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Avs Refreshed and Focused After Long Break

Colorado returns to practice and ready for busy stretch run

by Ron Knabenbauer @RonKnab / ColoradoAvalanche.com

CENTENNIAL, Colo.--If there was any doubt for Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar on his team's mental focus after having nine full days off, that thought was put to rest after the clubs first practice back.

The Avs returned from the All-Star Break and bye week on Thursday afternoon and practiced for more than an hour at Family Sports Center with the high intensity and edge that Bednar wanted to see.

"I might have had some concerns depending on how we came out for practice today, but I loved our practice," Bednar said. "Great energy, physical, competitive, lots of talk, chatter on the ice, which tells me the guys are mentally rested and ready to go. Physically rested, I know we are for sure with the time off."

By the time Colorado takes on the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center, the club will have had 11 days between games--the longest stretch for a team in the NHL. The squad is slated to have a practice on Friday morning and a morning skate on Saturday in Philly to hopefully regain its form after nearly two weeks away from a competitive game.

"We had a really good practice out there," said Gabriel Landeskog. "It was high paced, and guys were excited to be out there. I feel good. I feel mentally refreshed and physically refreshed.

"I think it's good to have three skates before we get going. I think that is key, get out there, moving and shake the rust off."

Video: Landeskog discusses being back with the team

The Avalanche entered the break by posting a 3-0-2 record on a season-long, five-game homestand, which finished with consecutive wins against the San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings.

Colorado presently holds second place in the Central Division and Western Conference (tied) with 62 points (28-15-6), eight behind the division-rival Blues for first (31-12-8).

"I think it was something we needed as a group, and it was a good time for it," Landeskog said of the break. "Obviously when you're playing well and you're finding ways to win hockey games, you don't necessarily want the break, but we're just going to try our best to pick up where we left off."

While there were no team activities during the league-mandate break, hockey was never too far from the mind of the Avalanche players.

"After the first three or four days, you start thinking of the game again and getting ready and getting back into the gym," said Erik Johnson. "You use the first couple days to rest your mind, body, and then start thinking about it again."

Video: Bednar on returning from the break after practice

The Avs practiced on Thursday with nearly the same line combinations and defensive pairings that they entered the break with, though there were a few differences.

Nathan MacKinnon was given the day off, as his break was shorter than the rest of his teammates due to representing Colorado at 2020 NHL All-Star in St. Louis last weekend. He is expected to practice on Friday morning and play at Philadelphia.

Filling MacKinnon's spot on a line with Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen for the on-ice session was Vladislav Kamenev.

Joonas Donskoi, who has been cleared to play after being in concussion protocol but hasn't suited up since getting hurt on Jan. 7 at the New York Rangers, practiced Thursday in Kamenev's prior position with Tyson Jost and Matt Nieto. It is a trio that will likely begin Saturday's game against the Flyers together.

"I really liked the way we finished the homestand, I liked the line combinations that we had," Bednar said. "Now, I don't have the exact days, but [Donskoi is] pushing a month of not being on. Probably start him there and then everything is subject to change."

After Saturday's game, Colorado will have two days between contests before a compact schedule ensues. The squad will play nearly every other day until the finale on April 4, with the only reprieve coming with three non-game days on Feb. 23-25.

The Avs' final 33 games are squeezed into a 64-day span, with three more back-to-back sets left on the slate.

"I think there is no reason why we shouldn't be excited for this stretch run, and why we're not ready to go," Bednar said. "It will be a busy, busy time… It's a sprint to the finish, and it will be gone before you know it."

PRACTICE COMBINATIONS

Forwards
92 Gabriel Landeskog - 81 Vladislav Kamenev - 96 Mikko Rantanen
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 91 Nazem Kadri - 95 Andre Burakovsky
11 Matt Calvert - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 37 J.T. Compher
83 Matt Nieto - 17 Tyson Jost - 72 Joonas Donskoi

Defensemen
27 Ryan Graves - 8 Cale Makar
49 Samuel Girard - 6 Erik Johnson
16 Nikita Zadorov - 28 Ian Cole
44 Mark Barberio

Goaltenders
31 Philipp Grubauer
39 Pavel Francouz

Did Not Practice: Nathan MacKinnon, Colin Wilson (lower-body injury, out indefinitely)

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