Rick Sadowski: Avs back East for 4-game trip

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FYI: My wife and I will be out of town for the next few days to celebrate my birthday and I won’t be taking my laptop, so my next blog won’t be until we get back. Perhaps my absence will be a good-luck charm, though I doubt it. Tough trip ahead.

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The Avalanche (4-6-5) practiced early Friday morning before leaving for Philadelphia and Saturday’s game against the Flyers to kick off a four-game road trip that includes games against the Islanders, Rangers and Devils.

The next home game isn’t until Nov. 20 against Washington with four off-days after the team returns to Denver.

“We’ll be playing some really good teams, some really good players,” Matt Duchene said. “It’s never easy, but it’ll be a real good team bonding process. Hopefully we can win three or four, that’d be a great road trip for us and we’d be right back in the mix.

“It was easy last year because it was so new and so much fun with the success, you didn’t really feel like you’re working hard. This year it’s been tough at times and that’s when you have to be a man and step up and make it happen.”

Backup goalie Reto Berra will make his second start in a row following his 33-save effort Thursday in the Avalanche’s 4-3 shootout win against Toronto.

Let’s not get carried away yet, but Berra has been quite the pleasant surprise so far with a 2-0-1 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. Just goes to show you that a) the Avalanche saw something in Berra to convince them to send a second-round draft pick to Calgary (still too high a price, in my opinion) to get him and b) Francois Allaire is one heck of a goalie coach.

As for the defensive-zone coverage change the Avalanche made Thursday, it’s still very much a work in progress. Officially, the Avalanche had four giveaways — “A lot less in our end than probably in the last five or six games,” coach Patrick Roy said — but they still spent too much time in their own end.

Example: After Berra made a sliding save against James van Riemsdyk on a 2-on-1 rush to force a faceoff with 2:44 left in the second period, the puck didn’t leave the zone until the Avalanche iced it with 52.1 seconds to go. Players were so fatigued they could barely move and Roy had to use his timeout to give them some rest before the ensuing draw.

But the Avalanche was much better offensively and were able to use their speed for one of the few times this season to create rushes and quality scoring chances. They had 19 shots in the first period despite a couple of poor power plays and Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier had to make a number of difficult stops.

“We changed a couple things and we’re still adjusting, but overall it was a pretty solid game,” said Nathan MacKinnon, who had five shots on goal and an assist while centering a line with Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla. He also won 11 of 14 faceoffs. “I thought we had control most of the night. It went back and forth near the end, but the first 40 we played really solid. We found a way to get it done.”

MacKinnon has four goals and two assists in the past five games and is tied with Duchene for the team scoring lead with 10 points (four goals, six assists). Duchene also had five shots and scored his first goal in seven games. Alex Tanguay had a strong game with five shots and a goal. Iginla didn’t score, but he had a season-high six shots and five official hits. Erik Johnson played 25:41, took two shots and had seven hits.

“Our best players were solid,” Roy said. “I thought they all had a great game. I think we just needed a bit more confidence. I liked our effort for 65 minutes. We were skating well, we were working hard, we tried to sustain the pressure in our offensive zone play.

“Let’s try to win a few games in a row and have that type of effort for 60 minutes. I am very positive with this performance, but I don’t want to overreact. I want to make sure to stay very humble and see how we’re going to play against Philly.”

Defenseman Ryan Wilson (shoulder) and center Jesse Winchester (concussion) didn’t travel Friday, though it’s possible they could rejoin the team at some point. The Avalanche are down to 13 healthy forwards and six healthy defensemen.

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Check out Save by Roy, an in-depth look at the Avalanche’s surprising 2013-14 season. It can be purchased on amazon.com and is available wherever books are sold. It’s written by Denver Post sports reporters Adrian Dater and Terry Frei. Follow @RickS7

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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