WINNIPEG, Manitoba—After 14 days and six games, the Colorado Avalanche's longest road trip of the season has nearly come to an end, but the final result on if it was a good or bad trek has yet to be determined.
With a 3-3 mark on the voyage, this evening's game against the Winnipeg Jets is a big one for the club before it returns home for two contests wrapped around the Thanksgiving holiday later this week.
"I'm not saying this is a crucial game for us, but it is a very important game," Avs head coach Patrick Roy said after today's morning skate. "If we want to [make] up some ground on teams in the standings, this is a good night to win a hockey game."
After victories in the first three contests of the trip, Colorado has dropped its last three and wants to get back on the winning side before facing the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at Pepsi Center.
"We want to go home with a 4-3 record on the road trip. It's a lot better than a 3-4 record," said captain Gabriel Landeskog. "We want to go home in our building feeling good about ourselves and know that we can string a few together at home."
Despite the .500 record the trip, the Avs have mostly played solid hockey. Sure there are games and situations that that the team would want to have back, but it has had a chance in nearly every contest.
"The first three games we played really well. The last three, I thought we had a good game in Pittsburgh. I mean we just came up short, and we were outplayed in Toronto and Washington," Roy said. "Washington is a very good team. There are not that many teams that are going to win games in Washington, I can tell you that. But at the same time in those two losses, we're certainly not happy with the way we played."
The Avalanche has only played two games against division opponents this season, the least among the 30 NHL teams. The club is 1-1 in those outings, with its last contest versus a Central Division club coming in Game No. 2 of the year against Dallas on Oct. 10.
Getting wins in the division, beginning tonight versus the Jets, can help the Avs quickly climb the standings.
"Seven games, 15 days. If we can go home with a 4-3 record, it would be something good for us. Especially finishing in Winnipeg against a division team, it would be a good win for us," Roy said. "It is important for us to play a good, sound game. Play solid. We're certainly not happy with the way [we've been] playing all year."
The Colorado players seem to know they'll have a tough task ahead of them as they start facing division clubs.
"The Western Conference is tough, and each division, especially ours, the Central, is tough," Avs forward and Manitoba native Cody McLeod said. "You got to play every game like it is a playoff game and do whatever you can to get some points out of it."
While the Avs are surely looking forward to sleeping in their own beds later this evening, the focus is on finishing the trip on a high note and not looking at the upcoming schedule or current standings.
"Where we're at, we can't look at the big pictures," Jarome Iginla said. "We got to look at shorter accomplishments and victories. Right now on a seven-game road trip, there is a big difference leaving at 4-3 or 3-4. It's a big game for us."
VARLY BACK IN NET
Semyon Varlamov will make his return to the Avalanche crease tonight for the first time in more than two weeks.
The Colorado goaltender missed the past five games because of a groin injury and was the backup in the previous two outings before getting hurt. He hurt his groin during morning skate on Nov. 10 in Philadelphia.
"It's big," Iginla said of the club getting Varlamov back in the lineup. "He's a big part of this team, and he's a great goalie that can get really hot."
Roy has high expectations for his netminder.
"We're very happy to have him back, but again Varly needs to be the Varly of two years ago," said Roy, referring to Varlamov's 2013-14 campaign when he was a Vezina Trophy finalist. "For us to win games, he needs to be our best player. This is how we view our team. He had a solid year two years ago. Last year, unfortunately for him, he had a few injuries here and there and it affect his play a bit early in the season."
Varlamov was activated from the team's injured-reserve list on Sunday. He last played Nov. 5 at Arizona.
GAME NO. 300 FOR THE BIRTHDAY BOY
Gabriel Landeskog will commemorate two events tonight, playing in his 300th NHL game and celebrating his birthday.
Today is Landeskog's golden birthday as he was born on Nov. 23, 1992, and turns 23 years old.
The best present for the Avs captain would be a victory at MTS Centre.
"Getting the win would be the biggest thing, no doubt. I think it is focusing on coming off a road trip 4-3, instead of 3-4," he said. "That's what we're going to focus on and getting the win would be a great birthday present."
Selected No. 2 overall in the 2011 NHL Draft, Landeskog made his NHL debut on Oct. 8, 2011, against Detroit as an 18-year-old. He was named team captain prior to the following season and has worn the 'C' on his chest for the past four years.
"You don't really think about it," Landeskog said of hitting the 300-game mark. "It's not really anything you focus on. It's nothing that you really you keep track of. Obviously now that it is here, I guess it is something that you look back at and say, 'Wow, that happened fast.' But just another one and make sure we get a win on my 300th I guess."
Through his first 299 contests, Landeskog has 85 goals and 122 assists.
Gabriel Landeskog—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Andreas Martinsen—Mikhail Grigorenko—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Dennis Everberg—Chris Wagner—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Brandon Gormley—Zach Redmond