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Practice Report: McLeod "Getting Close"

by Aaron Lopez / Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche snapped a six-game losing streak on Sunday with a 5-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks by simplifying their game – something that teams often try to do when playing on the road.

“We played a team concept and kept pucks out of the middle,” said Brett Clark. “If we keep it that way, we can keep the game under control and have a lot of success from here on out.”

Center Paul Stastny agreed with that assessment.

“We just played a simple game,” said Stastny. “Our ability to backcheck and forecheck gave our defense more time to create plays. We kept a lot of things to the outside.”

Both Clark and Stastny also credited the Avalanche’s system for much of the team’s success last night. Colorado generally placed a forward in the high slot in the offensive zone. Utilizing that system allows the Avs to have a third man back in the event of a turnover and also takes away the middle of the ice for their opponents, forcing them to go up the wall to start a breakout.

“It gives the defensemen a chance to gap up and takes time and space away from their forwards,” said Stastny. “It also makes them rush and try to make a play. Chicago has a lot of skilled guys and you need to force them to make plays and hopefully create some turnovers.”

To recreate that success when the Avs host the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday, they’ll need a carbon copy of their effort from Sunday’s win. While that may be easier said than done, the squad believes the system will dictate their success.

“We have to keep the same game plan we used in Chicago,” said Clark. “They have a lot of speed and we need to slow them down and not give them a transition game. The best way to do that is to get pucks deep and not create turnovers.”

McLeod Skates, But Won't Play
Forward Cody McLeod (shoulder) was on the ice during today’s practice, but will not play tomorrow against Atlanta. He wore an orange non-contact jersey and participated in some drills while also doing a little work on the side with goaltending coach Jeff Hackett and netminder Peter Budaj.

The second-year pro was injured in Wednesday’s game against Detroit and missed his first NHL contest when he sat out yesterday’s game in Chicago. Prior to his injury, McLeod had skated in 65 straight games this year and 114 consecutive games (124 including playoffs) since making his NHL debut on Dec. 19, 2007.

“He’ll be day-to-day, I think, after tomorrow,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato. “He’s getting close. He had a good practice today.”

McLeod ranks fifth on the club with 12 goals.

Hannan, McCormick Don’t Practice
Defenseman Scott Hannan and forward Cody McCormick didn’t skate today. Hannan was not feeling well, but is expected to play tomorrow. Granato said that McCormick was held off because he was sore, and labeled him as questionable for Tuesday’s contest.

Budaj Back In
After stopping 24-of-25 shots Sunday afternoon against Chicago, Budaj will be back between the pipes tomorrow against the Thrashers. Budaj was handed a loss when the Avs and Thrashers met two weeks ago, giving up four goals on 26 shots.

Hejduk Heats Up
Although he has been one of the Avalanche’s most consistent performers throughout the course of the 2008-09 season, Milan Hejduk has been especially good lately. The 10-year NHL veteran rides a four-game point streak (2g/3a) into Tuesday’s contest after scoring his team-leading 25th goal in Sunday’s win against the Blackhawks.

Hejduk ranks second on the club in assists (28) and points (53), trailing only Ryan Smyth (32 assists/56 points) in each category.

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