An ominous message was written Tuesday morning on a whiteboard inside the Avalanche’s practice-facility locker room at South Suburban Family Sports Center in Centennial.
It was a note reminding the players of essential items not to be forgotten as they packed for their upcoming road trip to western Canada, which starts Thursday against Edmonton (7:30 p.m. MT; Altitude) and continues Friday in Calgary (7 p.m. MT; Altitude) and Sunday in Vancouver (6 p.m. MT; Altitude).
“Passports” was markered across the top—an important note, to be sure, but not something to cause that much concern.
“Coat” and “-33!!!!” was scribbled below that, though, and that clearly caused chills all around the room. That’s a Celsius temperature forecast for Canada’s Alberta province, where the Avs will play the Oilers and Flames in the next 48-plus hours.
The Avalanche had been experiencing a fall that featured warmer-than-usual temperatures and better-than-some-expected on-ice results. The former is about to change—this week’s weather up north and in Denver means it’s “officially" hockey season—but the Avs plan for the latter to continue its course.
That starts Thursday, in hockey-crazed Canada.
“[Playing in] Canada is always fun,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “There’s always going to be a lot of hype around the games. I’m looking forward to it.”
Thursday night’s game starts for the Avs a three-week stretch that has them playing away from Pepsi Center eight times in 12 games. Seven home games in 13 days follows, from Dec. 29 to Jan. 10, so this is an important trip. Before it can make hay in that long home stretch, the Avalanche knows it’s got to take care of business in a road-heavy December.
Colorado is coming off a pair of victories against Minnesota last Friday and Saturday night, and it hasn’t played since, getting four days’ time to heal and rest.
“It was a good, needed rest, and now it’s time to put it into overdrive and get ready for 11 games before the end of Christmas,” said Paul Stastny, who returned to the lineup Saturday night after experiencing back spasms last week and missing Colorado’s game against St. Louis on Wednesday and its game against Minnesota on Friday.
“We are a few games behind everyone,” Ryan O’Reilly said, “so it’s kind of nice we have this break right now so when the games come on here a lot we’re healthy.”
First up is Edmonton (9-18-2). Then the players, heeding the “One Day at a Time” mantra of head coach Patrick Roy, will turn their attention toward the Flames and Canucks.
The Oilers are 5-5-0 in their past 10 games after winning just three of their first 15 and are led in the offensive zone by Jordan Eberle (23 points), David Perron (22) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (21).
Defensemen Jeff Petry (minus-10) and Andrew Ference (minus-seven) head Edmonton’s defense, and netminder Devan Dubnyk (3.38 goals-against average) holds down the back end.
Dubnyk, who allowed six goals Tuesday night in the Oilers’ 6-2 loss against Phoenix, is 7-12-1 this season.
“It doesn’t matter win or lose, they’ve got passionate fans up there (in Edmonton),” said Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden, who grew up just outside Edmonton, in St. Albert. “The last few years they haven’t had much success, but they still pack the rink, and the fans are loud. Just growing up in that, that’s why I’m so excited to go back and get an opportunity to play in Rexall [Place]. Growing up and going to games there was awesome, and getting to go back there is going to be fun, and hopefully we can get the two points and beat them there.”
Looking ahead: the Flames entered Wednesday 9-13-4 and 3-5-2 in their past 10, while the Canucks were 15-10-5 and 4-3-3 in their past 10.
Combined, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver were just 12-19-6 at home.
There’s an opportunity here for Colorado to return to Denver late Sunday following a successful—albeit freezing—three-game road trip.
“They are some good hockey teams,” O’Reilly said. “They’ve got some good skill up front. They’re not going to be easy games for us at all, so we’ve got to be prepared for that. Unfortunately it’s really cold up there, but it’s nice to only go there once. At the same time they’ve got some good talent, and we’ve got to be ready to play these guys.”
Center Matt Duchene revealed Monday afternoon that he was battling the flu as well as the Wild during both of Colorado’s games against Minnesota last week.
Duchene returned to the Avs’ lineup against St. Louis a week ago after missing three games with an oblique injury, but he has since just seemed a bit “off” and not like the player who scored 20 points (12 goals and eight assists) in Colorado’s first 19 games.
Monday’s announcement was revealing, in that regard, and Duchene’s health continued to be a hot topic Tuesday, following Colorado’s morning practice.
"If this flu hadn't hit me I would have been a lot better,” Duchene said Tuesday. “I felt awful the last two games and just trying to get back to square one, physically. It's tough this time of year—you're well into the season—and I was working hard to get back from that injury. I'm just trying to take care of myself.
“I’m just trying to get better as soon as possible.”
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