That will be the case again this evening as the Avalanche hosts the Montreal Canadiens at Pepsi Center.
Forwards Colin Smith and Michael Sgarbossa are slated to play in the match, filling in for Marc-Andre Cliche (oblique) and John Mitchell (leg)—the latest to miss time due to maladies. Having been called up just the day before from the Lake Erie Monsters, Smith and Sgarbossa bring the running total of Monsters to six.
|Michael Sgarbossa |
“It’s pretty cool ‘cause there’s a lot of guys hurt up here, and it’s almost like half our team from Lake Erie is up,” Sgarbossa said of the situation. “It’s just more comfortable ‘cause you know those guys. You’ve played with them the whole year. It’s obviously an advantage ‘cause they can kind of show you the ropes with practices and what to do and what not to do. It’s really cool to have them all up here.”
Of the six Monsters players that have gotten the nod from the Avs, four are expected to play tonight, including starting goaltender Calvin Pickard and forward Tomas Vincour.
“Whatever I can do and whatever Smith can do to help them out, we’re going to do whatever it takes,” said Sgarbossa of the opportunity.
For Smith, tonight is poised to be his first career NHL game, a distinction that has been frequent around the Avalanche this season. Dennis Everberg, Andrew Agozzino and Pickard all made their NHL debut this campaign as well.
“It’s still pretty surreal. I was pretty excited for this day. Obviously, at the pregame skate it was nice to get out there and feel the puck, and just get ready for the game,” said Smith, who broke down how he found out he was coming to Denver. “We just played in Hamilton and I was getting ready for bed ‘cause we were playing a three-in-three, and my coach just texted me to call him and next thing you know, I was coming here.”
Smith’s excitement comes with knowing that he’s also expected to play center tonight between Vincour and Cody McLeod. If he hopes to stay up with the big club, he’ll need to prove he can play at this level.
|Colin Smith |
“Personally this is a huge opportunity for me. Just the fact of being here, I’m really grateful. At the same time, I want to grab this and really show what I can do and make the most of the game,” Smith said. “Get my feet moving. I think there’s going to be a lot of emotions, I’m sure, at the start of the game. I want to try and use that and use my energy. Once I get my energy going hopefully I’ll settle down with the puck.”
Seeing a friendly face, let alone playing alongside one, is comforting for Smith.
“Just having guys that… you’re familiar with makes it a little bit easier. I’m playing with Vinny tonight. It really helps the transition,” he said. “I’m a little bit smaller but I try to make up for it in other areas, obviously. I try and work hard and out-battle guys and, at the same time, when I do have the puck I want to try and use my skill and playmaking abilities to find guys and just play the right way.”
Montreal is a team that is coming in hungry after having lost its last three contests, including back-to-back games against the Buffalo Sabres. If any team knows that the tides can turn, it’s the Avs, and they won’t overlook the visiting team when the puck drops.
“We know they’re not going to be happy. They lost two to Buffalo in a home-and-home, so we’ve got to be ready to go right away,” said rear guard Erik Johnson. “They’re obviously not happy about that. They’re a prideful team, and [we’ve] got to really expect their best tonight because they’ll probably bring it after being embarrassed by Buffalo.”
The Avalanche lost the last regular-season meeting between those two clubs, 3-2, in October. It was Pickard’s first NHL start and the Avs were in the midst of some early struggles, perhaps a far cry from how the team is performing currently.
“I think we’re playing a little bit better. Last time we had a chance, I think, to beat them and let them back into the game with two goals right after a penalty expired. I think we’ve changed some things since then and become a better team. I think we’ve won five or our last seven or something like that so we’re trending the right way,” said Johnson. “We’re playing better. Our best players are our best players every night, and when your best players are playing their best…
“Things are looking good, we’ve just got to continue to do it.”
The change in play from the start of the year compared to now is obvious to those among the team.
“We have a chance to climb back to .500. We all know that it was a rough start for us, but lately we’re playing a lot better [with] a lot of confidence. We’ll try to ride that as long as we can,” said veteran Daniel Briere. “Confidence goes a long way at times. Early in the season, late in the games we always found ways, it seems, to lose games. Where now, we’re playing with a lot more confidence.
“We feel like we’re going to find a way out of it, even when we dug ourselves into holes two games or three games before that. We have the confidence that we can climb out of it and that’s a good feeling to have.”
For Briere, there’s always a little extra incentive to play well when facing a former team like Montreal—which he joked he has more than a few of these days.
“I think there always is when you play an ex-team. A little extra motivation,” he said. “It’s good. it’s something I’m looking forward too. I guess easy motivation.”
Briere has been playing well of late, picking up three goals in his last five games—including a game-winner—after having recently been scratched for a seven-game stretch. The 37-year-old forward has even earned praise from his coach for the spark in his play.
“I’m very, very proud of Daniel Briere. He’s scored three… game-winning goals so far this year. He’s the No. 1 on our team. He’s leading that category,” Patrick Roy said on Sunday. “It was not an easy situation for him when we put him in the stands, but I explained to him what I was expecting from him.
“He didn’t ask any questions, went on the ice, worked hard. He’s a great pro. I’m very impressed.
“The quality of the person is the reason why we went to get him.”
Even Briere is feeling better about his game.
“Things are coming around. I think I’m playing a lot better. I’m moving my feet a lot better. Having a chance to get back in the lineup, that was motivation in itself too. And you want to stay there,” he said. “I’m trying to enjoy the times that are going and hopefully it stays like that for the rest of the season.”
The puck drops tonight at 7 p.m. MT.
Containing the Canadiens
Although Montreal has struggled recently, the club is still one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. American Forward Max Paciorrety has played a key role in the Canadiens’ success, putting away 11 goals for 19 points through 25 games. Shutting him down, along with the other potent goalscorers will be key for the Avalanche.
So just how do you do that?
“You don’t want to let him shoot. He’s a great shooter. He can find just a little bit of open ice and make you pay. For us, it’s not letting him get those little pockets [and] get a shot off,” said Johnson. “He’s got such a great shot that, if he gets it off, he’s going to have a good chance to score. So we’ve got make sure we limit those little holes for him to get into.”
“I think we’re going to need everyone in order to win tonight,” said Sgarbossa.