Season-long Homestand Perfect for Bounce Back

Sunday, 12.29.2013 / 2:53 PM
Scott Ward

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By SCOTT WARD

Friday night’s road game against the Blackhawks didn’t go the way anyone in the Avalanche locker room wanted it to. That much is clear, and it probably can go without saying

In a season chock-full of standout performances there have been a few clunkers, and a 7-2 setback to a divisional opponent like Chicago definitely fits that category. Friday’s was just one of those games for Colorado, which fell to 23-11-3, its third-best 37-game start in franchise history.

“You can’t put too much emphasis on one game,” rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “If we were losing like that on a regular basis I think we would have something to worry about. But we’re in a great position, in terms of the standings. Obviously, in a very competitive Western Conference, we’re still up there.

“Losing 7-2 isn’t the kind of effort we wanted, but there’s a lot of factors that go into the game. [The Blackhawks] played really well, [and] we couldn’t really handle that, and I’m sure next time we play them will be a little different, as well as tonight.”

Tonight’s game comes against Winnipeg (17-18-5) and is the Avs’ first of seven straight games at Pepsi Center—their longest homestand of the season. Colorado is undefeated in two games against the Jets this season, but both games were hotly contested.

The Avalanche rallied from a 2-1 deficit Oct. 27 for a 3-2 win in Denver and then came back from down 2-0 on Dec. 12 to defeat the Jets 4-3 in a shootout in Winnipeg.

“That’s typical NHL,” center Matt Duchene said. “Anybody can play with anybody on any given night.”

There’s a figurative but albeit gigantic carrot dangling in front of the Colorado players in the next two weeks in the form of seven straight games in Denver, ending with a Jan. 10 game against the Islanders.

That’s two straight weeks spent in their own beds. It’s two straight weeks of playing in front of the burgundy and blue faithful.

It starts with this first game, though, tonight against the Jets.

“We want to get back on track here,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We’ve taken a couple points [in Denver], and we’ve taken a couple points [in Winnipeg], but we want to make sure we get a win here tonight.

“You want to be a dominant team at home. You want to make sure that you take care of those home games, especially a stretch like this.”

The NHL’s mandated three-day holiday break put the Avalanche in a bit of a bind heading into United Center on Friday. During the break the league prohibited clubs from doing anything as a “team,” meaning practices, video sessions, workouts and travel could not recommence until Friday morning.

That left the Avs with an early-morning team flight into Chicago, a loss of an hour because of the Mountain to Central time zone trip, and with just eight hours before puck drop. Not a big deal to some but a big deal to those within the sport.

In essence, Colorado’s first on-ice work in four days didn’t come until pregame warmups. The Avs’ first team skate since the previous Monday came against last year’s Stanley Cup champions.

“I’m not the guy to believe in excuses,” Landeskog said, “but I think obviously looking at the circumstances and what not we clearly didn’t have the best effort. Whether it was because we didn’t have our legs or because we ate too many Christmas cookies … what do I know? I guess it was just one of those games.”

Now, with yesterday’s practice under their belt and a Pepsi Center morning skate in the books, the Avs say they feel back in their pre-break groove and are focused on a divisional game against a team that has given it two good runs this year.

“It’s a big game, obviously—a division opponent,” Duchene said. “You’re 2-0 against a team like that, and you want to make it 3-0 on the season, and then it becomes one of those where they might start overthinking other games against us and stuff like that. … It’s always tough when a team’s got your number a little bit. We’ve got to be ready. They’re a great hockey team, and they’ve got a lot of weapons and great goaltending.”

PREGAME NOTEBOOK

- Semyon Varlamov is expected to start in goal tonight for Colorado after stopping all 13 shots he faced Friday in place of starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere. It was Varlamov’s second relief appearance this season. He’s 16-8 overall with a 2.37 goals-against average and a 92.6 save percentage.

He’s 2-0 against Winnipeg this season, with 63 saves and a 92.1 save percentage.

- Defensemen Nick Holden and Nate Guenin and forward Brad Malone are the expected scratches for the Avalanche. Defenseman Ryan Wilson returned to the lineup Friday night.

- The Avs will wear their blue third jerseys tonight for the fifth of 12 scheduled games this season. They are 3-0-1 in the blues so far.

- Duchene enters tonight with 98 career goals, leaving him just two shy of becoming the 20th player in franchise history and ninth in Avalanche history (since 1995) to reach the century mark. He would also become just the second player selected from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft to score 100 goals (John Tavares, Islanders).

- The Avs have scored a power-play goal in four of their past five games, going for five for 17 in the stretch (29.4 percent). The Avalanche scored a PPG in four straight games from Dec. 17 to 23—the first time that’s happened since Nov. 20 to 30 2010 (five straight).

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