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Improved Neutral Zone Key For Avs vs. Predators

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche has had two days to dissect what it needs to do differently against the Nashville Predators. The team will have its chance tonight to see if those changes work as the Avs host the second half of a home-and-home series with their Central Division foe.

In Tennessee on Tuesday night, Nashville pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory against Colorado in an entertaining, free-flowing contest. Both clubs traded goals throughout the game, with the Avs coming back twice, including forcing OT with the tying goal in the final minute of regulation.

"It was a huge point," said Avalanche center Matt Duchene. "Obviously we would have liked to get two, but at the end of the day that point was big. We want to get two [tonight]."

Having two days in between games seems to have benefited the Avs, as they were able to do some in-depth video sessions and have a good practice in preparation for their third meeting of the season with the Predators.

Nashville wasn't so lucky as its trip to Denver is the second stop of a three game road trip, which features three games in four days. The Preds lost 5-4 in a shootout last night in St. Louis.

"I expect them to have a good start, some good jump," said head coach Patrick Roy of Nashville. "What we want to see [from us] is some good intensity and be able to maintain that intensity for 60 minutes. I thought we had a really good first period in Nashville. We took a 1-0 lead, and we want to maintain that intensity level for 60 minutes."

Being better in the neutral zone against the leaders of the Central Division is also an area the Avalanche wants to improve in.

Neutral-zone play against the Predators has been a focus for the Avs in the 48-plus hours since the teams last met, and it was again a popular topic in the locker room after this morning's on-ice session.

"Their 'D' are not only good defensively, but they also move the puck as well as any 'D' I've ever seen through the neutral zone," Duchene said. "Just in general, they are outstanding, very tough to forecheck them. Our neutral zone is probably the biggest part of our game tonight."

Last game, Nashville was able to move fairly easy through center ice on offense, while also solidly defending its own blue line, preventing Colorado from zooming past without first dumping the puck into the zone.

The Predators also gave the Avs fits when they did forecheck the puck.

"I think sometimes when we were on our neutral-zone forecheck, we got sucked in by their 'D' a little bit," John Mitchell said. "We have to be conscious of that, be smart. We watched some video of that, made a few adjustments."

This evening's game is the final one at Pepsi Center this season, and the Avalanche is still looking for its first victory against the Predators. Nashville won 3-0 in the previous game in Colorado on Dec. 9, but two of the goals were late, empty-net tallies.

Remembering what happened in that game and the one earlier this week can help build a little extra motivation this time around.

"I think it's fun to play home and home," said defenseman Nick Holden, who scored the tying goal with 36 seconds left in the last contest. "It creates some bad blood, and you get to kind of use that to your advantage."

MILESTONE WATCH

Avalanche alternate captain Jarome Iginla can reach another significant milestone tonight.

He is one point shy from the 1,200-career mark, which would make him the 47th player in NHL history to reach the plateau. Iginla's next goal or assist would tie him with Dino Ciccarelli on the NHL scoring list. He has 575 goals and 624 points in 1,359 games.

Iginla is also two goals shy of tying Mark Reechi for 19th on the league's all-time goals list.

The other Colorado player that wears an 'A' on his chest is also close to a few personal marks.

Cody McLeod is two penalty minutes shy from 100 this season, which would tie a franchise record with his seventh career season of at least 100 PIMs. He has surpassed 100 penalty minutes in every season other than the lockout-shortened campaign in 2012-13.

McLeod is also two points away from 100 in his career.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Alex TanguayMatt DucheneJarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog
Ryan O'ReillyNathan MacKinnon
Cody McLeod
John MitchellDennis Everberg
Maxime Talbot
Marc-Andre ClicheDaniel Briere

Jan HejdaZach Redmond
Nick Holden
Brad Stuart
Nate Guenin
Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

Scratches: Stefan Elliott

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