Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar didn't hold back on how he'll match forward lines this evening against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center.
Bednar said he will send out his top trio of Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen versus the Jets' best players, likely the lethal combo of Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele and rookie Patrik Laine.
"It's going to be a tough matchup every time they're on the ice," Bednar said after Avalanche's morning skate. "They're going to see a lot of Duchene, MacKinnon and Rantanen tonight, so top guns against top guns, and our guys are going to do the job."
After years of being known as more of a defensive, grinding out type of team, Winnipeg now seems to have that offensive punch that can make it truly dangerous. Laine leads the NHL in goals with 11, while Scheifele is the league's top point-getter with 19. Recently, the Jets have also received depth production from the likes of Blake Wheeler (11 points), Andrew Copp (four points in five games) and Marko Dano (three points in five games).
Video: Coach Bednar's pregame press conference
Colorado has the potential to go goal for goal with Winnipeg, so if the Avs are going to have success tonight, they're going to likely have to do it in the trenches, so to speak. That means winning battles in the corners and in front of the net against a tough Central Division foe.
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog's line with center Carl Soderberg and fellow wing Rene Bourque will be counted on to bring some of that grit.
"We have to be a big, heavy line that our team can rely on as far as puck protection and O-zone time," Landeskog said. "We got to be tough to play against. We have to create energy for our team and that's what we're going to do tonight."
Video: Rene Bourque talks about facing the Jets
Bourque is a new addition to the trio after switching spots with Jarome Iginla at Thursday's practice.
The 34-year-old has two goals this season, both coming from his ability to get to the front of net in the team's two contests against the Arizona Coyotes. He banged in a shot from the top of the crease on Oct. 29 in Glendale and then redirected the puck in traffic during Tuesday's home contest.
Bourque's recent play has given him a chance to move up in the lineup and play a top-six role versus Winnipeg.
"It's more what I saw from him the last couple games. He's been exceptional," Bednar said of Bourque. "He's been working real hard. He's physical. He's doing all the little things within our system, and he's one guy that has a certain determination to get to the front of the net. That's what we need here tonight in order to score."
Bourque said him and his new linemates relish the opportunity to hopefully grind out a goal or two.
"I think we all have size and a little bit of grit," he said. "I think our strength down low is where we want the puck. Down low and take pucks to the net, get up top, crash the net. Just typical ugly hockey, try and bang in some rebounds."
Landeskog noted Bourque's work ethic should fit nicely on their line.
"He's got a good shot, and he's been around the league for so long for a reason and that's because he finds ways to make things happen out there and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas," Landeskog said. "As far as our line goes, that is something that we need to get better at and we need to improve on."
Video: Carl Soderberg talks about his new linemate
Colorado has only scored the first goal three times this season and has let too many pucks go into its own net early in contests.
If the Soderberg-centered line can get a quick goal, or any of the other forward combos for that matter, it could give the Avalanche a boost it can ride for the rest of the game.
"We need goals, but it's always easier when you score the first goal to score (more)," Soderberg said. "We've been chasing every game, and the other teams are defending. So, we need that first goal."
IGINLA TO MATCH THE "GREAT ONE"
Avalanche forward Jarome Iginla is set to play in his 1,487th NHL game--matching the total that Wayne Gretzky played in his career.
Iginla will tie the NHL's all-time leading scorer for 18th place in games played this evening, three contests after passing Rod Brind'Amour (1,484) for 19th in the league's annals on Sunday.
The Edmonton, Alberta, native, who grew up watching Gretzky and the rest of the Oilers dynasty in the 1980's, is also just three penalty minutes away from becoming the ninth player to reach 600 goals and 1,000 PIM, an accomplishment the "Great One" never reached.
Iginla has 1,275 career points and is just six away from tying Alex Delvecchio for 34th place on the all-time scoring list.
Mikko Rantanen - Matt Duchene - Nathan MacKinnon
Gabriel Landeskog - Carl Soderberg - Rene Bourque
Joe Colborne - Mikhail Grigorenko - Jarome Iginla
Andreas Martinsen - John Mitchell - Cody McLeod
Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Fedor Tyutin - Tyson Barrie
Francois Beauchemin - Patrick Wiercioch