Olympians from the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings will put their friendships and country loyalties from the Sochi Games to the side tonight as both teams restart their NHL seasons at Pepsi Center (8 p.m. MT, TV: NBCSN, TSN2).
A total of 10 players in this evening's game participated at the Olympics for their respective countries. For six of them, they will face players that were their teammates just a few days ago.
The Avs' Matt Duchene will be playing fellow Canadian teammates Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter, while Paul Stastny will face Team USA teammates Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick.
While they did play for their country for the last two weeks, don't expect too much love between the players after tonight's opening faceoff.
"It's the same as when we were at the Olympics playing [Gabriel] Landeskog and Stastny," Duchene said after morning skate. "You're friends off the ice, but on the ice it's business. You play hard and your commitment is to the team's jersey you're wearing. I have done this many times with guys I've played with. It's an old hat, I guess."
Stastny said it is not going to be hard to get back into an NHL mindset and put the Olympics behind him.
"When you're playing for your country, you put [NHL] things aside," Stastny said. "Back here, I think we're just focused on what we can do to make our team better. … It doesn't matter to us. [The Kings] are behind us in the standings, and we want to widen that gap. For us, that is the most important thing."
The Avalanche sit comfortably in third place in the Central Division, 10 points ahead of Minnesota, and fifth in the Western Conference with a 37-16-5 record (79 points). The Kings are holding onto the third position in the Pacific Division and seventh in the conference with a 31-22-6 record (68 points), but they do have Phoenix and Vancouver within five points behind them in the standings.
An Avs win tonight would continue their strong season and could put them three points behind division leaders St. Louis and Chicago.
"You have to keep with what is ahead of you. You can't look in the rearview mirror," Duchene said. "We have 24 games here. If we keep playing the way we have all season, we'll easily be in the playoffs. That is the bottom line. That is the math of it, and that is what we are aiming for. We're hungry, and we want to keep climbing the ladder."
Duchene, Landeskog and Stastny returned from Sochi on Monday and were given the option at Tuesday's practice to skate or do an off-ice workout. Duchene decided to skate while Stastny and Landeskog chose to do off-ice work and take an extra day of rest before the intensity of the season's home stretch begins.
After playing at sea level for the last two weeks, Stastny said it might be a bit of an adjustment to play at altitude again. However, one thing that him, Duchene and Landeskog have going for them is that they are still in game shape.
"We were gone for two weeks, but we were playing this whole time," Stastny said. "A couple days off were good, and we'll be ready to go."
AVALANCHE SPOTLIGHT ON: JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE
Colorado netminder Jean-Sebastien Giguere will get the start in net for the Avalanche and will be looking to pick up his third straight win.
Goalie - COL
GAA: 2.44 | Sv%: .918
Giguere played twice in the Avs' four-game road trip through the Metropolitan Division before the Olympic break and played well. He made 27 saves in a 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey on Feb. 3 and stopped 31 shots in a 5-2 victory against the New York Islanders on Feb. 8.
With Giguere's solid performances before the break, it allowed Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy to give Semyon Varlamov a few extra days of rest after playing in three games with the Russian National Team at the Olympics. Varlamov won two games with Team Russia, including a shutout victory over Slovakia.
Giguere is 18-11-9 all-time against the Kings, with most of his games against L.A. coming when he was a member of the rival Anaheim Ducks from 2000 to 2010.
The Kings are likely to do something similar and start Martin Jones in net, giving usual starter Jonathan Quick an extra day after playing in five of the United States' six games at the Olympics
MORE MORNING NOTES
- Avalanche defenseman Cory Sarich skated once again this morning and could play tonight if Maxime Talbot's fiancée goes into labor. Sarich has had a couple of good practice recently after missing the last 13 games with a back injury. Head coach Patrick Roy said he is cleared to play if Talbot needs to leave for the birth of his child.
- If Talbot has to leave to be with his fiancée, Roy said the team would then go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
- Defenseman Erik Johnson will be serving the first of a two-game suspension after a slashing penalty on the New York Islanders' Fran Nielson on Feb. 8.
- Nick Holden will take Johnson's place on defense and will be partnered with Jan Hejda. The other defensive parings will be Andre Benoit and Nate Guenin, and Tyson Barrie and Ryan Wilson.
- PA Parenteau will be on the Avalanche's first scoring line with Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. Parenteau was moved to the line Feb. 6 at Philadelphia, and Roy was pleased with how he and the rest of the line played that game and against the Islanders two days later.
- Colorado's other forward lines will include Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Nathan MacKinnon; Jamie McGinn, John Mitchell and Maxime Talbot; and Patrick Bordeleau, Marc-Andre Cliche and Cody McLeod.
- Landeskog is riding a nine-game point streak (four goals, eight assists), longest of his NHL career. With a goal or assist tonight, he would be the first Avs player to register points in 10 straight games since Paul Stastny had a rookie record 20-game point streak from Feb. 3 to March 17, 2007. Landeskog has 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in his last 23 contests, during which he has been held off the scoresheet only four times.
- MacKinnon is riding a career-high eight-game point streak (five goals, six assists), tied for the longest by an NHL rookie this season. With a goal or assist tonight, he would be the first NHL rookie to have points in nine straight games since Kevin Shattenkirk did it with Colorado from Nov. 17 to Dec. 4, 2010. MacKinnon has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) in his last 11 contests and 23 points (14 goals, nine assists) in his last 21 games.