After a day off to rest and relax following a two-game road trip in California, the Colorado Avalanche was back at it on Tuesday at Family Sports Center.
The 40-minute practice offered more of the usual, including zone-exit drills and 1-on-1 puck battles among other things.
The Avs used this time to prepare for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game versus the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
|Erik Johnson |
“You always want to go 2-0 [on the road], but we need to have a big homestand here,” defenseman Erik Johnson said following the on-ice session. “Two important games before we go back on the road again, so we know we’ve got to take care of business, go 2-0 and get back to above .500.
“We’ve got to be the more desperate team. They haven’t had a great start either, so we know that we have to be the hungrier, gritty team. Come out, possess the puck, make plays and control the tempo of the game. We’re a good team when we’re moving our feet and spend a lot of time in the offensive zone. It’s got to be a big homestand for us.”
The Hurricanes are 1-4-0 to start the season, and much like the Avalanche’s previous three opponents—the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings—they will be extremely motivated to win. Colorado will need to be ready for that.
“We’ve got to come out hard—hard and fast—and make sure we’re ready mentally,” veteran rear guard Brad Stuart said. “They’re coming in and they’re going to try to knock us off, and we’ve got to make sure we’re prepared. That’s all we can do. We don’t want to worry too much about what they’re going to do or they’re not going to do. Let’s worry about what we have to do to win. That should be our focus.”
One area the Avs say they need to improve on in order to string some wins together is in the defensive zone.
“We’ve put the puck in the net for the most part,” Johnson said. “The guys that should be scoring are putting the puck in the net. That’s good to see. Really, you’ve just got to come down and find a way to win. We’re a team that’s obviously based on offense, but we’re really trying to tighten up our D-zone and be better in there. The more time in the O-zone, the less time you have to defend.
“[When] we possess the puck down there and create that good forecheck, we’re a much better team.”
According to Johnson, tightening up the defensive zone comes down what to happens after a shot on Colorado’s net.
“I’d say probably limit the second and third chances. Teams are going to get shots on goal,” he said. “It’s about clearing the net, making sure there’s no easy rebounds, there’s no second chances off the rush. Team’s are going to get shots. That’s a given. You’ve just got to limit the second and third ones, which usually are the most dangerous ‘cause they’re sitting there in the crease or they bounce out in the slot. So if we eliminate those, we’ll be alright.”
A key step in preventing those additional opportunities comes down to working as a unit of five in the Avalanche’s zone.
“It’s communication and making sure that you’re communicating with the guys on the ice and making sure that they know what you want them to do and vice versa,” Stuart said. “When you’re talking and sorting things out, it makes things a lot easier and that’s a sign of confidence.”
One player absent from Tuesday’s skate was Croatian forward Borna Rendulic, who was reassigned to the San Antonio Rampage. Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy said sending him to play for the club’s AHL affiliate was about giving him the opportunity to skate more frequently.
“We just want him to play. We’re healthy right now,” Roy said. “I was not planning to use him. The worst scenario, I was going to use seven defensemen.”
Defenseman-in-waiting Brandon Gormley—who has yet to skate in a game this season–received praise from Roy as well.
“I want to see Gormley eventually. He’s been practicing well, and I think eventually we’re going to have to have a look at him,” said Roy. “He works hard. He has the right attitude out there and that’s what you want to see from the players who are not playing. I [think] that his 1-on-1 battles are really good, and I think if we put him in, he will respond well.
“I said [to Gormley], ‘Be patient and keep working hard and your chance will come. Then jump on it.’”
Colorado’s roster now sits at 22 skaters.
The line pairings during the Avalanche’s practice mirrored that of Sunday’s match against the Kings and few changes are expected for Wednesday night. Tyson Barrie, still serving a three-game suspension, skated alongside Gormley on the back end.
One difference will be the return of Semyon Varlamov to the crease, following two strong performancse from backup netminder Reto Berra.
“Reto played really well both games, but Varly is our No. 1 goalie and it’s time for him,” Roy said. “He’s been practicing really well. I think he’s ready to play tomorrow.”
Mikko Rantanen—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog—Nathan MacKinnon—Alex Tanguay
Blake Comeau—Carl Soderberg—John Mitchell
Cody McLeod—Mikhail Grigorenko—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov—Nate Guenin
Brad Stuart—Nick Holden
Expected scratches: Brandon Gormley, Tyson Barrie.