In a sense, things came full circle for Chris Stewart tonight.
The Avalanche forward made his return to the lineup during Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild after missing 21 games due to a fractured hand that was suffered in a Nov. 27 contest against this same Minnesota club. That injury, of course, came during a fight with Kyle Brodziak in the first meeting between the teams this season.
Stewart, who last saw game action nearly seven weeks ago, began skating with the team last Friday and went through his first full-contact practice on Tuesday. He was cleared by Colorado’s medical staff on Thursday and seemed to provide a boost for the Avs tonight in their win over the Wild.
Although he didn’t record a shot on goal or a point in his return, just having his unique combination of speed, skill and grit back in the lineup was a step in the right direction.
The Avs, who came into Friday’s contest with a 3-6-2 record over their past 11 games, couldn’t have been more pleased to have their resident power forward back in the lineup. Colorado started the season with a 13-9-1 mark, but went just 9-7-5 with Stewart sidelined.
You could easily make an argument that Stewart experienced his “breakout season” a year ago when he led the Avalanche with 28 goals and finished second on the club with 64 points. However, Stewart seemed to be taking his game to another level early in the 2010-11 campaign before suffering the injury.
Stewart was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Month for October after finishing second among all league skaters with 16 points (9g/7a) during the month. The Toronto native was leading the Avs in goals (11) and ranked second in points (25) through 23 games at the time of his injury. Despite missing nearly half of the season to this point, Stewart still came into tonight’s contest ranking fifth on the team in goals and sixth in points. McLeod Also Returns
Stewart’s return was the main storyline heading into the game from the Avalanche’s perspective, but another important forward made his way back from injury as well.
Winger Cody McLeod
suited up tonight after missing 11 of the past 12 games due to an injured groin. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward originally sustained the injury on Dec. 17 against Ottawa, missed the following three contests (Dec. 19-23), returned for one game on Dec. 27 against Detroit, and then sat out the past eight games before returning tonight.
In 9:54 of ice time tonight McLeod held a +1 plus/minus rating and recorded two hits. With his next penalty, McLeod (99 penalty minutes this season) will become the second player in Avalanche history to record 100 penalty minutes in four consecutive seasons (joining Ian Laperriere).
Ryan O’Reilly suffered what at first appeared to be a severe injury during the second period, but word came later that things might not be quite as bad as they initially seemed.
Just over five minutes into the middle frame, the Avalanche was killing off a penalty when the second-year center got his left skate tangled with the skate of Minnesota's Matt Cullen and crashed into the boards, his head and shoulder taking the brunt of the contact.
Play was whistled dead and trainers from both teams and arena medical personnel immediately began attending to the forward. Following a lengthy delay, during which the medical team immobilized him, O’Reilly was put on a backboard and carted off on a stretcher.
Later in the second period, it was reported that O’Reilly was alert, moving his extremities and had been taken to a local hospital as a precautionary measure. There was no other word on a specific diagnosis. The Avalanche won’t practice on Saturday, so it’s likely that more information on O’Reilly’s condition will come Sunday.Game Notes
T.J. Galiardi, Jonas Holos
and Brandon Yip were healthy scratches for the Avalanche…Netminder Craig Anderson - who had a 1-5-1 record with a 3.26 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage over his past seven games – stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to pick up his 12th victory of the season…The Avalanche has now posted a 6-1-3 record this season when David Koci is in the lineup.