Forward John Mitchell, sidelined since Nov. 14 with an oblique injury, will make his return to action after missing the last seven contests.
“It’s good. It feels 100 percent now,” Mitchell said on Tuesday morning. “I’ve been able to practice four or five times now. That was something that our trainers definitely wanted to have me do, get in more game situations.”
Although he hasn’t played since Colorado’s 6-1 victory in Montreal, Mitchell’s injury stems back to Nov. 3. His two-game attempt to return (Nov. 12-14) was short-lived as the ailment wasn’t something that he could play with.
“Before, when I tried to come back, I only had one pregame skate and then was back in the lineup,” he said. “It was a difficult injury. I’ve never had something like this before. There’s a lot of injuries that you can kind of play through and be fine and they’ll still heal on their own, but this was just something different in the sense that I think it was hard to play with and you could certainly re-injure it.”
Mitchell said one of the hardest things about his absence was watching the team play without him.
“It’s tough to sit in the stands and watch games when you want to be out there with the guys, fighting and battling out there to win hockey games,” Mitchell said. “But at the same time, you have to make sure that you’re rested and your injury is healed enough so you can go out there and be effective and not re-injure it all at the same time. We took a little extra time to make sure that everything was feeling good, feeling right. Hopefully that will be the case.”
Time away from the game, albeit watching from afar, provides players with an outside perspective on game at hand and the overall trends of the team. Taking in the action from above, focusing on the minutiae and evaluating the details allows a guy like Mitchell to approach play different upon returning.
“You sit there and you watch every game when you’re not in the lineup. You pick up on a few things,” Mitchell said. “You see where things have gone wrong and when things have gone really well obviously, too. I think we’ve just got to build on the things we’ve done really well and… clean up the things that need to be cleaned up a little bit.
“I think we're doing a lot of good things out there, but obviously we just have to limit some of the chances that [opposing teams] get that inevitably get them more goals than us. We’re doing a lot of things right out there, offensively and defensively. It’s just a few little things that we need to clean up. I’m not going to go in there and be yelling and screaming and telling guys, ‘Hey, we need to do this. We need to do that.’ I think everybody knows. I’m just a piece of the puzzle, and hopefully I can come in and contribute and do the right things out there and get our team a victory.”
Mitchell isn’t the only player entering Tuesday’s game after time out of the lineup. Defenseman Nate Guenin will be returning after being a healthy scratch for Colorado’s previous six games.
“It feels good,” Guenin said of getting a chance to contribute. “I’ve been putting in a lot of extra work after practice with [assistant coach Tim] Army. He’s been helping me out on some things, and I’m just excited to be back in.”
It takes extra work for players to stay in game shape, and Guenin said he’s spent his time doing things after practice to improve and be ready.
“No. 1 is making sure your conditioning’s good,” he said. “We do a lot of extra skating, a lot of work with the puck, a lot of shooting. Timmy’s been really helpful in that.”
Despite the fact that Guenin and Mitchell are rested while most of the Avs are playing in their second game in as many nights, the 32-year-old D-man said he doesn’t think the additional energy will impact either side.
“I don’t think it will really make a difference. Everybody at this level [is in] tip-top shape,” Guenin said. “They’re going to work hard.
“They’ve got some guys with some deadly shots up front. They can make you pay.”
When asked if there is extra motivation to beat Devils head coach John Hynes, his former coach from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Guenin responded with a hearty ‘no!’
“I’m sure I’ll bump into him somewhere at the rink and say hello, but right now our team, we need wins no matter who it’s against,” he said.
The final addition to Colorado’s lineup on Tuesday night is netminder Reto Berra, who will take charge of the cage from Semyon Varlamov for his 11th start of the 2015-16 campaign.
Berra is 4-7 this season with two shutouts, a 2.39 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. Varlamov played Monday night against the New York Islanders in Brooklyn.
For the second time this year, Matt Duchene has been recognized for his stellar play during the month of November.
First, he was named the NHL’s first star for his play during the week of Nov. 9-15 after putting up a league-leading eight points (four goals, four assists) in three games. Today, the 24-year-old forward was honored as the NHL’s third star of the month after he recorded 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in 14 matches.
“It feels good. Obviously, that’s something I’ve never been able to do before, be one of the stars of the month. It feels good,” Duchene said before passing credit to linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. “The two guys I’m with, it’s an honor to be amongst those two. I’ve kind of said it all the way along; so much credit goes to my linemates, my teammates. Without those guys, you can’t do it yourself in this league anymore. You need a great supporting cast around you, and that’s definitely something I have right now.”
Duchene’s torrid scoring pace helped him move up the Avalanche’s record books. He now sits 11th in franchise scoring (335 points) and tied with Adam Deadmarsh for 11th in goals (138).
While accolades are nice, Duchene’s focus is on December and beyond.
“Obviously, my role on the team is to provide offense,” he said. “Things went in pretty good last month, but it’s time to continue on into December and keep helping the team climb back into the playoff race.”
Read more about his outstanding November here.