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Avalanche aim to top Canucks, start home surge

by Rick Sadowski /
DENVER -- First place in the Northwest Division is probably out of reach for Colorado, but the Avalanche need to show they can defeat a Vancouver Canucks team they could meet in the playoffs.

The division-leading Canucks, who lead second-place Colorado by a dozen points, hold down the top seed in the Western Conference while the Avalanche, who have lost eight of the past nine meetings between the teams, are in the eighth spot.

The Canucks have won all four games this season, outscoring the Avalanche 13-7 heading into Tuesday's night game at the Pepsi Center.

"We've had some good battles with these guys and come out on the losing end every time," Avalanche center Paul Stastny said following the morning skate. "We have come close, but we have to dig a little deeper and find that extra will to get a win."

The Avalanche have gone 4-7-1 against division opponents, including a 1-4-0 mark at home. Tuesday's game is the opener of a five-game homestand, but Colorado has won just twice in the past eight games on home ice, posting a 2-4-2 record.

"We have to establish a winning identity at home," said Stastny, who needs one goal to become the eighth Avalanche player and 19th in Quebec/Colorado history to reach 100 in his time with the franchise. "We have to be more consistent at home. Any good team does decent on the road but takes advantage of the home games. We have five games here before the All-Star break and we want to take advantage of it.

"We have to be more prepared and be ready from the start, come out like it's a road game and try and dictate play instead of kind of sitting back and waiting to see what happens, get the fans into it. Sometimes you can get distracted at home and we can't let that happen."

Right wing Chris Stewart is looking forward to playing his first home game since Nov. 27, when he broke his left hand in a fight with Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak.

"It's great, especially playing against Vancouver. It's going to be a big test," said Stewart, who played his first game since getting hurt in Friday's 4-1 win in Minnesota. "Six weeks seemed like six years. I felt my legs were good. I thought I had the speed element that I usually bring to the table. If anything, my hands felt a little choppy. That's going to get better every game."

TJ Galiardi will move from left wing to center on the third line with Daniel Winnik and Kevin Porter, replacing Ryan O'Reilly, who suffered a shoulder injury Friday when he fell into the boards. O'Reilly is expected to miss two weeks.

Galiardi has gone seven games without a goal and was a healthy scratch Friday.

"He's played center before," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "It's actually his natural position. It's a good chance for TJ to get back in there after being out last game. He needs to be skating, to use his speed. When he does that, he's a very effective player for us."

While the Canucks are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, they have split the first four games of a five-game road trip and have been shut out in two of the past three games, most recently a 4-0 loss in Minnesota on Sunday.

"They're finishing a long road trip and we have to try and use our energy to start the game and just play to our identity," Sacco said. "When we're skating, when we forecheck, when we try to dictate the tone of the game instead of reacting, we usually have success that way."

"When we're skating, when we forecheck, when we try to dictate the tone of the game instead of reacting, we usually have success that way."
-- Colorado head coach Joe Sacco

Canucks juggle lines: Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault plans to change some line combinations Tuesday, including putting second-line center Ryan Kesler between rookie Sergei Shirokov and Mikael Samuelsson.

Shirokov, 24, will make his season debut for the Canucks a day after being summoned from Manitoba in the AHL. He was leading the Moose in scoring with 16 goals and 33 points in 39 games.

A native of Moscow, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Shirokov was Vancouver's sixth-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft. He was scoreless with two penalty minutes in six games with Vancouver last season.

Mason Raymond and Jeff Tambellini, who had been skating with Kesler, have been moved to the fourth line where they'll play with Tanner Glass or Aaron Volpatti.

The Canucks' top line remains intact with Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows.

"We have got some guys right now, even though I don't question their effort and for most of them the process is fairly good, who are still having a challenging time as far as finishing and getting results on the score sheet," Vigneault said. "I think I have been fairly patient here as far as helping them work through that, so we just decided to make a few changes."

Defenseman Chris Tanev, 21, was recalled from Manitoba on Saturday and will make his NHL debut. He had 1 goal and 8 assists in 39 games with the Moose. Tanev, who signed with the Canucks as a free agent in May 2010, will become the first Rochester Institute of Technology player to play in an NHL game.
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