change your game or game plan because of one individual. You got to make sure that within the team structure that you contain their top players."

Video: Jared Bednar before hosting the New Jersey Devils

The Avalanche is currently on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1), matching a season long. The team has a 12-3-1 record since Nov. 7, owning the league's best points percentage in that time (.781).

While the Avs seem to be rolling, the players still see areas that need improvement moving forward.

The second period of the previous contest on Wednesday is an example of that, as the Philadelphia Flyers outshot Colorado 17-5 in the stanza and held possession for most of it.

"That's the thing, we need to be better. We need to play 60 minutes every night," Girard said. "We've had some good meetings the last few days so we're ready for tonight.

"We're playing good defensively right now and our goaltenders are good too. We have to keep going that way."

The Avalanche was able to weather that surge by the Flyers without giving up a goal and was able to tally another one of its own in the third en route to a 3-1 victory.

"The fact that we did find a way to grind out a game, grind out two points with some pockets of good play," Barberio said. "I think our first period was good and kind of came back to life in the third. I think we just want to kick off where we left last game in the third. I thought we had good energy and bring that into tonight."

INJURY UPDATES

Erik Johnson skated for the second straight day with a non-contact jersey and will ramp up his on-ice training in the coming days. The Avs blueliner has missed the past eight games with a lower-body injury suffered on Nov. 23 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We're hoping to get him into practice on Sunday in non-contact. So he's making progress," Bednar said of Johnson. "It's been a little bit longer than we thought it might be. The team is playing well, no need to rush him back in, but we're going to start dialing him in and getting him ready to play sometime here in the near future."

Fellow defenseman Cale Makar had a pre-scheduled off-ice workout on Friday after skating for three consecutive days. Bednar said on Thursday that Makar, who has been out for the last two contests with an upper-body injury, could return as early as Monday for the outing at the St. Louis Blues.

Philipp Grubauer will be back on the Avs' game roster after being out for the last two games with a lower-body injury, but he will be watching from the bench as Pavel Francouz will get the start for a third straight game.

"This is the second time he's been out of the lineup in the first part of the year, and Frankie has stepped up and done great," Bednar said. "For us, there is no rush to get a guy back in the lineup until he's 100 percent, at that position and at a lot of other positions as well."

View: Avalanche vs. Devils Projected Lineup
 

NOTEWORTHY

The Avalanche and Bruins are the only NHL teams with two different eight-game point streaks in 2019-20. The Avs' current eight-game run is the second-longest active point streak in the league (Calgary is 8-0-1 in its last nine).

Tonight is the first of two "Friday the 13th" matchups for the Avalanche this season, as the team will also host Vancouver on Friday, March 13. Friday the 13th games are rare for the Avalanche, as tonight marks just the sixth such date in 24 seasons since moving to Denver and only the second in the last 11. Colorado has gone 2-2-1 in its previous five Friday the 13th matchups.

Joonas Donskoi needs one goal to tie his career high (14 in both 2017-18 and 2018-19 with San Jose).

Pavel Francouz is 6-0-1 with a 2.17 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in his last nine games. He is second among all netminders in winning percentage (.773, 8-2-1), behind only Braden Holtby (.783, 16-3-4).

Nathan MacKinnon has 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) in his last 12 contests. He ranks third in the NHL in points (48-tied), fifth in assists (29) and sixth in goals (19-tied).

Andre Burakovsky's 12 goals have matched his total from each of the last three seasons.

Valeri Nichushkin's three-game point streak ties his career best.

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