DALLAS — The Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars have already met four times this season, but when these Central Division rivals square off Saturday night at American Airlines Center, it will be a different paradigm with both clubs playing their first game after the bye week.
Colorado (22-16-3) defeated Minnesota 7-2 at Pepsi Center on Jan. 6 for its fifth consecutive victory.
But Avalanche goaltender Jonathan Bernier, currently Colorado’s top netminder with Semyon Varlamov sidelined with a groin injury probably until the NHL All-Star break, doesn’t know what to expect in Colorado’s first game in a week.
“Yeah, it (the bye week) was great,” Bernier said on a radio show Friday. “Sometimes when you’re winning games, you don’t want to get a long break like this, but it’s good to recharge the batteries and get back at it.”
Colorado is 7-9-2 on the road and 7-2-1 over its last 10 games. But the Avalanche have split the four meetings against the Stars this season, winning 5-3 on Oct. 24 and 3-0 again on Nov. 22, but both those victories came at Pepsi Center.
Dallas (24-16-3, 51 points), who beat Edmonton 5-1 last Saturday at home, won the only meeting in Dallas, 3-1 on Oct. 14 and prevailed 7-3 in Denver on Dec. 3.
But Avalanche coach Jared Bednar feels confident about his team right now, especially with Bernier, a more than able backup netminder, stepping up in a big way during Varlamov’s recent absence.
“Johnathan Bernier has stepped up on a number of different occasions. I think his game’s getting better and better as the season goes on,” Bednar said on a SiriusXM NHL Network Radio on Friday.
“I think it was five games in a row he (Bernier) played and I think he went 4-1 for us, some real good games where he stood on his head and got us some points when we needed him. Hopefully he can continue with that. I’m glad to see him get an opportunity because he’s been patient, played well when he’s been in. We’re confident he can carry the load for us while (Varlamov) is out.”
Ben Bishop will start in goal Saturday for Dallas, but the Stars, who are 16-5-1 on home ice, will be without veteran defenseman Marc Methot (knee) for at least the next two weeks.
Methot, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Vegas, had returned from a 26-game absence on Jan. 4, but did not play two days later against Edmonton.
And after Methot did not practice Friday, Dallas’ first on-ice session since the bye week, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock offered a full explanation.
“(Methot) is out for a minimum of two weeks. He had another procedure done,” Hitchcock said. “We skated early in the week and there was still some soreness, so he had another procedure done to eliminate the soreness so that he can be hopefully like Hanzal where he’s 100 percent, but I can’t give you the exact date, but he’s going to be evaluated in about 10 days from now and then we’ll know the exact date that he’s going to be ready to play. He and us felt that he could play through what he’s got, but it wouldn’t be good long term, so we opted to get it done now.”
And with the Stars down to six healthy defensemen, Hitchcock said the organization will recall a young defenseman from AHL Texas.
“Yeah. I don’t know yet (who that will be),” Hitchcock said. “(General manager) Jim (Nill) is going to let you know on that one, but we’re going to certainly have one here hopefully for tomorrow’s game, and obviously, we’re going to need one for the road trip too.
“There’s a couple guys down there that are playing awful well. I think one of the problems is one of the guys that’s playing awful well has just come back from an injury himself, so we’ll see, but there are two guys that are really on top of their game right now, so we’ll see.”
Dallas practiced for around an hour on Friday, its first on-ice action in some six days.
And while the bye week had some therapeutic qualities for some players battling aches and pains, Hitchcock admitted much of the feedback he got from his roster on the week off was negative.
“I never talked to one guy today (Friday) that really enjoyed it,” Hitchcock said. “The comments I got from the players was it was too long. They love the breaks, but if it was more, shorter breaks, I think they would like it more. And it’s not the break itself, it’s trying to start up again. Today was a tough day getting started.”
Saturday will mark Dallas’ final home game for 10 days as the Stars depart on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip that will take them to Boston, Detroit, Columbus and Buffalo before returning home to host another East team, Florida, on Jan. 23, but even though his team remains a work-in-progress, Hitchcock likes how far the Stars have come and where they’re headed the rest of the way.
“I like where we’re at. I like what we’re doing and I like where we’re going,” Hitchcock said. “Who knows where this is going to take us to? We’ve got a long ways to go, but I like our attitude. We’ve really dug in and we’re proud of the way we play and we’re throwing it out there more games than we’re not right now.”