CENTENNIAL, Colo.--Sandwiched between games against two of the Western Conference's best clubs from a year ago, the Colorado Avalanche focused on skill development at Thursday's practice at Family Sports Center.
Colorado held an optional skate prior to the team's flight to Winnipeg for the start of a two-game road trip. The Avs will play the Jets on Friday before taking on the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday.
Thursday's skill practice was tough for the seven players and two goaltender that participated, but it was also a welcomed change from what the Avs are used to during the six-plus month campaign.
"Obviously an 82-game season, it's a grind and can wear on you," said Tyson Jost. "Sometimes you get a little rusted with the skills because you're always playing games, but it's an awesome refresher."
"Practice was kind of fun, little different," said veteran Gabriel Bourque. "You can work on your one-on-one ability. So you just go out there and have fun and be ready for tomorrow."
Head coach Jared Bednar wanted the day to be focused on video--looking back at Wednesday's loss to the league-leading Nashville Predators--and rest for several of the members of the squad that have been playing a lot of minutes. After the session, Bednar pointed out the recent workload of his top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, all of whom have played around 24 minutes in each of the past two games.
"We're relying on those guys to do a lot, and we don't need them on the ice every practice day," Bednar said. "Most important thing for me today was video and going through that and having a meeting about that and getting our minds right and try and make some corrections there. Not taxing them, so when they get on the ice, they're flying."
The Avalanche is aiming to get back in the win column on Friday at Bell MTS Place against a division opponent that made the Western Conference Final a year ago.
Winnipeg is considered a Stanley Cup contender for this season, just like Nashville is, but Colorado isn't satisfied with playing good games without getting the results. The Avs want wins, no matter who they are against.
"Every team in our division is really good," said Alexander Kerfoot. "There are a lot of top teams that we play a lot through the course of the year. At the end of the day, we're not looking to compete, we're not looking to play them tight or close or anything like that. We want to win games. We think we can be as good if not as good as any of those teams. We got to prove it and we got to win games against them."
Tyson Jost will join the club on the road and could play in Friday's game at the Winnipeg Jets. He has missed the last four games with a head injury.
"We'll see what he feels like today, and what he feels like tomorrow," Bednar said when asked about Jost returning to game action in Winnipeg. "He might be an option for us."
Jost has been a full participant in practice the last three days and is itching to get back in the lineup.
"Each day is getting better," Jost said. "I just have to stay positive here, and hopefully I'll get in soon."
Sven Andrighetto has also skated recently and continues to recover from a lower-body injury, but he won't travel with the team on the two-game trip. He is still wearing a red, non-contact jersey during on-ice sessions.
Semyon Varlamov will start in net against the Jets, Bednar confirmed after practice. The coach said the starting goaltender for Sunday's contest in Edmonton will be decided following the outing in Manitoba.
Varlamov made 30 saves in Wednesday's loss versus the Predators, while fellow keeper Philipp Grubauer's last game came on Friday when he stopped 30 shots at the Vancouver Canucks.
Prior to the Avs' departure, the team recalled forward A.J. Greer from the American Hockey League's Colorado Eagles. Greer, who made his season debut at the Canucks, is second on the Eagles in scoring with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in nine games.
Head Coach Jared Bednar on small mistakes hurting the team: "We have to be better in our structure and our commitment because we're playing really good opponents and our lineup is a little bit thin, and we have to be able to fall back on that structure to get us through. And we need to have some guys to have a night and make some plays, and we haven't been doing that consistently enough here over this stretch. It's definitely fixable, there is no question that I believe our guys will fix it."
Video: Update on the Avs from head coach Jared Bednar
Center Alexander Kerfoot on getting back to playing games on a more regular basis: "It's always nice to be in a routine and playing hockey games. That is what we're here for and that is what we love to do. It's nice to get back at it. Especially after a couple losses, you don't want to be sitting out too long and thinking about them. It's nice to kind of get back into a regular routine."
Video: Alexander Kerfoot before the Avs' road trip
Left Wing Gabriel Bourque on what the Avs need to do to get back to winning: "We need to be better defensively and play hard. I think we've played well, but not enough. We have to get back to the way we played at the start of the season and play as a team."
Video: Gabriel Bourque on the upcoming road trip
Center Tyson Jost on his recent play: "I just have to keep playing, stick with the process. Do the right things, play my game, and things will come."