|Avalanche puts 7-1-1 home record on line vs. Flames|
The Colorado Avalanche have insisted that this season is different. They're different from the team that lost 26 of 30 games in one stretch last season, they have said, and a different vibe runs through the locker room.
If they want to prove it true, this is the time of the season to do it. After all, it was a year ago things collapsed on them and never recovered. They won 13 games after Nov. 23, 2016, and finished in last place.
An eerie deja vu feeling could have arisen after Friday's 3-2 shootout loss in Minnesota, but the Avalanche weren't down, they were encouraged after getting a point in their third straight game.
"We had a great road game. You hate to lose a second point but you leave that as a toss-up in the shootout" defenseman Erik Johnson told The Denver Post after the loss to the Wild. "But overall great game from us and we get to go back home where we've been pretty good on home ice."
Home has been good to Colorado (11-8-2). The Avalanche are 7-1-1 at Pepsi Center this season. They have a chance to build on that when they host the Calgary Flames on Saturday night.
It'll be a tough task. The Flames (12-9-1) have been better on the road then at home this season. Calgary is 6-4-1 on the road, even after a 6-4 loss at Dallas on Friday night.
The Flames, like the Avalanche, are winning with a young, exciting player as the star. Nathan MacKinnon leads Colorado in scoring with 25 points, including 20 in a 10-game span leading up to Friday's loss. Calgary's star, Johnny Gaudreau, had a goal and two assists in the loss to Dallas to push his season point total to 34.
He's tied for second in the NHL in scoring with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov.
His play, including a recent 10-game point streak, had one of the best players of all time singing his praises.
Jaromir Jagr is second all-time in scoring with 1,920 points and is still going at age 45. He has one goal and five assists in 13 games for the Flames, but his veteran leadership is invaluable to the rest of the roster.
Jagr has told coach Glen Gulutzan that Gaudreau will be a perennial contender for the individual scoring title, words that Gaudreau appreciates.
"It's pretty special when someone says something like that to you. Because it's not every day that someone as good as him says something about a player that has only been in the league four years," Gaudreau told The Calgary Sun.
Gaudreau's point streak came to an end in a 1-0 loss at Columbus on Wednesday but he bounced back in the loss in Dallas that dropped the Flames to 2-2-1 on this six-game road trip. They had three leads in the game, including a 4-3 edge midway through the third period, but couldn't hold it.
"Yeah, I think we kept getting leads and then just blowing them," Calgary defenseman Dougie Hamilton said after the game. "Every time we got a goal, we'd give up a goal and that kind of killed it for us. We couldn't hold onto the lead and play with the lead. I think that's what hurt us."
The Flames have a chance to end the trip with a winning record and like Colorado they'll be playing their third game in four nights.
Even though both teams will be tired, the Avalanche might have a slight advantage with a fresh goaltender. Semyon Varlamov is expected to start for the first time in a week after falling ill. He didn't make the one-game trip to Minnesota but has started skating and is feeling better.
"I'm glad I'm feeling better," Varlamov told the team website on Thursday. "I had a chance to skate with the team."
Backup Jonathan Bernier went 2-0-1 in place of Varlamov, with Andrew Hammond serving as the No. 2 goaltender. Hammond is expected to be sent back to San Antonio if Varlamov is able to Calgary.