The NHL regular season is a long one, stretching from October through April. With 82 games on each team’s slate—and potentially more waiting in the playoffs—it’s common practice for players and coaches to keep an even keel as the calendar turns from fall to winter and from winter to spring.
The mood today following the Avalanche's morning skate didn’t mirror that philosophy.
Colorado (20-8-0) will face Phoenix (16-8-5) tonight at Pepsi Center (7 p.m. MT; Altitude), and the prevalent words spoken on the matchup didn’t reflect the marathon approach so often verbalized in similar settings.
“I think it’s a must-win,” PA Parenteau said.
“It’s definitely a big [game],” captain Gabriel Landeskog added. “We can separate ourselves from these guys.”
“It’s a big game,” Matt Duchene said. “This is a team not too far behind us. We’re back on home ice here, and we want to have a good showing.”
“Tonight, it’s a very important game for us,” Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. “This is a very important game. We need to be sharp; we need to have a really good start.”
So, there you have it. While tonight’s contest could be viewed as just “No. 29” this year in a string of 82 Avs home games, Roy and his players are thinking differently.
There’s a sense of urgency flowing through this club right now.
The reason for the uptick in focus is likely two-fold: the Avalanche wants to get back to its winning ways from earlier this season, and it knows if it does tonight a substantial standings boost will be the reward.
The Avs got off to one of their best starts in team history—its 20 wins through 28 games is a new franchise standard; Colorado went 14-2 through the season’s first eight weeks—but that fast start compared to the past few weeks has created a sense that the team is struggling, even though it’s 6-3 since Nov. 18.
A win tonight against a strong Phoenix team, which took Colorado to overtime last month in Phoenix, would give the Avs’ hometown faithful some tangible positive results after the team finished 1-2 last week on a three-game troad trip through western Canada.
In that sense tonight’s game is indeed a “must-win,” because, as Roy has often said, this team is very linked with its fan base, and it knows it’s got work to do to regain the following it had in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Avalanche were the NHL’s benchmark team.
Tonight’s game also carries standings significance. While the Avalanche has played this season as well as it ever has, it enters tonight’s game in eighth place in the stacked Western Conference. Colorado is just three points out of third place … and just three points out of ninth place, which is where Phoenix currently resides.
A win tonight would give the Avalanche some breathing room from the Coyotes and help it keep pace in a fairly frontloaded race.
“You always want to get a little gap between you and teams below you,” Landeskog said. “We know what that feels [like], when teams above you keep winning and winning, so that’s what we’ve got to try to do.
“Guys are excited to come back on the ice and have a skate out there together and [get] ready for tonight.”
Alex Tanguay and Ryan Wilson have been on injured reserve since the first full week of December, and when Colorado left for Edmonton last week it was thought that both might be able to play at some point this week.
Roy revealed this morning, though, that only Wilson remains on that timetable.
Tanguay, who injured his knee Nov. 2 against Montreal and was placed on IR on Nov. 6, has also developed a back injury, and that’s flared on him as his knee has healed. Roy said Tanguay is out indefinitely.
“He’s not doing well,” Roy said. “It’s a bit of a setback. The knee is not the thing that bothers him the most right now; it’s the hip. It’s been a concern since the start of his injury. We were hoping that things would turn the corner, but I guess it’s not. He’ll be out indefinitely, without a doubt.”
The news was better regarding Wilson and Jan Hejda, who injured his knee last week vs. the Oilers. Wilson is on schedule to play in the Avs’ Saturday night home game against Minnesota, and Hejda might do the same.
“Hopefully, Wilson will play Saturday here against [Minnesota]—that’s the objective,” Roy said. “We’ll see how it goes [Wednesday] at practice. We’re not going to bring him on the road [Thursday at Winnipeg]. We’ll keep him here, do some off-ice conditioning with [team strength and conditioning coach] Casey [Bond], and we’ll see.
“Hejda will start skating [Wednesday], we’ll see after that. He seems to feel already very good, and hopefully he’ll be back also Saturday against ‘Minny.’ But we’re not going to jump the gun on that one.”
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