Returning from the NHL All-Star break with three consecutive losses at home was anything but expected for the Colorado Avalanche.
Defeats to division foes Chicago, Dallas and Winnipeg have come at an inopportune time for the Avs in their chase for a playoff spot, yet the club still holds the second wild-card position in the Western Conference going into tonight's meeting against the Vancouver Canucks.
Vancouver is one of a handful of clubs chasing Colorado, which holds a six-point lead over this evening's visitors to Pepsi Center.
With the Avalanche having a third of the season left to play, head coach Patrick Roy's message to his players this morning was to concentrate on themselves to help get the team out of its present slide.
"The thing that has slipped the most is our focus," Roy said. "I don't feel we have been as sharp mentally than we were before the break, and those things happen. Now it's time for us to refocus and regroup and be ready for tonight's game."
Prior to the mandatory time off for the league's midseason showcase, the Avs had won five of six contests and were coming off an emotional, comeback victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Colorado has since lost three in a row, including one in overtime, while being handily outshot in each outing.
"We came out of the break with nothing really," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "We've gone 0-for-3, and we've been outplayed pretty badly. We know that's not acceptable, and we know if we want to be in the playoffs and continue to be in the playoff picture, we have to be a lot better. This is a big game for us before we go on the road."
Being better in its end of the ice has been a focal point for the squad over the past few days.
"I think it's clear…too much time in the D-zone and not closing on guys quick enough and not being sharp," Barrie said of what the team needs to do better. "It's frustrating, but we're working on it and we're trying to figure it out. We're going to be a lot better tonight."
Forward Matt Duchene said this is no time for the club to take a step back and it could use a victory versus Vancouver before heading out on a three-game road trip later this week.
"I think we got to take it. We got to be confident," Duchene said. "We got to go out there and play every night like we're playing for something, which we are. Can't get complacent. Can't get comfortable for a second. We have to push and be better than we were the last three games. We have a three-game road trip coming up, and we want to be a heck of a lot better going into that."
The Avs have put together a solid road campaign so far, going 15-12-0 away from Colorado. But the matchup with the Canucks is a chance for the Avalanche to improve on a 12-12-4 home mark and pick up some more crucial points during four-game stretch at home.
The Avalanche plays five of its next six on the road after tonight.
"You don't want to go 0-3-1 on a homestand," Duchene said. "We can't do anything about the last three, but we obviously have a big game here tonight and have a big road trip, and that would make up for the last three."
Vancouver is one of two teams that Colorado has yet to face this season, with the other being the Detroit Red Wings. The Canucks have also had their own recent struggles, losing four in a row and all three on a recent homestand.
So tonight, something has to give.
Despite coming off a 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, the Avalanche will make no changes to its personnel or in the combinations of it lines and defensive pairings.
That means defensemen Zach Redmond and Nate Guenin will again be healthy scratches, keeping Andrew Bodnarchuk with rookie Chris Bigras.
"I thought Bigras and Bodnarchuk played really well last game," Roy said. "I was pleased with their performance."
Blueliner Nick Holden is expected to be in the lineup, though with a full cage on his helmet. Holden was hit in the face with a high stick on Saturday by the Jets' Drew Stafford, which drew a one-game suspension from the league.
Jack Skille will be the other scratch, as he'll miss his second contest due to a concussion.
"Nothing new for him," Roy reported on the forward after morning skate. "Still a concussion and we'll see how it goes."
Mikhail Grigorenko—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Alex Tanguay—John Mitchell—Jarome Iginla
Andreas Martinsen—Chris Wagner—Cody McLeod
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras—Andrew Bodnarchuk