Status quo for the players means continuing to find success, especially on home ice where the Avs have gone 5-1-0 in their last six contests. They hope to continue that trend tonight as they do battle with the St. Louis Blues for precious points in the Western Conference.
“I think [we’re] just all-around playing better,” defenseman Tyson Barrie said of what’s working currently. “Whether it’s at home or on the road, we’re a team that’s progressed. We’re getting better every day, so I think that’s just a result of that.”
“When we’re playing well defensively, we’re giving ourselves a chance to win,” head coach Patrick Roy added. “Obviously, it’s been the key. Our goaltending has been good as well.”
There are no major adjustments or overhauls of systems or game plans. Colorado is just looking to continue doing what it’s been doing.
“I know it’s important to be good at home, but I think whether those games would have been on the road or at home, we still understand how good an opportunity we had to climb in the standings,” team captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We still do. Home or on the road, we’re just trying to win hockey games, and that’s what it has come down to.”
The Avalanche has been outstanding against opponents in the tough-as-nails Central Division, posting a 10-3-1 record to date. The team has also topped St. Louis twice on the year, though none of that matters to Landeskog.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and try and win a hockey game.”
“We see them so much, we know what they’re all about,” Barrie said. “We know what our game’s got to consist of if we want to beat them. There’s no real surprises. No secrets.”
Just more of the same.
Defenseman Erik Johnson is close to making his return to the Avalanche lineup, it just won’t be tonight against the Blues.
Johnson has been on the ice for roughly 10 days now and took part in some heavy skating both Thursday at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colorado, and Friday at Pepsi Center.
“I feel great. Skated hard yesterday, skated hard today,” he said. “I feel really good, ready to get back in there and help the team.”
Johnson was aiming for a return in either tonight’s tilt against the Blues or in Saturday’s match at Dallas. After consultations with the team doctor and the athletic training staff, the decision was that he’ll be in the lineup on Saturday night.
“I talked with Patty and the training staff and just decided, coming on a back-to-back, it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to play two games in a row right off the hop—as much I wanted to play tonight,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to think about long term and what’s best for the team and [myself], and that’s tomorrow in Dallas.
“I understand the thought process, and I’ll get ready for tomorrow night, for sure.”
Coach Roy, although enthusiastic about the return of his top-pairing rear guard, admitted he doesn’t want to rush the recovery process now, especially with the team playing well during Johnson’s absence.
“Because we’re playing back-to-back, we’re going to wait for tomorrow,” Roy said. “The doctors…thought that it would be good for him to just play one of the two games. Giving him another 24 more hours is probably good for him as well.”
Johnson said he quietly suffered his injury during the game against the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 4 at Pepsi Center.
“I just took a funny step in the L.A. game and just kind of tweaked a part of my lower body that flared up on me,” he said on Thursday. “I got an MRI, and doctor said I’d be out a week or two weeks or something like that. Luckily it wasn’t serious because he thought it was going to be something much worse. Luckily it wasn’t.
“Took a little bit longer than I wanted, but fortunately the guys have been playing great. It makes it easier when they’re winning to kind of make sure you’re ready to go.”
The 27-year-old, Bloomington, Minnesota, native assuaged fears that he had injured the same knee that he had an operation on last season.
“It wasn’t even on my right side,” Johnson said. “It was on the left side where I haven’t had my knee surgery. So thankfully it had nothing to do with that.
“It was tough. I was feeling really good, and thought I kind of put the injuries behind me from last year. Just didn’t want to go down that road again, but it’s out of my control and thankful it wasn’t too serious.”
Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov is making his third straight start this evening after having a two-game break in which Calvin Pickard took over control of the red-piped fortress.
|Semyon Varlamov |
Tonight will be Varlamov’s 34th contest of the season and the 301st of his NHL career. It will also be, should everything go according to plan, his first of two outings this weekend. The 27-year-old Russian is expected to begin the game in Dallas on Saturday as well.
“I’m leaning toward this,” Roy said. “We’ll go from tonight’s game. The number of shots will tell a lot.
“I expect him to play both games.”
The coach said that he intends to have Pickard take the cage in San Jose in the first contest of an additional back-to-back sequence that starts Tuesday.
The Avs are playing their sixth back-to-back set of the season, facing the Blues tonight and the Stars tomorrow in Dallas. Colorado is 2-2-1 in the first game of a back-to-back this season and 3-2-0 in the second.
The Avalanche will play in four more back-to-back series this year.
There are no planned changes to tonight’s lineup, though some of that is out of the hands of the Avalanche’s coaching staff. Forward Blake Comeau missed the team’s morning skate to be with his wife as she gives birth to their second child.
Comeau is expected to return to the team in time for the game. If he can’t, Mikhail Grigorenko will fill his spot alongside Landeskog and center Carl Soderberg.
“Right now, I think he's going to play tonight. We’ll see how it goes this morning,” Roy said of Comeau. “We think he will be there but if he’s not, Grigorenko will play on the right side with Landy and Carl in the middle.”
Alex Tanguay—Nathan MacKinnon—Matt Duchene
Gabriel Landeskog—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Andreas Martinsen—Mikhail Grigorenko—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Nikita Zadorov
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras—Zach Redmond