So far the Colorado Avalanche's trip down the Eastern seaboard hasn't quite gone as planned, but how the club has been able to close out games is definitely a positive it looks to build on.
The Avs are 0-1-1 on their five-game road trip after losses to the Washington Capitals on Monday and to the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout on Tuesday. Both were contests where one bad period put the Colorado behind the eight-ball, so to speak. The Caps had a 20-shot second period where they tallied the eventual game-winner, while the Canes came out strong with 20 shots in the opening frame and held a 1-0 lead going into the intermission.
However, the third period has been where the Avalanche has taken control on this trip. Colorado fired 18 shots and nearly tied the game late in Washington, and was able to complete the comeback by forcing overtime with goals from Matt Duchene and John Mitchell in Carolina.
Not having that one bad stanza will be what the Avs aim to do tonight as they continue their season-long trip in Florida against the Panthers.
"We just can't allow the big periods that Carolina had in the first and Washington had in the second," Duchene said. "We just can't have those. We have to play a little more offense, which means make sure pucks are out (of the Avs' zone) and get pucks behind their 'D.'"
Colorado has been forced to play catch-up in the last three games as it's given up the first goal in each contest. Playing with that urgency from the opening faceoff will be key this evening for the Avs against a Panthers team that is coming off a six-game road trip. Florida went 4-2 on its trip but lost its last contest to the Winnipeg Jets by an 8-2 margin on Tuesday.
"We've got to focus on making sure that we're ready to come out in the first period and start controlling games right from the beginning," said defenseman Nick Holden. "We can't wait until the second and third period to start playing hard and start taking over games."
To help with that start, Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy will begin tonight's game with the same top-six that had a strong finish against the Hurricanes.
Roy did a center swap midway through the contest in Raleigh, having Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly change wingers. O'Reilly finished the contest with Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon while Duchene played with Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay.
Playing with Iginla and Tanguay—the Avs' leading scorers with 29 points each—was nothing new for Duchene, as the trio continued their chemistry from early in the year and scored 25 seconds into the third period to bring some life into Colorado's offense for a comeback.
"We have played together quite a bit this year so it's pretty comfortable," Duchene said of his linemates in Florida. "At this point, I think it doesn't matter who I end up with. I have probably played with them at some point. We have so many great players on this team, and it's fun to play with all of them."
The Avs have also received solid goaltending on the trip as Semyon Varlamov made 36 saves against the Capitals and Calvin Pickard stopped 44 shots against the Hurricanes.
Varlamov will get the start this evening in the crease, and his teammates want to give him additional support with more offense at the other end of the rink.
"We've got to score goals," said Mitchell. "If we score more goals and our goalies play the way they have been playing, I think we'll be just fine."
EVERBERG RECALLED, STREET REASSIGNED
Colorado opened the day by making a roster move with its American Hockey League affiliate in Lake Erie, recalling right wing Dennis Everberg and reassigning center Ben Street.
Everberg has played 19 games in two previous stints with the Avs this season before being reassigned to the Monsters on Dec. 28. Street, who had been with Colorado since Nov. 22, had missed 21 games with a hand injury but made his return to the lineup on Tuesday in Carolina.
Everberg, who happens to be a left-handed shot, will be on the left wing on a line with center John Mitchell and right wing Borna Rendulic to begin this evening's contest. He has one goal and three assists this season.
"I think play my game," Everberg said on what he wants to accomplish in his return to Colorado. "Go out there and go hard, and that's what I'm going to do. That's the mentality I have."
He already has a little chemistry with his linemates, as Everberg and Rendulic trained together in Colorado while preparing for their first NHL training camps.
"We went over here in August together," Everberg said. "We have been friends since then."
Alex Tanguay—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog—Ryan O'Reilly—Nathan MacKinnon
Dennis Everberg—John Mitchell—Borna Rendulic
Cody McLeod—Maxime Talbot—Daniel Briere
Jan Hejda—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Brad Stuart
Nate Guenin—Tyson Barrie
Scratches: Zach Redmond and Marc-Andre Cliche