After a successful road trip that ended with three straight wins, the Colorado Avalanche returns to Denver to begin a five-game homestand on Friday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Avalanche holds a 16-6-0 mark (32 points) this season at Pepsi Center, giving the club the fourth-most points at home in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks stand at 8-9-3 (19 points) away from the United Center this season, tying them for 12th in the conference in road points.
Needless to say, the Avs are happy to welcome the Blackhawks to Pepsi Center after such a long road swing.
“There’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed,” said Avs forward Ben Guite. “We love each other, but it’s nice to have a break from each other as well.”
“You feel a little more comfortable at home and are able to rest up,” added defenseman Jeff Finger. “That was a long road trip, so it will be nice to be home for a couple of weeks.”
And how do the Avs sustain the momentum from their road trip upon returning to Pepsi Center?
“Just play the same way we’ve been playing,” said Guite. “Before, we weren’t playing bad. We were happy with how we were playing, but the puck just wasn’t going in the net. We were getting unbelievable goaltending and just couldn’t capitalize on it.”Theodore Standing Tall
Speaking of goaltending, Avalanche netminder Jose Theodore started all five games during the road trip and has been between the pipes for six straight contests overall.
During that span, the Laval, Quebec, native has sparked the Avalanche by posting a 4-2-0 record with a .936 save percentage and 1.81 goals-against average. Included in that stretch was Theodore’s 24th career shutout, which came in Colorado’s 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Avalanche Head Coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday that Theodore will again get the starting nod against the Blackhawks, continuing the goaltender’s longest string of regular-season starts since arriving in Denver.
“I thought Jose had a real strong trip. Coming back with three wins, you get a lot of confidence and momentum off of it,” said Quenneville. “I think technically you can see the way he’s challenging, the way his rebound control is in order, and he’s handling the puck well.
“Goalies have that movement, and that’s how you can just see the confidence in their overall game,” added Quenneville. “But his approach has been good as well and he’s been very effective.”Power Play Clicking
The Avalanche’s power-play unit came to life on Tuesday, as Finger and forward Paul Stastny
each notched a second-period power-play goal against the Lightning.
In 22 home games, the Avalanche has converted at a 17.5 percent clip with a man-advantage, good for 14th in the league.
“We’ve been getting back to basics and just shooting the puck,” Finger said of the Avalanche’s power play. “Good things happen when guys are in front of the net and getting a couple of bounces doesn’t hurt either.”
The Blackhawks, fresh off a 6-1 rout of the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, have displayed a strong penalty killing unit on the road. Chicago ranks 18th in the league overall in penalty killing (81.2 %), but plays tougher in that area away from the United Center. In 20 road contests, the Blackhawks have killed off 82-of-98 penalties (83.7%), the ninth best road percentage in the league.Sauer Skating
Avs defenseman Kurt Sauer, who hasn’t played since suffering a neck injury against San Jose on Nov. 30, skated briefly following the Avalanche’s practice on Thursday.
While there is no timetable set for his return, Quenneville was glad to see the defenseman on the ice again.
“We got the news on the trip that there was some progress,” said Quenneville. “That’s encouraging. He can really help us. I thought his effectiveness over the last year with us, playing quality and important minutes, we feel like down the stretch he’s going to be a big part of it and we’re happy to see him out there.”