Avalanche look to restore winning ways against Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — For a while, the Colorado Avalanche found perfection.
Now, they just want consistency.
The Avalanche (27-18-3) are looking to break a two-game losing streak Tuesday when they visit the Vancouver Canucks (19-24-6) at Rogers Arena. The two losses resulted after the Avalanche put together a 10-game winning streak.
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“We’ve just gotta regroup,” Avalanche center Alex Kerfoot told reporters. “We knew we weren’t going to win the rest of the games throughout the season.”
In their last game before the National Hockey League All-Star Game break, the Avalanche lost 3-1 to the Blues in St. Louis. Their streak ended a game earlier with a loss at Montreal.
Colorado coach Jared Bednar wants his team to find a way to duplicate its performances at home on the road. The Avalanche are a modest 9-11-2 outside the Mile High City.
“We get energized at home,” Bednar told reporters. “We’ve had pretty good starts — not so much on the road.”
But, on the whole, the Avalanche have been much more energized this season. Their 24 wins already represent two more victories than they mustered in all of 2016-17 while finishing at the bottom of the league.
“We’re fast, we’re young, we’re a physical team,” defenseman Nikita Zadorov told reporters. “That’s what makes us to play hard against.”
According to center Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche also have an improved culture, which received a boost with center Matt Duchene’s trade to the Ottawa Senators. Duchene had requested a deal.
“(The trade) did a lot,” MacKinnon, who sits second in the NHL in scoring with 60 points, told Sportsnet recently. “There’s nothing wrong with Dutchy wanting to leave. I think it’s fair. He’s been eight, nine years in this league, and it wasn’t like a crazy breakup or anything.
“He went about it really good this season. But, obviously, we knew he wanted to leave. Now, we have everybody here that wants to be here, which is great. I think we’re on our way. If Dutchy was here, I think we’d be in a good spot as well. He’s a really good player and obviously it’s nice to get (Samuel Girard, acquired in the Duchene deal) on the back end. He’s a great defenseman.”
Colorado serves as a model for a rebuilding Vancouver club that is trying to find its way up the standings. The Canucks head into Tuesday’s contest reeling from a 4-0 loss to Buffalo.
As the Canucks begin the unofficial second half of the season, they are looking for progress from young players not named Brock Boeser. The rookie winger continues to generate buzz, especially after scoring two goals and helping the Pacific Division win the All-Star Game Sunday in Tampa. Boeser became the first Canuck to win All-Star Game most valuable player honors. He also won the shooting accuracy segment in the skills competition.
But while 20-year-old Boeser shines, other young Canucks continue to struggle — particularly Jake Virtanen, who has come under criticism for a blind pass that led to a turnover and Buffalo goal Thursday.
Virtanen might be hard-pressed to get back into the lineup Tuesday. Following his second-period miscue against the Sabres, he was benched until midway through the third period.
“It’s pretty obvious — he didn’t make a good decision,” Vancouver coach Travis Green told reporters. “He should have carried (the puck) or chipped and chased, and went and got it.”
A frustrated Green expressed optimism that Virtanen will develop as the club envisioned when drafting him sixth overall in 2014. But the coach is not guaranteeing him a large amount of ice time.
“He understands what he has to do,” Green told reporters. “There is being physically engaged and mentally engaged. His challenge, like a lot of young guys, is bringing both at the same time.
“We have to make sure he’s a guy you can win with. We have to make our young guys understand how you have to play to win. It’s easy to say just play young guys 20 minutes — it doesn’t work that way.”
But Virtanen is confident that he can play at the level where Green and general manager Jim Benning want him to be.
“It’s coming,” Virtanen told Postmedia. “I’m trying more plays and the confidence is building. Obviously, everyone is going to make mistakes, but I think it’s been a big improvement for me this year. Even from the start of camp, I’ve grown.”