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Lines Shuffled For Tonight's Tilt

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

NHL teams don’t usually change their lineups looking for more goalscoring just two days removed from a 4-3 game—that one being an overtime loss to the Dallas Stars—but Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy is looking for a spark.

“Our scoring hasn’t been as high as we’d like it to,” Roy said Saturday morning. “There’s been a lot of 2-1 games. That’s the way it is in this league now, but it would be nice to have scoring from pretty much everybody.”

The Avs have seen 13 games featuring a 2-1 final score at the closing buzzer—including five contests in the previous 31 days—and they’ve posted an 8-4-1 record in such situations. What’s more, Colorado has seen 25 games to date decided by a one-goal margin, and it is 12-9-4 in those close calls.

As such, Roy has opted for major line shuffling in order to get the goals—and wins—flowing again in the final stretch of the 2015-16 season. Although recently placed on the top pairing alongside Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, Jarome Iginla will now be reunited with Alex Tanguay on a line with John Mitchell. Mikhail Grigorenko will be moved to the wing on the MacKinnon-centered trio.

“Obviously, we won’t touch the line of [Gabriel] Landeskog with [Carl] Soderberg and [Blake] Comeau,” Roy admitted. “We’re going to try Tanguay with Mitchell and Iginla. I thought they played well at some points at the start of the season, and I’d like to give them a chance to see how it’s going to go. Then, [Cody] McLeod will play with [Andreas] Martinsen and [Chris] Wagner.”

The updated combinations, particularly the one featuring the two veterans, aren’t exactly new to the players.

“I’ve played with Iggy and Tangs before, so it certainly is helpful that I’ve been between them before. I know their tendencies and what they like to do,” Mitchell said, admitting that his personal game plan doesn’t change much with different wings at his sides. “First and foremost, I want to take care of my own end and make sure we do well there and be strong defensively in our zone. If we do that, those offensive opportunities will come. I’m confident that I can play with those guys offensively.”

The feeling is the same for Tanguay.

“Jarome and I have a lot of familiarity with one another. We’ve played with John too, earlier in the year,” he said. “I think we have the ability to produce, and I think we’re looking for a little bit more scoring, a little bit more shots on net and to play a little bit better of a game than we have the last couple. We’re hoping that we can contribute. I’m very familiar with those two guys. For all of us, I don’t think it’s an adjustment at all. We know each other very well.”

For the 36-year-old wing with 1,060 NHL games under his belt, new lines are common place. He said he knows the ups and downs of the game and the importance of being a contributor if the club is to have success.

“You know things are going to move around,” Tanguay offered. “It’s business as usual. Any day you come into the dressing room, you have to prepare yourself to do your best. Whether you’re on the first line, the fourth line, whoever you’re playing with, this is the name of the game. We play so many games that things are bound to change. Things are going to happen. There’s going to be stretches where you play better and stretches where you don’t play as well, but you have to make sure you bring the effort that will make this team successful.

“We haven’t played to the level that we think we should be playing at. For all of us, it’s an opportunity to play better, and that’s what we’ll try to do.”

Comeau, whose consistent trio will remain intact, certainly sees the benefit of the shuffle.

“I think sometimes just different looks with different line combinations helps out,” said Comeau. “We’ve got a lot of talent up front. I think anytime you’re in a funk like this, it’s just about getting pucks on net.

“I think switching around a few guys on different lines is going to be a good thing.”

According to Roy, forward Jack Skille will be out of tonight’s lineup.

“He suffered a concussion [in the] last game we played against Dallas on an elbow to the head by one of their players,” Roy said.


TIGHTER DEFENSE

Shots against are something the Avalanche is taking seriously and looking to rectify in tonight’s contest against a Central Division rival.

“I know it’s been tough games. We played St. Louis, Dallas two times, Chicago, in San Jose, in L.A. These have been tough games, but we feel that we’re giving a little too many shots,” Roy said on Saturday. “We’d like to cut down on shots against and spending a little less time in our own zone. Last game, I think we were like 26 minutes in our own zone, which is way too much. We’d like to cut down on that.

“When we look at statistics, for us the important one is how much time we spend in the O-zone and how much time we spend in the D-zone; that’s more important for us than anything else. The last few games, we’ve been spending a lot of time in our end. We’d like to cut down on that.”

Fixing these things comes down to many things done differently in many areas.

For defensive play, it means being in tune with the game.

“I think we’ve been getting into contain mode a little bit too much,” defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who will be paired with rookie Chris Bigras, said after the morning skate. “We’ve got to close quicker. I think most of that comes from not reacting but anticipating, knowing where they’re going with the puck and being able to jump it a little quicker. When we’re just reacting to plays, then we’re a step behind for closing. I think our anticipation and having our assignments locked in will be a big step for us today.”

For offensive play, the best bet is to relax and let the game come to you.

“It’s just small details, little things that we need to be better at,” Mitchell said. “We’ve just got to focus on that and not think too much offensively, but obviously when we have the puck and we have opportunities, we’ve got to do what we can.

“We just need to cut down on time and space for guys, especially in the offensive zone. We’ve got to swarm when we can and just take away those opportunities. Get on their forwards and their ‘D’ as quickly as possible.”

The players also know that no matter the current state of tonight’s opponent, the Winnipeg Jets, they will not be able to sit back and expect a fourth consecutive win over the visiting club.

“We can’t take them lightly, even though they’re in last place in our division and they’ve been struggling a little bit lately,” Mitchell said. “They’re going to be a hungry team. They played last night and had a tough loss. They had a tough go, especially in the first period. I think they’re going to come out obviously very hungry, and we’ve got to be prepared for that.”

Added Comeau: “We know how desperate they’re going to be. This is a really important game for both teams. We’re a team that they’re trying to catch, so we expect a hard game. We can’t be surprised if they come out hard and have a good start. We’ve got to be able to match that and exceed that. I think everyone’s aware of what’s at stake.”

The puck drops at 8 p.m. MT.


EXPECTED LINEUP

Mikhail GrigorenkoNathan MacKinnonMatt Duchene

Gabriel LandeskogCarl SoderbergBlake Comeau

Jarome IginlaJohn MitchellAlex Tanguay

Andreas MartinsenChris WagnerCody McLeod


Francois BeaucheminErik Johnson

Nick HoldenTyson Barrie

Chris BigrasAndrew Bodnarchuk


Semyon Varlamov

Calvin Pickard


Scratches: Nate Guenin, Zach Redmond and Jack Skille.

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