A spirited Colorado Avalanche squad returned to the ice this afternoon following four days off for the NHL All-Star Break and looks toward the second half of the 2015-16 season.
“It was a good time for [the break],” right wing Jarome Iginla said at the first practice back on Monday. “January was a real busy month for us. I think that’s about as busy as you can get, and it was a solid month for us. To be able to go into the break in a playoff spot from where we were a couple of months ago is big. Guys are feeling good, but we know there’s a lot of work to be done.”
The Avs are coming off a huge win in their previous contest, a 4-3 defeat of Los Angeles last Wednesday at Staples Center. Gabriel Landeskog tallied twice and Nathan MacKinnon had the game-winner as Colorado erased a two-goal deficit after the first period.
“You want to get back on a winning roll here so hopefully we can jump back to where we left off in L.A. and just have a good start,” defenseman Nick Holden said. “That’s going to be important coming out of the break, just being mentally focused.”
Colorado hopes to continue its good fortune against another Central-Division foe as it takes on the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night. This is the final meeting of the season between the two clubs, with the Avs going 1-1-1 in the previous three contests.
“We got to learn a little bit from last game because they skated a little more than we did,” Holden said about the team’s 6-3 loss in Chicago on Jan. 10. “We have to be able to match their speed and skill, which we can, and make sure not to give [Patrick] Kane, [Artemi] Panarin, [Jonathan] Toews and all those guys time and space to move around and create plays.”
Toews will be absent from tomorrow’s matchup, serving a league-mandated one-game suspension for missing the All-Star Game. He suffered an illness in the third period of Chicago's previous contest on Tuesday.
The Avs have had success against Central-Division teams this year, posting a record of 12-3-1. With 57 points, Colorado currently holds a wild-card spot in a tight Western Conference playoff race with the Nashville Predators (56 points) and Minnesota Wild (55 points) close on its tail. The St. Louis Blues sit in third place of the Central Division with 64 points.
“Just to keep climbing,” Holden said of the team's goal for the second half of the season. “I think we did a good job of that the last few months of just looking at what’s in front of us and trying to catch teams. I think that’s going to be our focus to the end of the season to just continue to climb and try to catch St. Louis.”
Colorado begins another busy month with a four-game homestand that pits the club against three divisional opponents.
“Now, we can just go and focus on ourselves and not have to watch other teams because these next three [games] are going to go quick,” Iginla said. “That’s the goal is to make the playoffs but while we’re doing it is to keep that confidence up. Guys are working hard and finding ways to win games and then it’s in our control. Fortunately, right now were not chasing and we want to keep it that way.”
With 30 more games left in this year’s campaign, the Avs have to keep their eye on the prize.
“We feel pretty good where we are, but we’re not comfortable where we are because we’ve played more games than a lot of teams,” head coach Patrick Roy said. "At the same time, we made huge strides in the last month or so and put ourselves in good position. Now, we need to continue. There’s a lot of good hockey to be played and 30 games to go, and we have an important one tomorrow night against a good hockey team.”
Music City Memories
Matt Duchene had a day off Monday after returning from the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville this past weekend, as mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The forward competed in Fastest Skater, Breakaway Challenge, Skills Challenge Relay and Shootout in Saturday’s skills competition. Duchene fully embraced Nashville’s country culture wearing a stylish cowboy hat for some of the night.
The main event of Sunday’s All-Star Game was highly praised for its new 3-on-3 format that pitted division teams in the same conference against each other for two 10-minute halves.
In the Central versus the Pacific matchup, John Scott’s two-goal outing helped lead the Pacific to a 9-6 win. Duchene picked up a pair of helpers, setting up both of James Neal’s tallies.
The Pacific Division took the ultimate prize with a 1-0 win over the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division.
On Tuesday, Roy said that Iginla will appear on a line with Duchene and MacKinnon, and he will continue rolling with the lines centered by Carl Soderberg and John Mitchell. Alex Tanguay, a healthy scratch last Wednesday, will return to the lineup versus the Blackhawks, skating alongside Chris Wagner and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Calvin Pickard will protect the net against Chicago in his third straight start. A goaltender decision is still to be made about Thursday’s game against the Dallas Stars.
“We trust Picks," Roy said. “I think he’s been doing a good job for us, and we are confident he’s going to play well for us tomorrow.”
Roy also reported that defenseman Brad Stuart had surgery on his back and is out indefinitely.