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At the Rink: Rangers at Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski

DENVER -- It's a good thing Colorado Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda enjoys a challenge. He and defense partner Zach Redmond will have their hands full against the New York Rangers at Pepsi Center on Thursday.

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said he will put Hejda and Redmond on the ice as much as possible against the Rangers' high-scoring line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Rick Nash.

Hejda is very familiar with Nash, who is tied with the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals with 33. They were teammates with the Columbus Blue Jackets for four seasons before Hejda joined the Avalanche as a free agent in 2011.

"Even in Columbus he was one of the top 10 guys in the League," Hejda said of the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Nash. "He's a very strong guy. He has good skill, but I think his big advantage is he's super strong. Most of my career I've played against the top guys, so I have some experience to play against these guys.

"It's kind of a similar style playing against Jaromir Jagr. (Nash) is strong around the net and you have to be in good position every time against him because he can change a game. I have no problems playing against the top lines every night. I'm proud of my role. This is my job and I'm very happy to have it. If we can shut them down, this is the same feeling for me if I score a goal."

The Avalanche (22-21-11) have lost three games in a row and fallen into last place in the Central Division after finishing first last season. They are 12th in the Western Conference, eight points behind the Calgary Flames for the second wild-card Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

The Rangers (31-16-5) opened a four-game road trip Tuesday with a 5-4 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They're 4-1-1 in the past six games and are in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Rangers didn't have a morning skate. Only two players, defenseman John Moore and backup goalie Mackenzie Skapski, were on the Pepsi Center ice Thursday morning.

Cam Talbot will make his fifth consecutive start in goal as Henrik Lundqvist recovers from a neck injury.

Here are the projected lineups:


Mats Zuccarello - Derick Brassard - Rick Nash

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Martin St. Louis

Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - J.T. Miller

Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - Lee Stempniak

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Kevin Klein

John Moore - Dan Boyle

Cam Talbot

Mackenzie Skapski

Scratched: Matt Hunwick

Injured: Jesper Fast (knee), Henrik Lundqvist (neck)


Alex Tanguay - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla

Gabriel Landeskog - Ryan O'Reilly - Nathan MacKinnon

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Dennis Everberg

Maxime Talbot - Marc-Andre Cliche - Daniel Briere

Jan Hejda - Zach Redmond

Nate Guenin - Tyson Barrie

Nick Holden - Brad Stuart

Semyon Varlamov

Reto Berra

Scratched: Stefan Elliott

Injured: Patrick Bordeleau (fractured kneecap), Erik Johnson (knee), Jamie McGinn (back surgery), Borna Rendulic (broken leg), Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jesse Winchester (concussion)

Status report: The Rangers, who are 5-for-35 on power plays in the past 14 games, will promote Zuccarello to the No. 1 power-play unit with Brassard and Nash. St. Louis will move to the second unit with Kreider and Hayes.

Who's hot: Zuccarello has three goals and five assists in a six-game scoring streak. ... Nash has five goals and four assists in the past six games ... Brassard has one goal and five assists in five games.

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