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At the Rink: Maple Leafs at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche are banking on a new defensive-zone coverage system to eliminate the amount of time they have been spending in their end while cutting down on the number of shots they've been allowing, an average of 35.5 per game.

The Avalanche will try it out Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Pepsi Center.

"We're going to make some changes," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said after the morning skate. "The fact that we're spending too much time in our end becomes a problem and you always try to find solutions. We need to find a way to play that our players are going to be very comfortable with, and that's what we're going to work on.

"I think it's going to simplify a lot of things. There's going to be more support (from the forwards) in our zone. We might not be perfect tonight, but these guys have been playing the zone for pretty much their entire career. I think it's an adjustment that could be made pretty easy in some ways. We practiced a bit with it this morning and I think we're going to be fine with it."

The Avalanche (3-6-5) have lost two consecutive games in regulation while getting outshot by a combined 70-40. Players held a team meeting Tuesday after allowing five consecutive goals in a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

"A lot of times we're not giving up a lot of chances, but we're giving up a lot of shots," center Matt Duchene said. "It's discouraging and it hurts our morale. We'll see how it goes and I think it will benefit our team and get us back to playing on the rush. We've had no rush chances and we're not in the (offensive) zone enough creating what we can create. I think the last two games have been two of our worst that we've ever played under Patrick.

"The way I approach it is I'm not happy with what's going on, but I still have the confidence in this team and myself that things can get right back to where they were last year. It takes one game, two games, a couple shifts even and you can get right back there. You have to be ticked off and unhappy about what's happened, but you have to have the confidence that you know you can change it."

The Maple Leafs (6-5-1) will complete a two-game road trip that began Tuesday with a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. They're 3-1-1 on the road this season. The Maple Leafs defeated the Avalanche 3-2 in overtime at home on Oct. 14.

Coach Randy Carlyle expects the Avalanche to come out hard Thursday in the final game of a three-game homestand.

"When things aren't going the way you'd like them to go there's going to have to be 'enough's enough,'" Carlyle said. "We know what this hockey club has done last year and it's pretty much the same group. I'm sure they're challenging one another inside that room. I'm sure the coaches and management are challenging everybody that this is unacceptable. We expect more of a concentrated effort from their group."

Here are the projected lineups:


Daniel Winnik - Nazem Kadri - Phil Kessel

James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - David Clarkson

Leo Komarov - Peter Holland - Mike Santorelli

Matt Frattin - Sam Carrick - Richard Panik

Dion Phaneuf - Cody Franson

Morgan Rielly - Roman Polak

Jake Gardiner - Stephane Robidas

Jonathan Bernier

James Reimer

Scratched: None

Injured: David Booth (broken foot), Brandon Kozun (ankle), Joffrey Lupul (broken hand)

Suspended: Carter Ashton


Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - Jamie McGinn

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Jarome Iginla

Alex Tanguay - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Maxime Talbot

Nick Holden - Erik Johnson

Zach Redmond - Tyson Barrie

Jan Hejda - Nate Guenin

Reto Berra

Semyon Varlamov

Scratched: Daniel Briere

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (back surgery), Brad Stuart (hamstring), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: Ashton was suspended for 20 games for violating the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program ... Berra will make his first start since a 4-3 overtime loss Oct. 21 to the Florida Panthers. … Bordeleau skated with a red non-contact jersey Thursday morning. … Wilson will miss his eighth consecutive game, but Roy said he is getting close to returning.

Who's hot: Kessel has two goals and six assists in a four-game scoring streak. … Winnik has one goal and four assists in the past four games … The Avalanche have killed 29 penalties in a row.

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