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Avs Looking For Fast Start, Sustained Pressue

The key to a good game starts at the beginning

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding /

ST. PAUL, Minn.--Although the Colorado Avalanche surrendered three goals in the first period of Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, the club put forth an outstanding followup to push the game within reach.

Obviously the early deficit was a concern, but the team is hoping to recapture the fire of the finish when Saturday's contest against the Minnesota Wild kicks off at 6 p.m. MT at Xcel Energy Center.

"We have to be ready from the start. It's a big game for us," Mikko Rantanen said after the team's morning skate. "It's a hard place to play in Minnesota. We have to keep the momentum that we had in the last 40 minutes in Dallas. We have to play a full 60 minutes if we want two points."

Video: Mikko Rantanen on facing Minnesota

For head coach Jared Bednar, the trick is getting his club to have that good beginning. The Avs are 4-1-0 when scoring first, but that just hasn't happened enough to date, and when trailing after the opening stanza, the team is 1-7-0.

Obviously, the first marker is key.

"That's the challenge. I think we're obviously capable of doing that. I think it's a mentality of us going out and being the aggressors and initiating the play instead of always reacting to it," Bednar said of getting the opening frame he wants. "It comes with their preparation. They're aware of it. We haven't had great starts over the course of the season, if you look at it as a whole. So it's something we have to focus on, but if we can get a little more intense and get on our toes early in the game, we're going to be better off."

That kind of relentless effort to finish out in Dallas, which featured a deluge of shots on the opposing goal and solid defensive play, is exactly what the Avalanche needs to do against a Minnesota squad that has scored just five goals in its previous four games.

"The best defense is a good offense, and we were really rolling in the second and third period [in Dallas] and had a lot of juice. We just have to be ready to play," rear guard Erik Johnson said. "We can't come out and take three, four penalties in the first period and expect to get momentum and rhythm. While we do need to get kills in those situations, it's too hard to give a team with a good power play opportunities like that early like we did in Dallas, and then we're crawling out of a deep hole on the road.

"It was a really good 40, but there is no consolation victory or anything like that. We have to find ways to get wins and that begins with being ready to play and staying out of the box in the first."

Video: Erik Johnson talks about playing Minnesota

According to Johnson, one reason that Colorado is ranked fifth in the league in penalty minutes per game is that that players could be getting caught on the ice for too long.

"I think for one you take penalties when you're tired, and you take penalties when you're out of position," he said of the situation. "Probably one recipe for that would just be quicker shifts, stay on your toes. Sometimes when you take those quicker shifts you're a little bit more fresh and you don't have to hook and grab. If you take 30-40 second shifts, it's a much better opportunity to have success."

Just like in Dallas, the Avs will be without their top two scorers in Matt Duchene (head) and Gabriel Landeskog (lower-body). This means that everyone else will continue to play heavy minutes and in varying roles.

One trio that had success together is the combination of AJ Greer, Nathan MacKinnon and Andreas Martinsen. That line will be back together when the puck drops in St. Paul.

"We liked a lot of things our guys did, especially in the last 40 minutes," Bednar said of Thursday's match. "Now we were juggling the lines a little bit. We were double shifting some guys who were playing real well, MacKinnon in particular. He was kind of the driving force to our offense in that game, but I thought Greer and Martinsen did a good job. They got a goal shorthanded. Martinsen makes a nice play and feeds MacKinnon. There's a lot of good things going on there. A lot of north-south play, which is what we want to see. So we're going to leave them the same for tonight."

Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference

One change for Saturday's contest will be in net. Although Semyon Varlamov has been strong as of late, he'll be backing up Calvin Pickard for the second stop on this three-game road swing.

"Varly's been playing real well, but we feel we have two capable guys, and Pick played really good against Minny last time," Bednar said. "So we've got to find a way to keep both of our guys active here, and I think he's the right man for the job tonight, especially after the way he played last time against [Minnesota]."



Both Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are out for Saturday's tilt against Minnesota, but one of the two is close to returning to the lineup.

According to Bednar, Duchene could be back when the team takes on the Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio on Monday.

"He skated and felt good today," Bednar said of No. 9. "He just wanted to make sure he put a couple days back-to-back where if he feels well, then he'll be in our lineup. I'm optimistic he's in next game."

As for Landeskog, there's nothing new to report at this time.

"Not ready yet," Colorado's coach admitted. "He's under constant evaluation. So he's going to get looked at, and we might know something more tomorrow or Monday."

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