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Desperate Teams Prepare To Face Off

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

After tonight, the Colorado Avalanche's schedule starts getting tough.

That's not to say the Avs' first six games have been easy, or that this evening's matchup against the surprisingly winless but very talented Columbus Blue Jackets will be a walk in the park. It's just that starting next week, Colorado begins a slate where it has games almost every other night, with a few back to backs thrown in for good measure.

The club will also play 11 of the next 14 and 15 of its next 20 games on the road.

"We've had games where we played and then had two days off, even three days off at some point," said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson. "Now we're really getting to the meat of the schedule. We'll have some back to backs. We'll play every other night a lot. Sometimes that is good, though. You get in the groove a little bit more, and you get to play a lot of games. You get right to the next game and you don't really dwell on the last one, win or loss. I think it's good. I like getting the games in and kind of having that repetitive schedule."

While a three-game road trip with stops in Florida, Tampa Bay and Carolina is on the horizon, the Avalanche's focus is in the present and facing the Blue Jackets.

Despite Columbus' 0-8-0 record, the visitors to Pepsi Center this evening were many people's preseason favorite to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and do some damage while there. The skill the Blue Jackets have makes their current record a poor indicator of the talent on their roster.

"We realize in this room how important this game is for us. We know they're desperate, but I think we're more worried about what we have to do in this locker room to get a win," said Avs forward Blake Comeau. "With that being said, we can't underestimate these guys. We know what their record is, but they have a new coach in place. They're going to be coming out hard, and they're going to be looking for their first win."

The Avalanche has yet to pick up wins in back-to-back games, so getting a victory tonight would be huge for the team in its quest to pick up early season points.

Despite losing 1-0 in overtime on Wednesday against Carolina, Colorado still earned a point by playing solid defensively while having its chances to score in regulation and the extra session. A win against the Jackets would give the Avs three of a possible four points on the short homestand before they head out on their second road trip of the season.

"We're trying to build something and gain some momentum, and it would be nice before we go on the road to just keep moving up, and just keep getting better as a team," veteran forward Jarome Iginla said. "It's not just about these two points tonight and how important they are and all that; it's early in the season, it's game No. 7 and just keep getting better, more consistent, and that will give us a chance to have those better streaks and move up in the standings."

Improving on the 1-2-1 mark in its friendly confines would also be nice for head coach Patrick Roy's squad.

"It's an important game for us," Roy said. "Three points out of four, .750 is good for us. We do that all the time at home, then we'll have a good home record. At the same time, we're playing against a good team. They are going to be very desperate tonight, like we say every night actually. It's a good test for our team."

SKILLE FACING FORMER MATES

The Blue Jackets' poor start has caught nearly everyone around the league by surprise, and that includes Avalanche forward Jack Skille, who played for Columbus the past two seasons.

Jack Skille

"You look at that team and the roster, they're loaded with guys," said Skille, who will be facing his former club for the first time. "I don't know, for whatever reasons—I haven't been there, I don't know what is going on—but it's got to be frustrating and that's why going into tonight's game we know we're going to be facing a very desperate team. At the same time, we're desperate. It's going to be two desperate teams playing against each other tonight. It's going to be a good hockey game."

Playing an old team with friends in the opposing uniform is nothing new for Skille. The Madison, Wisconsin, native has also had stops in Chicago and Florida during his time in the NHL, and he has a good sense of what to expect with Columbus—even with a new bench boss in John Tortorella.

"They are going to bring a hard forechecking game. They are a physical team," Skille said. "Being on that end of things last year, I know their guys, the way they like to play. I know what to expect. I think a lot of guys in this room have played against that team before, and obviously minus the coach, nothing has really changed."

Skille played 61 games with the Blue Jackets over the last two seasons, including 45 contests last year when he scored six goals and added two assists. He also played 22 games in 2013-14 with the Springfield Falcons, Columbus' AHL affiliate at the time.

CELEBRATING COLORADO HOCKEY

The Avs wore their new third jerseys for the first time during a practice on Oct. 9.

The Avalanche continues its 20th Anniversary Season this evening with "Celebration of Hockey in Colorado" night. The organization will honor the history of the sport in the state, from the youth game to the numerous minor league clubs that have called Colorado home to the two NHL franchises that have played in Denver, the Colorado Rockies and the Avalanche.

Former Rockies players, including Lanny McDonald and Barry Beck, will be honored during a special pre-game ceremony and will also sign autographs on the concourse. At the intermissions, the Avs will highlight the impact of the organization throughout the region and community over the last 20 years.

The Avalanche will also debut its new third jersey in a game for the first time. The alternate sweater has a predominantly navy color scheme and features the new 'C' puck logo in a throwback-style crest on the front. It also includes laces at the neckline, silver piping on the front and white shoulders.

Colorado will wear the jersey 14 times this season. It is currently available for purchase exclusively at Altitude Authentics at Pepsi Center.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Gabriel LandeskogNathan MacKinnonAlex Tanguay
Blake Comeau
Matt DucheneJarome Iginla
John Mitchell
Carl SoderbergDennis Everberg
Cody McLeod
Mikhail GrigorenkoJack Skille

Francois BeaucheminErik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov
Nate Guenin
Nick Holden
Brandon Gormley

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

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