Avs' Even-Keel Train Motors Into Music City

Colorado in position where calm and focus are biggest allies.

Tuesday, 03.25.2014 / 5:56 PM
Scott Ward

The Avalanche is admittedly in a bit of funk heading into its game tonight against Nashville (6 p.m. MT; Altitude TV, Altitude Radio Network).

The Avs are in the Music City after having lost three straight for just the third time this season, and they were shut out for the first time in 80 games Friday night against Boston.

But nobody in the visiting team’s dressing room this morning at Bridgestone Arena was either worried or focused on that as this marathon of a season enters its final stretch against the Predators (31-31-10).

There’s been an entirely new vibe around this club all season long, and an element of that has been its knack for keeping a pretty even keel in the midst of highs (14-2 start to the season, anyone?) and lows (those darn St. Louis Blues!).

That same attitude was percolating this morning, following the team’s morning skate.

“It’s been like that all season,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Sometimes you win games that you don’t deserve; sometimes you lose games that you don’t necessarily feel like you’re supposed to lose. We just keep on trucking, and we have a mentality in here where, ‘Work ethic comes first, and then skill will come along after.’”

The Avs players and coaches don’t want to lose, of course, but they’ve gotten themselves in a position this year where there are bigger fish to fry and a wider focus is needed.

Colorado has a chance at making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2010.

“Right now it’s about making sure we’re having good habits,” Landeskog said, “and making sure we’re sticking to our game and not focusing on what’s ahead too much but living right now and making sure we’re creating those good habits. We’re going to need them come April.”

“You always want to tighten up your game,” forward Marc-Andre Cliche said. “That’s the main thing for us—to tighten it up, going toward the playoffs. Eleven games now—that’s when we need to turn it around and start a winning streak here.”

The Avalanche bounced back from both of its slumps this season with matching three-game win streaks—with victories in back-to-back-to-back games from Nov. 19 to 23 and with consecutive wins from Dec. 31 to Jan. 4 after losing four straight in late December.

To keep their current slide from reaching four games the Avs will have to cool a Predators team that blanked Chicago 2-0 at United Center on Sunday but hasn’t won at home since Feb. 27.

The Avalanche is 2-1 so far this season against Nashville.

“That was a big win for them last game,” said defenseman Tyson Barrie, who has two goals in six career games against Nashville “They shut out the ‘Hawks—that’s a tough team to do that too. They’re going to be flying high.”

LAST TIME VS. THE PREDATORS

Defenseman Nick Holden had a career-high two goals and an assist on the eventual game-winner from Matt Duchene to help the Avalanche hold off Nashville 5-4 in a game it led 5-1 with 6:31 to play.

Colorado jumped on Nashville for three quick goals in the first period, with Holden starting the onslaught. It spoiled the Predators’ debut of goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was acquired a few days before the game in a trade with Edmonton

Dubnyk finished with 24 saves but trailed 3-0 12:05 into the game and has since been reassigned to the minors.

“The last time we were in here we had a great start to the game, and we kind of floundered it away in the end, but we ended up pulling it out,” said defenseman Tyson Barrie, who has two goals in six career games against Nashville. “We know what we have to do to beat these guys.”

PREGAME NOTEBOOK

» The Avs are 10-4-1 in past last 15 road games and 21-10-3 (.662) on the road this season, their most victories away from home since 2006-07 (22). The Avalanche will play seven of its final 11 games away from home.

» Goalie Semyon Varlamov (34-14-5) is expected to start tonight for the Avalanche. His 34 wins are a career high and the fifth most in franchise history, trailing Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy (35, 2002-03).

» The Avs haven’t played since their 2-0 loss to Boston on Friday, and a scheduled off day Saturday followed by the Avalanche Charity Brunch on Sunday gave them two entire days away from the ice.

The team held a full practice yesterday—for the first time since March 2—and followed that up with today’s morning skate.

“I think after that stretch after the Olympic break, the team needed it,” said winger Jamie McGinn, who’s two goals shy (18) of becoming the Avs’ sixth 20-goal scorer this season. “There was a lot of hockey there. Just kind of rest the bodies and kind of regroup here.

“Now that that’s done with, we feel good and we’re ready to go tonight against a good team in Nashville.”

» Ryan O’Reilly hasn’t committed a penalty this season and is the only player in the NHL with at least 50 game played (69) and no penalty-box time. Butch Goring (Islanders, 1980-81) was the last NHL player to skate in at least 60 games without committing a penalty.

“It’s mainly just luck,” O’Reilly told reporters Monday after practice.

» The Avs’ 5-4 victory in Nashville on Jan. 18 was their first win in Tennessee since Jan. 6, 2009 and broke a seven-game road winless drought against the Predators (0-6-1).

“It’s a fun building to play here,” McGinn said. “The fans are louder than you would expect, and [Nashville plays] well at home. It’s always a tough matchup. We look to come in tonight and get our legs underneath us right away and get a quick start.”

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