Rookie defenseman Chris Bigras was cleared to return to game action, bolstering the blue line, but center Matt Duchene was listed as unavailable for Friday’s matchup with the Flames after suffering a knee injury on Wednesday night in Vancouver.
“His status is going to be day-to-day,” Avs head coach Patrick Roy said of Duchene. “He hurt his knee last game, and we hope that he’ll recover pretty fast and then be ready to play soon for us. It will be a day-to-day situation for him.
“Bigras will play tonight. He cleared yesterday, and he will play tonight.”
Down a forward and up a defenseman, Roy and the Avalanche decided that there’s no need to recall a supporting frontman from the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL at this time. Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog is set to return from his three-game suspension when the team takes on the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday in Edmonton, so being short for one night isn’t a huge concern.
“We’re going to play with 11 forwards, seven ‘D’ tonight,” Roy said following the morning ice session in Calgary. “After tonight, Landy will be back in the lineup against Edmonton. Then we’ll go back with four lines, but tonight we’ll play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.”
According to the coach, Bigras will be slotted in on the third defensive pairing alongside Eric Gelinas, and center John Mitchell will leave his trio to skate with Mikhail Grigorenko and Jarome Iginla.
“Obviously, that line’s a little more offensive,” Mitchell said of switching from a pairing with Cody McLeod and Jack Skille. “You’ve got to be conscious of that, but you still have to play the same way. You’ve got to play hard. You’ve got to get hard on the forecheck. You’ve got to hit guys and protect the puck and do all those things, but obviously with Mikhail and Iggy, they can both hang onto the puck and get to that open ice. You try and find them in the slot or backdoor, something like that.”
For a veteran like Iginla, who spent many a season captaining Calgary’s Flames, Duchene’s loss is a hurdle, but it’s also part of the game.
“There's no question, he’s been great for us this season and a big leader on our team, and having Landy out, it’s the same thing you hear all the time: guys have to step up,” Iginla said. “[They] are two big guys on our team, and they play important minutes and contribute in every area of the game, but for us it’s just about winning one game. It’s just about tonight against the Flames, and however long that is, we’ve just got to focus on no excuses and stuff. We just push.”
Coming off a big win in British Columbia and in control of their own destiny tonight, Iginla said the team is still looking at what it can control.
“I think we just keep the focus on ourselves. I think that… most of us have been there where you’re out and you just go and play, and with a little less pressure sometimes you cause a lot of damage,” he said of Calgary’s situation. “From our point of view, we just make sure we’re ready to play. We’re not taking anybody lightly. We’re focused. No matter who we play, we focus on what we’re doing.
“We want to make sure we’re skating, we’re aggressive, we’re forechecking. Whatever the other team does, hopefully they have to adjust to us as opposed to watching them or just playing [nonchalantly]. We know the importance, and like I say, it’s fun. It’s fun to be in this, but it would be even more fun to be playing in a month, and we want to go earn that.”
For Mitchell, the game plan for Friday’s contest is the same as always.
“We just have to play a sound game,” he said. “If we do that, that will be good for us. They can play a little bit freer, I guess. So that’s just what we have to do. We have to make sure that we’re prepared for them and what they bring to the table. And then at the same time, we have to be conscious of what we do out there in the sense that we’ve got to keep it simple and play right.”
Although he admitted that the squad can use Wednesday’s victory as fuel for the fire, Mitchell also said that approaching each game with desperation will help with having a killer instinct.
“Anytime that you have a good game and you come out of there with a win, that’s important for our club. But at the same time, we have to be prepared to stay even-keeled and not get too up because we won one game,” said Mitchell. “We’ve got to be prepared every night… because obviously we’re fighting for our lives to get into the playoffs. I think we have to be a desperate hockey team.”
“It’s good to be in this position. We’ve worked for… 70 [games] to get ourselves a chance, and we have that,” Iginla added. “We don’t have to watch other people, worrying about three point games, trying to catch people. It’s nice to be in this position, where we know that Minnesota is right there and there’s other teams trying to climb, but we can focus on ourselves and try to string some together and push for that playoff spot.”
BIGRAS IS BACK
Out since March 7 with a head injury, rear guard Chris Bigras will look to make an immediate impact for the Avalanche in Friday’s match in Calgary.
“I’m excited to get back into the lineup and help with the playoff push here,” the 21-year-old rookie said.
Bigras recently admitted that time outside of the game, watching from above or below or on TV, has provided him with yet another learning opportunity during his first year in the NHL, and Wednesday’s 3-1 win in Vancouver was no different.
“You look at the last game and just the relentless pressure that we played with,” Bigras said. “When we’re doing that, we’re hard on the forecheck, we’re a great team. We win hockey games that way.”
Bigras has seen a handful of pairings on the third defensive unit at different points throughout his first 23 games in the league, but tonight he’ll be back with fellow blueliner Eric Gelinas.
“It’s been good getting to play with several guys, just in different styles to see what fits with my game,” Bigras said. “It’s been just a couple games that I’ve played with Eric, but he’s a great player. He’s got a good shot, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage tonight.”
Bigras has a goal and an assist this year since being recalled on Jan. 13. Prior to that, he ranked second among San Antonio Rampage defensemen with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 37 contests.