Coyotes-Avalanche Preview

The Associated Press

The Colorado Avalanche and Phoenix Coyotes may have lost their first game after the Olympic break, but they're both looking to build on some positives.

One of them will tout more than a moral victory Friday night.

The Avalanche look for some improvement defensively while trying to capitalize on the Coyotes' recent struggles on the road.

Colorado (37-17-5) has dropped three of four after emerging from the Olympic break by blowing a two-goal, second-period lead before falling 6-4 to Los Angeles in the opener of this three-game homestand.

"No one is perfect after two weeks off," coach Patrick Roy said. "But we've been working hard and you don't want to let a game like this affect you, especially because I think there are a lot of positives. I think we need to come back on Friday with the same attitude."

The Coyotes (27-21-11) echoed that sentiment after losing 3-2 in a shootout at Winnipeg in their return from the long layoff.

"There are certainly some positive things from our group to build on there," coach Dave Tippett told the team's official website. "We just came back, so we (knew) it (was) going to be a little bit choppy. But I liked the effort, I liked some of the structure we played with, and now we have to continue to bring that night in and night out.

"There was lots of urgency and intensity."

Tippet, though, may prefer to see more scoring, as Phoenix is averaging 2.0 goals during a 1-4-4 stretch on the road. However, facing the Avalanche could be just what the Coyotes need.

They're averaging 3.6 goals while going 11-1-3 over the last 15 meetings with Colorado, including a 3-1 victory in Denver on Dec. 10.

Antoine Vermette, who has a team-high 21 goals, scored twice in that meeting, giving him five goals in the last three games versus the Avalanche. However, he's entering this one with no goals in three games after netting nine over the previous 10.

Phoenix will likely have to contend with Semyon Varlamov in his first start since acting as a backup with Russia in Sochi. He's 1-2-1 with a 2.72 goals-against average in four home starts against the Coyotes, making 22 saves Dec. 10.

Varlamov was much better in a 4-3 win at Phoenix on Nov. 21, making 41 saves before Ryan O'Reilly scored with 41 seconds left in overtime.

O'Reilly is tied with Nathan MacKinnon with a team-leading 22 goals, scoring one while assisting on another Wednesday. The left wing has two goals and three assists in three home games, but only one in six against Phoenix.

Thomas Greiss stopped 29 of 30 shots for the Coyotes in that matchup, and he may get the starting nod after Mike Smith had 27 saves before allowing goals on two of four shootout attempts Thursday.

Greiss also owns a 1.25 GAA while winning all four of his games against Colorado, while Smith has dropped his last two while giving up eight goals on 58 shots.

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson is serving the last of his two-game suspension for his slash of Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders on Feb. 8. Nielsen was placed on injured reserve with a fractured left hand.