Pesce will miss Hurricanes' matchup with Avalanche

DENVER -- The NHL season is a six-month grind, and teams sometimes have tired legs when they are playing their third game in four nights.

Then there are those pockets where clubs have extended breaks and they can rest. When the Carolina Hurricanes visit the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, it will be a matchup of teams that fall into the latter category.

The Hurricanes (4-4-2) haven't played since a shootout loss at home to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, while the Avalanche (6-5-0) have been idle since Saturday, when they beat the Chicago Blackhawks. It is a quirk in the schedule to have two well-rested teams facing each other, so rust instead of fatigue might be an issue at the start.

Health is another issue for the Hurricanes. Forward Brett Pesce didn't make the two-game road trip after he sustained a concussion during practice Tuesday. He was hit in the head with a puck when it rode up his stick, and he was put in the concussion protocol.

It's a blow to the Hurricanes because Pesce has been an offensive bright spot. He likely will be replaced by Klas Dahlbeck, who has played only two games this season.

Pesce's injury came a day after the team optioned Janne Kuokkanen to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL.

The absence of Pesce gives other players a chance to step up, including second-year forward Sebastian Aho, who is looking for his first goal of the season. As a rookie, he went the first 13 games without finding the net but then finished with 24 goals, second on the team.

He isn't worried about not getting one in the first 10 games.

"I think I've played better and better every day, and I think the goals are coming," Aho told the Charlotte Observer after practice Tuesday. "I just need to stay positive. Just relax my game. Obviously, work hard, but still when I get the chances, just relax."

The Avalanche won't have many chances to show they have improved over last year, when they finished last in the NHL with 48 points. Colorado is in the midst of a three-week stretch in which it plays three games in 12 days and five over the next 17.

A big reason for the gaps in the schedule is they will travel to Sweden next week for two games against the Ottawa Senators. After playing the Hurricanes on Thursday, the Avalanche travel to the East Coast for a couple of games before flying across the Atlantic.

"I don't like it, but it's what we've been given," center Matt Duchene told the Denver Post about the time off. "We play five games the next three weeks or something crazy? I like to get into a rhythm. This feels like the preseason right now. You just have to try to get better at practice."

Colorado defenseman Nikita Zadorov is trying to get better and back in the good graces of coach Jared Bednar. Zadorov has been a healthy scratch the last two games after Bednar was unhappy with his play.

"He's got a lot of potential and he's been scratched just based on performance," Bednar told HockeyBuzz.com. "We've liked what we've seen from some other guys a little more consistently than we've liked what we've seen from 'Z' so far this year."

With so few games on the schedule, Zadorov might be sitting for a while.

Updated November 2, 2017

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