After making it through a jam-packed first three weeks (eight games) and before taking on a full November slate (14 games), the Avs will play Winnipeg tonight at Pepsi Center (6 p.m. MT) in just their third scheduled game between October 21 and Nov. 1.
Colorado had three days off between its Monday win at Pittsburgh and its home win Friday against Carolina, and it will get four days off after tonight before it faces Dallas in Texas on Friday.
The NHL regular season is a long one, spanning from September into April, so breaks like this are welcome, especially when entering them on a hot streak. Colorado has won nine of its first 10 games, and is the first NHL team to start 9-1-0 or better since Pittsburgh had the same record in the 2009-10 season.
The team in the visiting locker room tonight, however, is on the other side of the spectrum. The Jets (5-5-2) had a little bit of a “soft-opening” to its schedule—getting seven days off in the season’s first two weeks—and comes into Denver tonight having played four games in the past week.
Winnipeg played last night in Dallas and won 2-1 in overtime, and that was its third straight game to go beyond regulation time. Throw in the Jets having to play the second half of their back to back at Rocky Mountain elevation, and you’ve got an interesting subplot heading into tonight’s game: Jets energy level compared to the Avalanche’s.
“I watched a bit of the game last night, and other games as well, and this is a good team,” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said earlier this morning. “I know they feel that they’ve been up and down a little bit, but I thought they played OK yesterday, [and] their goaltender (Ondrej Pavelec) was outstanding.
“I would expect them to have a good start tonight. They’ve got good offense—they’ve got guys who can certainly score goals—and their defense is not bad either. We’re going to have to be very solid at the beginning of the game.”
This is going to be one of those “take care of business games” for Colorado, which is looking to continue a fantastic early-season run and earn as many points as it can now in a light stretch of the schedule.
The Avalanche has 18 points this season and trails league-leading San Jose by just a point but can look over it shoulder and see Vancouver (17), Anaheim, Toronto, Phoenix (16), and Chicago and Minnesota (15) hot on its heels in the early-season chase.
No team in the NHL can afford to have an “off night,” especially one that should be rested and playing with home-ice advantage.
“It’s nice [to have success] … but you look behind us and everybody is pretty close,” Roy said Friday night. “You cannot have a night off; you have to be good every night, and that’s what we’ve been doing, which to me is very positive.”
You’ll want to keep an eye on Colorado forward Matt Duchene tonight.
He scored two goals Friday against Carolina and has found the net five times in the Avalanche’s past five games. He’s at eight goals total for the season, which leads Colorado and is tied for third in the NHL. If he scores again tonight in the team’s final game of October he’ll surpass his own goals-in-a-month record (December 2010) and tie the franchise’s mark for October goals since 1995.
Joe Sakic scored nine goals in October 1997, Peter Forsberg did the same in October 2000, and Chris Stewart had nine, too, in October 2010.
“He was outstanding [Friday],” Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said. “He had his legs, and he was skating well. When he does that he’s definitely really dangerous. He’s been consistent, and he’s been one our top players in our lineup, no doubt about it.”
Duchene scored 43 points in 47 games last season and is on pace for an even more impressive stat line this season. He added an assist to his two goals Friday night, giving him his fourth multi-point game of the season, and comes into tonight’s game with 12 points in just 10 games.
Doing the math, that’s roughly a 98-point pace for the season, which would well surpass his previous full-season scoring high of 67 points during the 2010-11 season.
FLYING WITH THE JETS
The Avalanche and Jets now compete in the same Central Division and will play five times in 2013-14—three games in Denver and two in Manitoba. The last time these clubs met was during the 2011-12 season, with Winnipeg sweeping both meetings (4-1 on Dec. 27, 2011 at Pepsi Center and 5-1 on Feb. 19, 2012 at MTS Centre).
The Avs are 7-7-3 all-time against the Thrashers/Jets franchise and 3-4-2 at home.
COLORADO VS. WINNIPEG IN 2013-14
Sunday, Oct. 27 (Denver)
Thursday, Dec. 12 (Winnipeg)
Sunday, Dec. 29 (Denver)
Monday, March 10 (Denver)
Wednesday, March 19 (Winnipeg)
- Colorado didn’t skate many guys during this morning’s on-ice session at Pepsi Center. Presumed healthy scratches Nick Holden, Tyson Barrie and Cody McLeod all got some shooting and skating in, working against tonight’s starter in goal Semyon Varlamov and tonight’s backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Goaltending coach Francois Allaire was on the ice, too, getting Varlamov and Giguere prepared for Winnipeg.
“We didn’t have a morning skate, so we’re going to have to make sure we have a good warm-up, [and] make sure we’re ready for the start of the game,” Roy said.
- Defenseman Erik Johnson showed off some pink sticks in the Avalanche’s morning skate media session. October is the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer month, so tonight is Colorado’s final game to show support for the league-wide initiative.
Johnson posted to Twitter a picture of his new “twigs” following the team’s morning skate. Both sticks will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefitting the fight against the disease.
- Roy had a couple interesting takes in his morning skate news conference. Among other things, he was asked the difference between coaching at the major-junior and NHL levels and what he saw in defenseman Andre Benoit, who was brought in this offseason as a free agent.
“The details are the same. The area where it’s easier, it’s easier for [NHL players] to execute. You cannot [run a system] in junior if you don’t practice it. [It’s] very difficult. In NHL, you’re capable of making those adjustments a lot easier. But the details are the same. ... I’m not trying to be their coach. I’m here to be their partner.” -
- Roy on the differences between major-junior and NHL.
“[Andre] Benoit played in Ottawa, and I saw a few of their games last year. It was easier for me to see them, in the playoffs in Montreal. I think Andre played really well for them. He had a really good year. You start looking at the list of free agents and who could be a good fit for us. We were looking for a defenseman, left shooter, who could have a good mix between giving us some power-play minutes and giving us good even-strength minutes, and Andre Benoit was to me one of the best fits.”
- Roy on the Avs signing Benoit