One would think the Avalanche’s focus this morning would have been on the Panthers. The Avs are in South Florida, after all, and will face off against Florida at 5:30 p.m. MT at BB&T Center.
But after its morning skate the team kept talking about horses—as in it knows it needs to get back on one after falling to Toronto on Tuesday night in Denver.
The Maple Leafs ended Colorado's winning streak at four games with a 5-2 win and handed Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov his first regulation defeat since Dec. 10, a franchise record-tying 16 games.
“It was just one of those nights where we let in more goals than we have in the past,” Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson said. “[We] probably had some chances where we could have converted, where it’s gone in for us the past couple games. You’re going to lose some games, so it’s just about getting back on the horse and starting another little streak here.”
That’s where tonight’s matchup comes in. There’s an opportunity here that’s about more than just avenging an earlier 4-1 loss to Florida.
The Avalanche is 7-2-1 in January and, after playing a pretty even December (5-5-4), has rediscovered its play that resulted in a scorching-hot October (10-1-0). The entire NHL is set to take a break next month for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, so there’s a bit of push among all the league’s teams to finish strong before stepping aside and letting the international game take the spotlight.
That’s an especially prevalent focus for Colorado, which has nine games remaining on its pre-Olympics schedule.
The Avs (31-13-5) have positioned themselves well for berth in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, but there’s a lot of games left to be played.
Dwelling on a frustrating loss like Tuesday’s can lead to subsequent head-scratching setbacks. No team can afford that, especially with the NHL’s lengthy hiatus on the horizon.
“It’s a big stretch before the Olympics break,” forward Max Talbot said. “We’ve got nine games. It’s going to be tough, playing against good teams. Florida’s been playing well lately. If you just look at tonight it’s a big two points, but it’s a huge road trip for us (at Tampa Bay tomorrow; at Dallas on Monday).”
“If you look at the schedule after the break, it’s going to be challenging, so these points are huge for that.”
Helping in the cause tonight against the Panthers will be Alex Tanguay, who is set to skate for the first time since Nov. 6 (36 games), when he injured his knee in a home loss to Nashville.
As he worked his way back from that injury he developed a back ailment, too, bringing into question whether his first season back with the Avalanche was going to be a lost one.
He joined the Avs on this three-game trip and after skating well this morning was officially activated and will slide onto the right side of Patrick Roy’s second line, joining Gabriel Landeskog and center Paul Stastny.
“I’m excited,” Tanguay said yesterday before boarding Colorado’s charter to Fort Lauderdale. “It’s been awhile for me, and I’m looking forward to it.
“I think you know when you’re ready. We’ve been working extremely hard, and the training staff has done a great job helping me get back to the level where I feel fit enough and healthy enough to get back on the ice. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Tanguay’s return follow’s that of winger PA Parenteau, who came back Tuesday night against Toronto after missing 10 games with a knee injury.
Parenteau assisted on the Avs’ first goal against the Leafs and was on the ice for 12 minutes and six seconds.
“It’s going to be nice,” Matt Duchene said. “It’s going to add another element to our team, another look. It may throw off some things for the beginning, but we know we’re going to be better in the long run because of it. It’s so nice to have these two guys back.
“We can hit you with any one of our three lines. You get certain matchups throughout a game, and if you get one of their top shutdown lines, or their top [defensive] pairing against one line, there are two other lines there that can really make you pay. It makes other coaches on the other side really have to work hard and try and manage and balance their team, and sometimes that can take away from the offense because your trying to worry about stopping us. We’re hoping that’s the case here.”
Speaking of the Avalanche’s lines, here is a breakdown of the expected offensive and defensive groups Colorado will utilize against Florida.
• Defenseman Nate Guenin (ankle) could return for Colorado on the road trip and so, too, could John Mitchell (illness). Mitchell didn’t fly with the team to Fort Lauderdale but Roy said Thursday that Mitchell is expected to join the team at some point, either tomorrow in Tampa Bay or by Monday in Dallas.
Defenseman Cory Sarich (back) remains on Injured Reserve.
• After playing seven consecutive home games from Dec. 29 to Jan. 10, the Avs are in a stretch that finds them on the road for 10 of 14 before the Olympic break.
Colorado is 14-6-2 on the road this season.
“We’ve been at home a lot lately,” Duchene said. “Had a little [road trip] a little while ago (Chicago), but not too long. It’s nice to come out to a place we haven’t been in a long time. We haven’t been here since my second year in the league ( ). It’s fun to come out here, see some good weather. I know it’s cold back home; cold up north, so it’s good to get out in the sunshine a little bit.”
• Peter Horachek was appointed Florida’s interim head coach Nov. 8, with the Panthers sporting a 3-9-4 record. They’re 17-14-3 under Horachek’s eye since, including getting that 4-1 win against the Avs in Denver on Nov. 16.
“They work hard,” Johnson said. “Since the coaching change they made they’re all trying to prove themselves. When a new coach comes in it kind of reinvigorates guys. They can put the puck in the net, too, so we can’t take anybody lightly.”
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