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AVALANCHE (1-1-0) AT BLUE JACKETS (0-3-0)
Coaches will often say: “every game is an opportunity.”
There are opportunities to extend winning streaks, end winless streaks or start your own streak – and that’s exactly what the Blue Jackets will have in mind tonight. Though they have not put one in the win column through their first three games, the Blue Jackets are taking a day-by-day mentality and focusing on the next challenge.
It comes in the form of the Colorado Avalanche, a club that has struggled to score goals early this season. Their lone win came Monday at Boston – a 1-0 victory and the first Colorado shutout for offseason pickup Semyon Varlamov. Milan Hejduk scored the lone goal for the Avalanche.
No matter what shape they arrive in, the Avalanche always get up to play the Blue Jackets. They own a 13-5-1-1 record all-time against Columbus at Nationwide Arena, but the Blue Jackets split the meetings at home a year ago.
“They have some really fast forwards that work hard,” center Derick Brassard told BlueJackets.com this morning. “It’s going to be a hard game like it always is (with the Avalanche); they have big defensemen too and they played a good game against Boston.”
Coach Joe Sacco has built the Avalanche into a team loaded with speed. Their high-paced attack propelled them into the Stanley Cup playoffs a few years ago, but they took a step back last season with a depleted defense and questions in goal. Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman surrendered a first and second-round pick this summer to Washington in exchange for Varlamov, and also signed J.S. Giguere as a free agent.
“They have some pretty good centermen that are skilled and like to make plays,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “They’re very active with their defense; they really like to make sure they’re using speed.
“We want to make sure we’re playing in their end of the rink.”
In terms of creating their own offense, Arniel said the Blue Jackets have worked on several alternative methods to get scoring chances during training camp and in practice. Lots of teams do it regularly, he said, but it’s another way to get pucks to the net.
“We’ve been doing some stuff since day one of training camp where we shoot for rebounds from bad angles,” Arniel said. “It’s part of what your strategy is; we’ve really been trying to work on throwing pucks into the goaltender’s pads and into their feet.
“Five of our goals have been scored off goalmouth scrambles…it’s been working that way. In this league, somewhere around 70 percent of goals are scored off rebounds.”
UNDER THE WEATHER
Blue Jackets center Jeff Carter did not participate in this morning’s skate at Nationwide Arena. Arniel said Carter has suffered from the flu for the past couple of days and has not slept well as a result. It is still possible that Carter plays tonight against Colorado, Arniel said, but he will be evaluated when he returns to the arena this evening.
“(Carter) felt pretty crappy last night and didn't sleep very much,” Arniel said. “He came in this morning and we just sent him home."
Former Blue Jackets defenseman Jan Hejda will play his first game in Columbus tonight, but as a member of the Avalanche. Hejda spent four seasons with the Blue Jackets, and quickly became one of the team’s most reliable defenders. He was the team’s shutdown defenseman when the Blue Jackets made the playoffs in 2008-09.
Hejda signed a four-year contract with the Avalanche on July 1, 2011.
GIVE ‘EM SOME MORE MASE
Arniel confirmed after the morning skate that Steve Mason will make his fourth consecutive start for the Blue Jackets tonight.
In eight career starts against the Avalanche, Mason holds a 2-5-1 record. The key for Mason is to get into the game early and make a high volume of saves: when he faced at least 30 shots last season, he was 16-6-4. When facing less than 30 shots, his record was 8-15-3.
DON’T MESS WITH THE JOHAN
Center Ryan Johansen, a healthy scratch the past two games, will be in the lineup tonight regardless of Carter’s status according to Arniel.
Season Series: This is the first of four meetings between these Western Conference foes. Last season, Colorado won three of the four tilts, including a 5-4 shootout victory in the last meeting on March 22. Matt Duchene and R.J. Umberger each had a pair of goals in that contest.
Big Story: Columbus is seeking its first win of the season after losing its first three games and will be channeling all of its efforts into gaining those first two points against a Colorado team that proved itself in a big way on Monday afternoon with a shutout against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Avalanche: After being blanked in its home opener last weekend, Colorado certainly made a statement with its 1-0 victory over the Bruins on Monday afternoon. The game in Boston was Colorado's first of five road games in a seven-day stretch, so the two points in Boston were exactly the start that Colorado was looking for.
"We've had two tough challenges to start the season," center Paul Stastny said. "It's easy to get up for these games, especially playing a team like this - the defending champs."
The burden of Monday's victory fell on the shoulders of 23-year-old netminder, Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 30 shots to earn his fifth career shutout. Last season, Varlamov was fighting for a full-time starting spot in Washington against rookies Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby, but Varlamov was acquired by Colorado at the beginning of free agency and Monday's shutout was his first win with the Avalanche.
Milan Hejduk notched Colorado's lone goal with his third-period tally.
Blue Jackets – Although the Blue Jackets have yet to win a game this season, they played arguably their best 40 minutes of the season so far in the first two periods of Monday's contest against the Vancouver Canucks. The Blue Jackets entered the third period with a 2-1 lead and nearly made it 3-1 with a penalty shot attempt that Maksim Mayorov failed to convert and Vancouver then scored twice for a 3-2 win.
"I thought we played a good 40 minutes," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash said. "(In the) third period, it seemed like they turned it up a little more and we stayed the same."
The culprit in Columbus, according to coach Scott Arniel, was special teams. The Jackets were 0-for-5 on the man advantage against Vancouver and allowed the game-winning goal on a power play.
"Special teams are key in the NHL nowadays," left wing Vinny Prospal said. "We haven't scored one power-play goal in the three games and (Vancouver) had one (Monday), and it ended up being a winner."
Who's Hot – Varlamov stopped 30 shots to earn his fifth career shutouts against the Bruins on Monday. … In Columbus, Prospal was awarded second star of the game honors for his performance against the Canucks. He has two goals in three games.
Injury Report – The Avalanche have placed forward Mark Olver (head) and forward Brandon Yip (arm) on injured reserve.
Stat Pack – This is the first time in franchise history that the Blue Jackets have failed to win one of their first three games of the season.
Puck Drop – "For a young team like us, it's good to get to know each other and do some team bonding, like going out to dinner," Jean-Sebastien Giguere told ColoradoAvalanche.com. "If we can get some points on the road, it should give us some good confidence."