Matt Nieto is looking to be a difference-maker this evening as he returns to the Colorado Avalanche's lineup after being a healthy scratch for the past three games.
Nieto will join Colorado's fourth line with Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau for the team's Friday night contest against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center. It will be Nieto's second game of the season after playing in the season opener at the New York Rangers on Oct. 5.
"Just try and be a difference some way tonight," Nieto said of his mindset entering the game against Anaheim. "Have an effect on the game whether it be creating turnovers on the forecheck or blocking shots or getting on the scoresheet, doing something to make myself present."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar before facing the Ducks
Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar said Nieto was held out for the past few games as part of the accountability he's striving for with his players.
"We said we're going to hold our guys to a high standard, and there are tough decisions to make and we have a coaching staff and management staff that support some of those decisions. And what happens is he comes out in Game 1 and wasn't great again and takes three penalties, so he's out," said Bednar, who also mentioned he was didn't see enough from Nieto during training camp and the preseason. "Now, I don't hold that against Matt Nieto. He misses the next few games because I liked what I've seen from other guys. That's the risk our guys are going to have to understand. If you're not on top of your game, then things get moved around. You can't just go back in the same spot. Everything has to be earned.
"I expect Matt to come in and be fired up and ready to go and hold onto that spot or earn a spot in the lineup."
Nieto understands the expectations that Bednar has and also realizes it is tough to make changes when the team was playing well. The Avs have won two straight contests after they beat the Boston Bruins twice by a combined 10-3 margin.
"That comes with the territory and you have to know how to handle yourself through thick and thin," Nieto said of watching the last three games from beyond the boards. "It is just about staying ready for that next opportunity. I have that in front of me tonight, and I'm going to take advantage of it."
Video: Matt Nieto returns to the Avs lineup vs. the Ducks
Nieto's return is due to the absence of Tyson Jost, who suffered a bone bruise in Colorado's 6-3 victory over the Bruins on Wednesday night.
Jost was hurt midway through the second period after Boston's Adam McQuaid cross checked him while chasing the puck into the corner. The rookie lost an edge and fell feet first into the boards. Jost needed assistance from the team's medical staff to get off the ice, but he returned later in the game and even scored an empty-net goal late in the third period to help seal the win.
Bednar considers Jost day-to-day.
"What he did was he hyperextended his knee there and he has a bone bruise," Bednar said of Jost's injury. "He'll be out tonight. I'm guessing he'll be out tomorrow and then its buys him the Sunday off as well. Then we can get him back on the ice on Monday to test it and participate in practice and try and get ready for Tuesday. I think he's fortunate there, certainly."
Jost had been playing on the Avalanche's third line with J.T. Compher and Gabriel Landeskog, and his spot on that group will be taken by Colin Wilson against the Ducks. Wilson had been playing with Compher and Landeskog throughout the preseason and the first two games of the year before Bednar swapped him and Jost in the team's bottom-six prior to Monday's contest in Boston.
The addition of Wilson should make the trio harder to play against.
"Willy is a good player and brings some good grit," Compher said of his new linemate. "He's a big guy and can definitely handle the puck down low and help me and Landy out. I think we'll be able to play hard defensively and a shutdown role and do whatever the team needs."
Friday's outing is the first of a back-to-back set for Colorado as the team travels to Dallas after the game. It is also the Avs' first contest of the season against a Western Conference foe and the start of seven straight games against teams from inside the conference.
BERNIER FACING OLD MATES
Head coach Jared Bednar expects goaltender Jonathan Bernier to be pumped up and ready to go this evening as he gets the start against his former club.
"I think whenever you play a team that you have a history with, you have friends, you have that familiarity, there is that added incentive, you know," Bednar said. "Part of the reason he is playing tonight.
"As teammates of his, we should be excited for him and dig in a little extra for him as well."
Bernier played 39 games last season with the Anaheim Ducks and finished with a 21-7-4 record, 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage. He also appeared in four playoff games during Anaheim's journey to the Western Conference Final.
This will be Bernier's second game of the season after he made 35 saves in Colorado's 4-1 loss at the New Jersey Devils last Saturday.
PROJECTED LINE COMBINATIONS
Sven Andrighetto - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - Matt Duchene - Nail Yakupov
Gabriel Landeskog - J.T. Compher - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau
Nikita Zadorov - Erik Johnson
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Mark Barberio - Chris Bigras