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Monday's Practice Report

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
Tuesday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes will mark the beginning of what may be the Colorado’s Avalanche’s most crucial stretch of the season. From Dec. 23 through Feb. 5, the Avalanche will play 15-of-19 games at home.

This extended stretch of contests at Pepsi Center could go a long way towards deciding the Avalanche’s final rank in the Western Conference standings.

“It’s big. We’re at .500 right now, but we’ve played a lot of games on the road,” said center Tyler Arnason. “We’ve battled to stay close and we can make a big move toward making the playoffs in this stretch.”

The Avalanche has spent a good amount of time away from Denver recently. Even though there’s little doubt that some of the burdens of travel are lifted when your voyage includes a private plane, spending hours on a jet to travel across the country still takes its toll, especially when you find yourself landing in different time zones and climates.

“It feels like we’re living on the plane lately,” added Arnason. “I know it’s not that bad obviously, since we charter our planes, but it feels like you’re getting on and off that thing all the time. It’s going to be nice to have some time to hang out at home.”

Colorado has played only 14 games at home thus far, with only Edmonton (12) and Florida (13) having contested fewer games on their home ice. The Avs have posted an 8-6-0 mark at Pepsi Center, outscoring their opponents by a 43-35 margin.

“If you look at the schedule moving forward from now until the end of January, it’s favorable,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato. “The last month and a half has been pretty strenuous as far as where we’ve been and how the games have been laid out. We got through a tough part, so now it’s about being able to move forward and take advantage of a nice part of our schedule.”

Svatos, Salei Updates
Avalanche forward Marek Svatos again took part in the team’s practice Monday at Family Sports Center, but is still being listed as day-to-day. Svatos has missed Colorado’s past five games with a back injury sustained on Dec. 9 vs. Los Angeles.

“He’s looked good in practice and he’s very close,” said Granato. “I’d still say he’s day-to-day and we’ll probably make a decision tomorrow on whether or not it’s worth playing him, because we have a few days between games.”

While Svatos was on the ice, veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei did not skate with the team today.

Salei was injured during the first period of Sunday’s game against Florida during a race to the puck in the Avalanche’s defensive zone. While tracking down the puck, the stick of Richard Zednik slipped underneath Salei’s skate, causing him to lose his balance and crash into the boards.

Granato said that the “bruised up” Salei is doubtful for tomorrow, and that the team will likely use the Christmas break to let the blueliner completely heal.

Raycroft to Start
After earning two wins on the recent road trip, Andrew Raycroft will start in goal for the Avalanche on Tuesday.

“He’s coming off two very solid games,” said Granato. “Peter [Budaj] has been very good for us all year, so it has nothing to do with Peter not playing well. It’s just the fact that Andrew went into two tough buildings and found ways to win.”

Raycroft owns a 5-1-0 record with a 2.79 goals-against average in seven appearances this season.

Shattenkirk a Leader for Team USA
USA Hockey announced Sunday that Avalanche prospect and Boston University defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has been named an assistant captain of the U.S. National Junior Team for the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship. The event will be held Dec. 26 – Jan. 5 in Ottawa, Ontario.

Jonathon Blum (Vancouver Giants/Nashville Predators) was tabbed as the team’s captain, while Colin Wilson (Boston University/Nashville Predators) was named the team’s other assistant captain.

Team USA earned a 13-2 victory over Latvia Sunday night in the first of its two pre-tournament games. Shattenkirk tallied three assists in the contest.
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