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Looking For An Offensive Spark Against The Kings

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has raved about the balance of his lineup recently, citing a scorer and power forward on every combination. He also understands that his club needs to find more offense, so that is why he is putting two-thirds of the famous "Nines" line back together.

Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Andreas Martinsen will lead Colorado's top group this evening against the Los Angeles Kings as the Avs look to break a four-game winless streak at Pepsi Center (0-2-2).

"I guess they had good moments together, and I just feel it gives me flexibility to give them more ice time," Roy said of putting natural centers Duchene and MacKinnon on a line. "They played well in the World Championship together. They played well the moment they were together (here)."

Duchene and MacKinnon were joined on a trio with Gabriel Landeskog at the end of the Nov. 6 contest against the New York Rangers, and the three forwards were together for 21 full games, through the Avalanche's outing on Dec. 21 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs.

While the line was quite successful, the 29-9-92 combination was broken up because of a few different factors. Other clubs were starting to figure out how to stop them, and the Avs were also looking for more offense from their other groupings as well.

Landeskog won't rejoin his old linemates as his current trio with center Carl Soderberg and wing Blake Comeau has played well in recent games. It's a heavy group that likes to hit and go to the dirty areas around the crease.

"Landy is playing well with Carl and Blake," Roy said. "It gives us two good lines."

While Martinsen hasn't shown the same offensive ability as Landeskog has so far in his young NHL career, the big Norwegian serves a similar purpose: to create a little havoc in hopes of getting Duchene and MacKinnon open.

"I got to use what I'm good at; being physical, getting the puck deep, making sure that I win the battles down low so they can come pick up the pucks and drive the net," Martinsen said of his role with the two forwards. "Try to give them some extra space. If they get a little extra second or whatever, they can do a lot of stuff out there. Just try and put my stick on the ice and maybe get a little tap in."

MacKinnon said him and Duchene play a similar style of game, with Duchene scoring 12 goals and MacKinnon notching 14 points during their time together earlier this season.

"We're both good skaters, and we need to use our speed and protect the puck down low," MacKinnon said of playing with Duchene. "I think as long as we use each other, we'll be a good line."

Since breaking up the "Nines" combo late against the Maple Leafs, the Avalanche had played John Mitchell with Duchene and Martinsen, while MacKinnon centered wings Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay.

Those lines lasted four full games before Roy moved MacKinnon with Duchene and Martinsen at the start of the third period on Saturday. He placed Mitchell with Cody McLeod and Jack Skille, and Mikhail Grigorenko with Iginla and Tanguay

Colorado will begin tonight's game with the same combinations.

"I want to give a shot to Grigorenko to see what he can do. I think it is a good situation for him to be with Jarome and Alex and then we'll see," Roy said. "And remember early in the season, Mitchell played really well with Skille and McLeod. We'll try this scenario for a little bit."

The Avs currently rank seventh in goals per game at 2.79, but the club could definitely squeeze out more scoring with its talented forward corps.

"Just trying to find some offense wherever we can," MacKinnon said. "Once we get rolling, we're a pretty offensive team, top in goals in the league and stuff like that. We're good offensively, we just need to find that consistency."

VARLAMOV STAYS IN

There was little doubt with Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy to use another goaltender tonight against the Kings, as Semyon Varlamov will make his third consecutive start in net.

Despite Varlamov going 0-2-2 in his last four games and allowing all the goals in a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, Roy feels the Russian has given the Avs a chance to win in every contest. The Flames scored off a failed clearing attempt, two deflections and a rebound in front.

Semyon Varlamov

"He didn't play as well against Toronto (on Dec. 21), but I thought he was really good in the other games," Roy said of Varlamov. "If it wasn’t for him against Chicago in the second period, we could have been three or four goals behind. Even the last game, I thought he was not responsible for the goals. We just had a hard time to pick up guys in front of the net. They were perfect tips, under the bar, post and in. He was certainly not responsible for that game."

Calvin Pickard replaced Varlamov after Calgary's fourth goal midway through the second period and went on to stop all 15 shots he faced in his 26:53 of work.

However, the strategy was more to give Varlamov rest for the Avs' upcoming stretch against some of the Western Conference's best team than punishing him for his play.

"The reason I pulled Varly is because we have a lot of games coming up. There was no need for him to stay there," Roy said. "I wanted him back in against L.A. tonight and probably play St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago. From there, we'll make a decision. That was my plan to use him, then why leave him there when he's not responsible (for the goals). We didn't play well."

Though he's had a tough four games, Varlamov had a great December. He posted a 7-2-2 record with a 1.88 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in the month. His seven victories in December tied the franchise record for the most in the 12th month of the year with Craig Anderson (2010-11), Patrick Roy (2000-01) and Ron Hextall (1992-93).

PROJECTED LINEUP

Andreas MartinsenNathan MacKinnonMatt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog
Carl SoderbergBlake Comeau
Alex Tanguay
Mikhail GrigorenkoJarome Iginla
Cody McLeod
John MitchellJack Skille

Francois BeaucheminErik Johnson
Nick Holden
Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley
or Nate Guenin or Zach Redmond

Semyon Varlamov
Calvin Pickard

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