It was back to business as usual for the Colorado Avalanche on the day after Thanksgiving, the team hitting the ice in preparation for another divisional matchup, against the Dallas Stars, on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.
For the Avs, the focus will be on maintaining the rising standard of play, which has led the squad to a 4-2 record through its last six games, all of which have been competitive and decided by a single goal. That means Colorado needs to play its own game and not allow the pace to be dictated by anyone else.
“I think Chicago’s fast, we’re fast, Dallas is fast, and you don’t want to turn it into a track meet, because when you trade chances like that, it can go either way. You’re either going to score a ton or you’re going to give up a ton,” said rear guard Erik Johnson. “For us, avoiding that track meet type of play will be crucial.
“When we’re grinding, we play fast, and we really control the pace of the game. If we turn the puck over at both blue lines, it’s going to be a long night. When we manage the game well, and when we play our way… without getting into the track meet type of style, we’re pretty successful.”
The Avs will have help managing the game on Saturday night, as Johnson himself will be in the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game against Chicago due to injury.
“Oh yeah, 100 percent playing tomorrow,” Johnson said following practice on Friday. “Practice was good.
“I’ll be ready to go.”
Johnson left Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win in Arizona in the extra frame after a big hit, and wasn’t healthy enough to play in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss.
“I think I was in a vulnerable spot,” Johnson said of the play. “I kind of put myself in a bad position reaching for the shot, trying to score in overtime. Wasn’t near 100 percent ready to go for last game, just held out. Unfortunately I wanted to play but wasn’t able to.
“It was just frustrating when the team wasn’t able to win. I wished I could be out there, but I knew I couldn’t be. I just needed maybe another day to get treatment and to recover from that. Thankfully it was nothing serious and nothing concussion related.”
Head coach Patrick Roy confirmed Johnson’s return, and added that forward John Mitchell should also return after missing the last three games with a leg injury.
“E.J. will play tomorrow. Mitchell should play as well,” Roy said before confirming that Calvin Pickard will again start in net. “He deserves to play. He played so well. The two games he came in and the last game he played against Chicago, he was outstanding. Good for him.”
Roy also gave an update on goaltender Semyon Varlamov
, who has been sidelined with a groin injury since Nov. 20.
“Varly is doing really well,” said Roy. “I expect him to play against Montreal, but I’ll be very cautious about that.”
Varlamov completed a full practice with the team for the first time since before the injury, and the 26-year-old Russian said his recovery is going well.
“I feel good. Today, I skated the first time with the team, and definitely I felt so much better compared to a week ago. My groin feels strong, and I can say I’m not worried about my groin anymore.
“The doctors did a great job for me, Scotty [Woodward] and Matt [Sokolowski]. Rehab was really good. I feel so much stronger right now on the ice. The last four days I’ve been skating on the ice, I’ve felt good. Today was first good skate with the team, and I just need to continue to do those things and I hope I’m going to be back soon.”
Varlamov said that it’s hard sitting back and watching the Avs play without him, but it also gives him a chance to notice things in the team game that he doesn’t see while out on the ice or on the bench.
“When you’re sitting in the lounge and watching how the guys are playing, you see lots of things. You can see good things. You can see the small mistakes,” said Varlamov. “I think the team played well [the] last [few] games. We’ve had some points, good points, and I think we played very well against Chicago. We deserved at least one point.
“We need to continue to work hard every day. Just go on the ice, work hard and good things happen.”
Varlamov has at least one more game behind the scenes before his expected return on Monday, Dec. 1.
The Avs face the Stars on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Pepsi Center.
Calvin Pickard has been phenomenal since his most recent recall to the Avalanche, winning two games in a relief role and hanging on like a veteran in a 45-shot slugfest against the Chicago Blackhawks.
|Calvin Pickard |
His solid play earned him the start against Chicago and his continued success as the champion of the Colorado crease has been rewarded with the start Saturday against Dallas as well.
“We’ve always said to our players [that] it’s up to them to force us to make decisions, and that’s exactly what he’s been doing,” Roy said of the 22-year-old keeper. “If we had to make a decision today, he would not go back to the minors.”
Pickard is 2-3-0 on the year with a 2.24 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage, and he seems to grow stronger and calmer in net with each passing minute.
“We certainly… encourage our players to play well, especially the ones that come from the minors. If they come and they play better than our guys, obviously we have to look at it,” said Roy. “Right now, he deserves to stay.”
Pickard no doubt thrives off of the confidence instilled in him, both by his teammates and his Hockey Hall of Fame coach, who knows a thing or two about the position.
Pickard will be a key factor in Colorado holding Dallas off the scoreboard.
“It’s a good team. I know that they don’t have the start that they’d like to have, but this is a good team,” Roy said of the Stars. “They have quality players on that team, and [Seguin] is certainly one of the good players on that team. We’re going to respect all [of] their team.
“We’re going to need a good start, and we’re going to have to be ready for them.”