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At the Rink: Capitals at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche aren't spending a lot of time studying the NHL standings, which isn't surprising considering their 6-8-5 record heading into their game Thursday against the Washington Capitals at Pepsi Center.

The Avalanche had a 14-5-0 record through 19 games last season when they finished a surprising first in the Central Division.

"I won't lie to you, I was looking more at the standings last year than this year," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "You know what? We have a different approach than last time. We play Washington [Thursday] and we want to focus on Washington. Let's play [Thursday] and put all our energy on Washington, focus on them."

Avalanche players are taking the same approach while knowing they can reach the .500 mark with home wins against the Capitals Thursday and the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

"Nothing else matters but the game right in front of you," center Matt Duchene said. "You have to stay in the moment and take care of the job at hand."

The Avalanche will take their first two-game winning streak of the season into the game against the Capitals (8-7-3), who split the first two games of a three-game road trip.

Goalie Reto Berra will start for Colorado because Semyon Varlamov has a groin injury. Varlamov was hurt Saturday late in the third period in the Avalanche's 3-2 win against the New Jersey Devils and is listed as day-to-day.

"Every day he's going to be evaluated and we're going to be very cautious," Roy said of Varlamov, who missed three games in October because of a similar injury. "It's pretty much the same injury he had the last time. One bad movement at the end of the [Devils] game."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz is wary of the Avalanche's speed. He's quite familiar with Colorado, having spent the previous 15 seasons coaching the Nashville Predators.

"They're quick," he said. "Really up the middle they're really quick. Obviously Duchene has lightning-quick speed and (Nathan) MacKinnon can dart. On the back end they've got some guys who can really get up the ice in (Tyson) Barrie and (Erik) Johnson. They play a fast game. They played a high octane game last year and were hard to catch. They have a lot of game breakers who keep you on your toes every night."

But the Capitals have been playing solid defensively lately, allowing fewer than 30 shots on goal in five of their past seven games. Goalie Braden Holtby has allowed two goals or fewer in four consecutive starts.

"We play a little different probably than last year's team," Trotz said. "We don't give up as many shots. There's an adjustment for the goaltenders, too, when you're taking 38, 39 (shots) a night and all of a sudden you're just getting 20."

The Avalanche have had fewer than 30 shots on goal in three consecutive games.

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson

Marcus Johansson - Andre Burakovsky - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Joel Ward

Michael Latta - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Eric Fehr

Brooks Orpik - John Carlson

Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt - Mike Green

Braden Holtby

Justin Peters

Scratched: Chris Brown, Michael Latta

Injured: John Erskine (neck), Brooks Laich (shoulder), Liam O'Brien (lower body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), Aaron Volpatti (neck)


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Alex Tanguay

Gabriel Landeskog - John Mitchell - Jarome Iginla

Dennis Everberg - Nathan MacKinnon - Daniel Briere

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Zach Redmond

Reto Berra

Calvin Pickard

Scratched: None

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery), Jamie McGinn (back), Brad Stuart (hamstring), Ryan Wilson (shoulder surgery), Semyon Varlamov (groin), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Orlov, who has yet to play this season, is practicing with the Capitals and will be sent to Hershey in the American Hockey League for a conditioning assignment when his wrist is stronger ... Wilson underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Wednesday ... McGinn didn't skate for the third day in a row and is listed as day-to-day. Everberg will replace him on the third line.

Who's hot: The Capitals have gone 7-1-1 when scoring the first goal ... They've killed consecutive 13 penalties in the past four games ... Duchene has two goals and one assist in a two-game scoring streak.

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