Avalanche-Blue Jackets Preview

While it’s been a bumpy ride for the road-challenged Colorado

Avalanche, Ryan O’Reilly should give them a big boost going

forward.

The 22-year-old center is expected to make his season debut

Sunday as the Avalanche kick off a three-game trek against the

NHL-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.

O’Reilly, who led Colorado with 37 assists and 55 points last

season, is set to take the ice for the first time following a

lengthy holdout. The restricted free agent signed an offer sheet

with Calgary before Colorado matched the two-year, $10 million

deal.

“I’m just so excited now to be playing hockey and be back with

these guys,” O’Reilly said. “I can’t believe how nice everyone has

been about it and how great they’ve been to just accept me back –

it’s like I haven’t left. It just shows the character of this

team.

“Hopefully I can contribute as best I can. It will probably take

a little while to get back in the swing of things and catch up to

the speed of the game.”

The Avalanche (8-8-3) announced the signing during the first

period of Thursday’s thrilling 5-4 victory over the Flames.

Colorado trailed 3-0 after the first 20 minutes and entered the

third down 4-2 before storming back.

“That was great news,” 20-year-old captain Gabriel Landeskog

said of O’Reilly’s signing. “I know there were 24 guys who were

happy to have him back.”

Landeskog had a goal and two assists while Matt Duchene recorded

two points, including the go-ahead score 10:52 into the third.

“It was time to get back to what makes us a good team,” Duchene

told the club’s official website. “We had a great second period. I

think after we got those two goals we really believed that we were

going to win the game. You could feel it in here. It’s a great

feeling right now. It’s one of the best Avalanche wins in recent

memory, that’s for sure.”

While Colorado improved to 6-2-1 at home, it’s struggled in

opposing arenas. The Avalanche have been outscored 37-22 in going

2-6-2 on the road, where they’ve posted a league-low 65.1

penalty-kill percentage.

Colorado, though, has taken 10 of 13 from the Blue Jackets

(5-12-4), including a 4-0 win Jan. 24. Semyon Varlamov made 33

saves while Duchene scored twice and added an assist. The

Avalanche, who are 7-2-1 when Duchene posts at least one point,

have gone 5-1-0 in Columbus since 2009-10.

The Blue Jackets return home mired in a 1-5-2 stretch after

suffering a 4-3 overtime loss at NHL-leading Chicago on Friday.

“Regardless of who it is, it’s still a loss,” coach Todd

Richards said. “We still just aren’t quite good enough. We battled

and competed, which is what we should do, but we’ve got to find

ways to come out on top.”

Artem Anisimov scored in his return from a three-game absence

due to an upper-body injury and fellow forward Vinny Prospal added

his team-leading seventh goal. Columbus, though, was again without

centers Brandon Dubinsky (knee) and Derick Brassard (upper body) as

well as defensemen Jack Johnson (shoulder), James Wisniewski

(broken foot) and John Moore (upper body).

“We did some pretty good things to be able to stick with those

guys, but we’re not doing enough to get that next goal,” Steve

Mason said after making 31 saves. “We knew it would be a real test

for us because we had a lot of guys out.”

The Blue Jackets could catch a break if Colorado goes with

Varlamov, who is 0-6-1 with a with a 3.73 goals-against average

over seven road starts. Varlamov, however, went 2-0-0 with one

shutout and a 0.96 GAA at Nationwide Arena last season.