DENVER--After a challenging four-game road trip and five straight days without a game, the Avalanche finally plays in front of its hometown crowd again, taking on the Winnipeg Jets Friday night at Pepsi Center.
It's the first of five contests between the Central Division opponents and marks Colorado's first home game since opening night on Oct. 15. The Avs are 3-2-0 on the young season, their best start since the 2013-14 campaign when they won their first six games out of the gate.
With five days in between contests, the team had ample time to prepare not just for Friday's game and the weekend back-to-back set-Colorado travels to Arizona to take on the Coyotes Saturday-but for a stretch that sees the club play six games over the next 10 days.
"We were able to continue with all our system work and spend some time on special teams, our power play and penalty kill. We actually went through almost everything in our system," said head coach Jared Bednar following Thursday's practice. "We went through some 5-on-3 power plays, refreshed some memories, got Mikko Rantanen up to speed, so a lot of good came out of this week."
Video: Coach Bednar talks about the past week's practices
Rantanen, who was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage on Monday, will make his much anticipated 2016-17 season debut on Friday night. The Finnish forward suffered an ankle injury in Colorado's Sept. 17 Rookie Showcase game against the San Jose Sharks and was sent to San Antonio to get better acquainted with the team's systems and get a few games under his belt.
"We have to be a little patient with him. This is his first game. Everyone's been up to speed and playing for two months and he was on the shelf for the better part of that," said Bednar. "We have to give him some time, but I think he's going to find it quickly. He's going to find a way to be a good player for us."
Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal for the Avalanche Friday night. With Colorado, the netminder is 6-5-2 against Winnipeg and 3-1-1 at Pepsi Center. Overall, the Avalanche is 15-11-1-5 against the Jets organization and 8-5-0-3 at home.
Video: Avs return to action after five days between games
Matt Duchene's 11 goals and 20 points in 20 career games against Winnipeg ranks him first in franchise history in both categories. Gabriel Landeskog ranks fourth with 12 points in 16 career contests against the Jets.
With six points in 15 games against Winnipeg, Tyson Barrie is the Avalanche's highest scoring defenseman in the all-time series, while Francois Beauchemin (four points in five games) and Erik Johnson (four points in 14 games) are tied for second.
Winnipeg enters the matchup with Colorado game coming off a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars last night. Tonight's game will be the Jets' third match in four nights, as they played a home-and-home series with the Stars on Tuesday and Thursday. Rookie phenom Patrik Laine, who was selected second overall by the Jets in last summer's NHL Draft, scored two goals in Winnipeg's win on Thursday for his fifth and sixth markers of the season.
Video: Rantanen returns to Colorado after AHL stint
With Laine making his first trip to Pepsi Center and Rantanen set to make his season debut, fans will get to see two former teammates and two of the most highly-touted young Finnish prospects on the ice in tonight's matchup. Laine and Rantanen won gold together at the 2016 World Junior Championships-Laine was tied for first as the top goalscorer of the tournament, while Rantanen was team captain-and have trained together in past summers in Finland.
Beginning tonight, the Avalanche plays seven of its next 10 games on home ice, and both the team and coaching staff are looking forward to spending some time in the friendly confines of Pepsi Center after a long early-season road trip.
"Last time we were in our building, we had a sold out building, great fan base, great energy, great passion," Bednar said. "Our guys played fast and put on a good show for them. I'd like to see us play with the same juice offensively and be tighter defensively."
The puck drops at 7 p.m. MT and tickets are still available.