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Grigorenko, Zadorov Ready To Face Sabres

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Do Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko and defenseman Nikita Zadorov have something to prove tonight against the Buffalo Sabres?

Possibly, but maybe more importantly, the two Russians want to play a good game and help the Avs earn two points as their former club visits Pepsi Center.

"Lots of friends off the ice. As soon as you're on the ice, you have to compete and show what you can do there," Zadorov said of playing against the team that selected him No. 16 overall in the 2013 NHL Draft. "I'm just going to step up and play my best game."

Grigorenko also has that fire to play well with his current squad.

"You want to show that you can play hockey, especially against Buffalo—the team that drafted me and the team that I started my career here (in the NHL)," Grigorenko said. "Now it's a new chapter. You always want to play good against your former team, so I'm really excited."

This evening's game marks the first time that Grigorenko and Zadorov will face the Sabres since the draft-day trade on June 26 sent the duo out west. The Avalanche also acquired prospect and University of Michigan captain JT Compher and a second-round draft pick (which was eventually traded to San Jose for two additional picks) from the Sabres in exchange for forwards Jamie McGinn and Ryan O'Reilly.

Focusing on the victory and not trying to do too much is how Colorado head coach Patrick Roy wants his team to think.

"Honestly, I don't really care about that," Roy said of players in tonight's game having something to prove. "I'm sure the guys want to win the game, and that's the important thing for us. Focus on how we're going to play and that's all we want to do. I'm sure deep inside there is some pride for them. On my side, it's about winning a hockey game."

Roy admitted that the trade was made with an eye toward the future, as Grigorenko and Zadorov still need a little seasoning before they are truly able to make their marks in the league.

This year has been a continuation of the two young players' development.

While he has played in 40 of the 47 games this season, Grigorenko was a healthy scratch for the past three contests. When he has played, he's seen time all over the lineup—from the first to the fourth line and on both the power play and penalty kill. He will return to the ice tonight, replacing Chris Wagner on a combo with Jarome Iginla and Andreas Martinsen.

"I'm really excited, and I'm really happy that the coaches put me in," said Grigorenko, the No. 12 overall draft pick of Buffalo in 2012. "Hopefully, I'll make the most of this opportunity."

But this isn't just a nice gesture to allow him to face his old team. Roy expects Grigorenko to be a factor on the ice.

"He has to be consistent. He has to continue to be good in his one-on-one battles," Roy said. "That's the thing that we've been watching. He's been up and down in that area. When he does that well, he can certainly play at that level."

After beginning the year on the Avs' roster, Zadorov was sent to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League to gain more experience and playing time.

The blueliner responded with 18 points (eight goals and 10 assists) in 28 AHL games while on one of the Rampage's top D-pairings. Zadorov was recalled along with Chris Bigras last Thursday to provide a spark and has played well while being paired with veteran Francois Beauchemin.

"We think he's going to be good," Roy said of Zadorov. "We believe that he needs some time and [a lot of] playing time. Learn about the game. We thought [the AHL] was the best place for him to play. Since he's been back, he's played three good games for us. Seems to work well."

Zadorov understands there is still plenty he needs to work on, but playing with Beauchemin has seemed to ease the transition for him.

"It's so easy. He talks to me on the ice. He's helping you. He's a great D with great experience, and he's in a great position (on the ice)," Zadorov said. "If I make a mistake, he'll at least cover me, helping me behind me. It's really good."

While there will be plenty of handshakes and gestures with former teammates before the game, facing them on the ice in an NHL contest will be a new experience for Grigorenko and Zadorov.

"I'm sure it's going to be strange because I've never done that before," Zadorov said of facing old teammates. "But it's a hockey game, same thing. You go on the ice and work 100 percent."

VARLAMOV STARTS IN MILESTONE GAME

Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in his 33rd game of the season and play in the 300th of his NHL career this evening.

Varlamov

Varlamov is coming off a 36-save effort in a 2-1 win on Monday at the Winnipeg Jets, which improved his record to 16-12-3, goals-against average to 2.76 and save percentage to .912 on the season. After starting the season 3-6-1 and suffering a groin injury in November, he has bounced back nicely with a 13-6-2 mark, which included a six game-winning streak from Dec. 7-19.

The Russian netminder has played 240 of his 299 games in a Colorado uniform after beginning his career in Washington. The Avs acquired him on July 1, 2011, and he has been the club's primary backstopper ever since. He ranks second in franchise history in wins with 122, trailing only Patrick Roy (262).

For his career, Varlamov owns a 152-104-35 record, a 2.57 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in his 299 contests.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Alex TanguayNathan MacKinnonMatt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog
Carl SoderbergBlake Comeau
Andreas Martinsen
Mikhail GrigorenkoJarome Iginla
Cody McLeod
John MitchellJack Skille

Francois BeaucheminNikita Zadorov
Nick Holden
Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras
Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Calvin Pickard

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