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Kings Offer Good Test For Avalanche

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Offensively, the Colorado Avalanche might be finally finding its stride—and doing it at the right time.

In their last four games, the Avs have scored 15 goals and have found the net four and five times respectively during a two-game winning streak. Colorado is averaging 3.75 goals in its last four games, a big improvement from prior to this current stretch. The Avalanche had averaged 2.4 goals through its first 53 games.

Leading the charge offensively has been the "core" of the team. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is on a three-game goal streak (three goals), while Matt Duchene (two goals, four assists) and Jarome Iginla (two goals, five assists) are on four-game point streaks. Nathan MacKinnon has assists in his last three games, and Ryan O'Reilly has given out apples in the last two contests.

Landeskog said the Avs have been putting together specific team goals that they want to accomplish during this recent streak.

"We have been focusing on some things every night, and going out there and trying to accomplish these things and just check them off as you go along," Landeskog said. "For us, it's about keeping this thing going. We feel that we have been playing solid hockey, and we want to play well at home. We want to finish this thing off on our homestand."

The Avalanche will have a tough task ahead in closing its season-long four-game homestand, as it will face a team that is also streaking positively toward a playoff berth and finding its own offensive firepower. That team also happens to be the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

Los Angeles has scored 19 goals during its current five-game winning streak, and is just two points out of a wild card position in the Western Conference.

"I feel that we always have good matchups against these guys, and it is always fun to be apart of these matchups, especially nights like this," said Landeskog of the Kings, who the Avs went 1-1-1 against last year. "We hope Pepsi Center is going to be rocking tonight, just like it has been the last few games. We're excited for this one."

Colorado hit a little speed bump recently in its chase for a postseason spot, but back-to-back wins seems to have given the club some confidence in its continual climb up the standings. The Avalanche is seven points out of a wild card position, but it still has seven games left against clubs its chasing for a spot.

That includes tonight's contest against the Kings, which is the first of three games against the Southern California team in the final two months of the season. L.A. is the only club that the Avs have yet to play this year, though they did meet twice in the preseason with both clubs winning once.

"They are a big, strong team that plays a heavy game," said defenseman Brad Stuart, who is familiar with the Kings after spending the last two seasons in the Pacific Division with the San Jose Sharks. "We know they are going to put the puck in deep every single time. They are going to come after you, and it's going to be a hard game. They are going to play physical. They are going to forecheck and not give you a lot of space in their zone. You have to be prepared to win those little battles, and if you're not, they are going to keep you on the outside all night long."

The Avs look to combat the Kings by staying the course offensively while keying in on Los Angeles defensemen during rushes.

"What I really like about our last few games is our structure offensively," said head coach Patrick Roy. "We allow our 'D' to be a part of our offense and I really feel that we are attacking fine and we need to continue that. Also our tracking is very important. I'm sure L.A. defensemen, especially a guy like (Drew) Doughty, are going to be in a lot of rushes. It is going to be very important that we come back and help our 'D.' When we track well, when we play well offensively, meaning we attack as a unit of five, when I see those things happening I know we're going to have a good night."

Tonight's game will be a measuring stick for the Avs and where the team is at in the stretch run of the season, playing against a similar streaking team that is also battling for a wild card spot and has raised the Stanley Cup twice in the last three seasons.

"This will be a real big test for us," Stuart said. "This team plays a playoff-style game almost every night. It is going to be important for us to match that. It will give us a good gauge if we're ready to do that or not."

Roy agrees.

"We're a little behind compared to two weeks ago when we were ahead of L.A., Minny, Dallas. Now we're behind, and we have to catch up," Roy said. "Tonight is a big game for us. It is an opportunity to get closer to L.A., and there is no better (way) then playing against them and finding a way to win that game."

CAREY GETTING COMFORTABLE

Roy will keep with what is working and will make no changes to a lineup that has won the last two contests.

Defenseman Stefan Elliott and forward Daniel Briere will be healthy scratches, and Semyon Varlamov will make his 14th straight start in the crease, building on his already career high.

Paul Carey

It also means Paul Carey will play in his sixth game of the season and his third in his current stint with the club. He has been playing wing on Colorado's fourth line with center Marc-Andre Cliche and Cody McLeod since being recalled from Lake Erie on Feb. 13.

"He is good. He has good speed. He is not afraid to get in there and get dirty," McLeod said of Carey. "His game last game was awesome, and hopefully he is playing the same way tonight."

Carey assisted on the Avalanche's first goal in its 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday, marking his first NHL point. He also added four hits in 10:50 of ice time.

"I like playing with Mac and Cliche," Carey said. "We seem to feed off each other. We read off each other well, bring some energy and have been playing well together."

PROJECTED LINEUP

Maxime TalbotMatt DucheneJarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog
Ryan O'ReillyNathan MacKinnon
Alex Tanguay
John MitchellDennis Everberg
Cody McLeod
Marc-Andre ClichePaul Carey

Jan HejdaZach Redmond
Nick Holden
Brad Stuart
Nate Guenin
Tyson Barrie

Semyon Varlamov
Reto Berra

Scratches: Daniel Briere and Stefan Elliott

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