The Avalanche will face a nice litmus test Tuesday night when one of the NHL’s hottest teams comes to Pepsi Center.
The Atlanta Thrashers will arrive in Denver riding a five-game winning streak (the league’s second longest current streak, behind Pittsburgh’s six consecutive victories), having outscored their opponents by a 19-3 margin in the process.
Those victories haven’t come against slouches either, as the Thrashers have topped division leaders Washington, Detroit and Montreal in the process, in addition to victories over Boston and the New York Islanders. After beginning the season with a 7-9-3 mark, Atlanta has now moved into the No. 7 slot in the Eastern Conference on the merits of its recent hot streak.
However, all of those victories came on the Thrashers’ home ice. Atlanta is 4-4-2 in 10 games away from Philips Arena.
“That team is a really good team and I think they’ve had a complete turnaround since last season,” said John-Michael Liles. “They have a lot of new faces, but they have a lot of guys we’re familiar with. A few guys are from Chicago and they added some guys from New Jersey. It’s just a matter of us playing our game and getting the fans behind us.”
One player the Avs will have to keep in check is defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. The 25-year-old leads the Thrashers in goals (9) and points (25) and is pacing the entire NHL in game-winning goals (5). A versatile player who has split his time in the NHL between forward and defense, the former Chicago Blackhawk is in the midst of a career-high five-game point streak (4g/5a).
“You have to take away time and space. He’s playing really well right now, he’s a big body and he has a fantastic shot,” said Liles. “He’s one of the keys on their team. He’s a guy that’s tough to deal with no matter where he is.”Stewart Update
When the Avalanche takes on Atlanta, it will do so without the services of leading goal scorer Chris Stewart. Unfortunately, this will be something Colorado will have to get accustomed to.
Stewart fractured his hand during a fight with Minnesota’s Kyle Brodziak on Saturday and will be sidelined 4-6 weeks. The power forward will undergo surgery later this week once the swelling in his hand subsides.
“It’s a big hole in our lineup, obviously,” said Matt Duchene
. “Other guys are going to have to pick up that slack. It’s hard to have a guy out who is that important to your team, and it’s such a brutal way that it happened. We wish him the speediest recovery possible and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
While unfortunate, Stewart’s injury is simply part of the game. From Clark Gillies and Cam Neely to modern day examples such as Jarome Iginla, David Backes and Ryan Getzlaf, power forwards like Stewart are occasionally going to drop the gloves when the situation calls for it. Each time they do, it poses a risk.
Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco said that he has yet to decide who will fill Stewart’s spot on one of Colorado’s top scoring lines. During Monday’s practice, Kevin Porter
skated alongside Paul Stastny
and Milan Hejduk
, while Greg Mauldin
filled in with David Jones
and Matt Duchene
Winnik Will Be Available, Foote Doubtful
Daniel Winnik did not practice on Monday, but Sacco said the forward will be available for Tuesday’s game against Atlanta. The winger left Saturday’s game with a leg contusion after being struck above the knee by a John-Michael Liles point shot early in the first period.
Captain Adam Foote was on the ice briefly today, but is doubtful for Tuesday. Foote has missed the Avalanche’s past two games after leaving a Nov. 24 contest against Vancouver with a leg injury.
Sacco also noted that goalie Craig Anderson continues to make progress and will be available when the Avalanche goes back on the road starting with Friday’s game in Carolina.Galiardi, Van Der Gulik Skating
Injured forwards T.J. Galiardi and David Van Der Gulik
were both on the ice prior to this morning’s practice. The pair wore orange non-contact jerseys and did some skating drills under the supervision of Avalanche Strength & Conditioning Coach Robert McLean.
Galiardi remains out indefinitely with a wrist injury suffered on Nov. 9 versus Calgary, while Van Der Gulik is working his way back from a knee injury he sustained during that same contest.