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Nieto Jumping Into Avalanche Lineup

The fresh face will be on the third line tonight

by Ryan Boulding @rboulding / ColoradoAvalanche.com

It's been an interesting last few days for newly acquired Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Nieto.

On Tuesday, he was with the San Jose Sharks, his club for the previous three seasons. On Wednesday, his future was undetermined as the Sharks had waived him for the purpose of sending him down to play for the AHL-affiliate San Jose Barracuda. On Thursday, the 24-year-old was informed that he had been claimed off waivers by the Avalanche. On Friday, he was out on the ice for morning skate at Pepsi Center.

"It was a crazy 24 hours. It's always hard and nerve-wracking not knowing where you're really going to end up," Nieto said of the situation. "So I got the call and was really excited to come out here. It's a great city, a good place to play, a good organization, and I can't wait to get out there tonight."

The whirlwind doesn't end there either. Nieto will play for the Avs on Friday as they host the New York Islanders, and then he'll have five days to sort out his relocation as the team is off for an NHL-mandated bye week.

Video: Matt Nieto joins the Avalanche

"I'm very excited. It was a long 24 hours, you know, just waiting," Nieto said following Friday's morning skate. "But I'm really happy that Colorado picked me up. It's a good opportunity, and I couldn't be more excited."

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound left wing is looking for a fresh start in Colorado after being a healthy scratch for the last eight games with the Sharks.

"I wasn't getting much opportunity there. I wasn't playing many games," he said. "I could kind of sense something was going to happen, so when it did I wasn't too surprised. I'm very excited to be here and to start a new chapter."

So Nieto headed to Denver to meet Colorado, which returned from a recent two-game road trip through Western Canada, and joined his new linemates, Carl Soderberg and Jarome Iginla, to prepare for Friday's game against the visiting Islanders.

For the Long Beach, California, native, the excitement continued with the chance to skate alongside a legendary forward like Iginla.

"Oh man, it's just awesome. You grow up watching a guy like that, and to be able to play with him is just an honor," said Nieto. "Just going to try and stick to my game and hopefully things work out there."

He, along with the rest of the squad, is now tasked with turning around the Avalanche's current five-game losing streak when taking the ice tonight. 

"I don't think this is a bad team. There's a lot of talented guys in this room, a lot of young talent," Nieto said of his new club's situation. "It's just a matter of being able to put a couple wins together. We can definitely do it, just everyone's got to be on the same page.

"I'm going to try and provide energy, use my legs, play fast, make plays but also be defensively solid as well, and try to be a good PK guy."

Nieto joins the roster with a bit of a blank slate, and head coach Jared Bednar said he'll be looking to see how he fits in as the bench manager jumbles the lineup looking for production.

Video: Coach Bednar before the Avs' game vs. the Islanders

"To be fair, I'd like to evaluate him here for a couple games and then see where our lines kind of fit," Bednar said. "Obviously, we're searching for some lines that can produce, not just that line but all the way around our lineup. So we're trying a couple different things here tonight, and we'll see where it goes."

Although the first-year coach hasn't seen a lot of footage of Nieto, he knows why the forward was picked up.

"He's an interesting guy. He's got some good experience on a winning team," said Bednar. "He plays with a lot of energy. He plays with pace, he can really skate and he's a competitive guy. We need a little bit of all that in our lineup, so he's going to come in. He's a good penalty killer, as well. He kind of brings us a lot of things that we need, which is why we picked him up."

 

DISCIPLINE THE DIFFERENCE

Penalties hurt every team eventually, and an overabundance of time spent shorthanded has certainly cost the Colorado Avalanche lately.

"You look at our games there after Christmas, we've been averaging five penalties a game, and that's not going to be good enough, whether you're at home or on the road," team captain Gabriel Landeskog said. "So we got to make sure we stay out of the box."

For head coach Jared Bednar, curbing penalties that are the result of not working hard enough is one focus for the club tonight against the visiting New York Islanders.

"So we've talked about it a lot, about the things that have hurt our club over the course of the last 10 games or so. Since the Christmas break, that's been our main issue," said Bednar. "We have 25 penalties in those games, and 13 of them are in the offensive zone. So skating, using our legs, taking the extra stride and finishing people off instead of reaching and taking stick penalties, it's a big thing for us right now.

"We showed some of them even this morning and talked about some ways to make sure that we're curing those problems, and some of that starts with just doing the early work instead of reaching and using our sticks. So hopefully we can cure that, because it's not one guy. It's spread throughout our lineup. It's not one guy taking bad penalties, it's just spread out through our team through the course of these last five games."

Video: Gabriel Landeskog before Avs vs. Islanders

Landeskog said the team knows that short-handed scenarios are costing it points, and he's hoping the changes being made produce positive results.

"We changed…details here and there, making sure that we're thinking shot first and making sure that we have a high guy to cover for us and try to get our 'D' involved early in the O-zone," the captain admitted. "Other than that, when you're spending 10 minutes a night in the penalty box, it's going to take momentum out of you. Players are going to play more and players are going to play less. It takes the rhythm out of the game. So if we stay out of the box, I think it's going to help our overall game."

 

LINEUP CHANGES

With Semyon Varlamov healthy enough to return to the Avalanche lineup, netminder Jeremy Smith was reassigned to the San Antonio Rampage on Thursday.

However, Calvin Pickard will get his career-high seventh-straight start on Friday, giving Varlamov extra time to get to peak health.

"He's better. Obviously, we left him back off the trip to get a lot of work done, and he's feeling a lot better," head coach Jared Bednar said of the Russian. "So he's going to backup tonight. Best case scenario for him is he still gets another six days of work and rest and then gets back into it."

Defenseman Francois Beauchemin (illness) missed the club's morning skate at Pepsi Center and will not play this evening, and with the addition of Matt Nieto, there are other changes Bednar will be making for tonight's tilt versus the New York Islanders.

"Beauch won't play tonight. He's under the weather," the coach said. "[Eric] Gelinas is back and ready to go. We sent him back off the road trip to make sure he was getting some work done to be able to play tonight. Then [Andreas] Martinsen is out up front and [Mikhail] Grigorenko."

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