Game 39 Preview: Avs vs. Jackets

USA TODAY Sports

The Avs and Jackets meet for the first time this season at 6 PM tonight.

Last Meetings:

The Avs haven't played the Blue Jackets since their move to the East. However, last year, the Avs lost both times to the Jackets in OT, recording a 2-1 CBJ score on March 3rd and a 4-3 CBJ tally on April 15th.

Columbus Storylines:

As mentioned, the Jackets moved to the Eastern Conference this year. They're currently outside of the playoff picture with 38 points in 39 games and sit 12 overall. However, due to the new division setup, a win tonight would tie them with Philly, the Rangers, and New Jersey for 3rd in the Metro. Those teams all have more ROWs than Columbus does, but CBJ's still very much in the playoff hunt thanks to their weak division. This is almost a must-win game for them tonight to keep them in that race though.

Their last game was played on Sunday and resulted in a 5-3 loss to the Penguins. Dubinksy, Tropp, and Nikitin had the goals for the Jackets in the loss. The team is now 5-4-1 in their last 10GP, so they'll be looking for a bounceback today in Denver.

Columbus's current leading scorer is Ryan Johansen, a 21-year-old and former 4th overall pick from 2010. He has 30 Pts in 39 games played. Brandon Dubinsky, a key part of the Nash trade, currently sits in second with 25Pts, and Nick Foligno is in 3rd with 21 pts. Their scoring is largely done by committee, with Johansen, Foligno, Umberger, Atkinson, and Ansimov all with 10 goals. However, only Dubinksy and Gaborik have more than 4.

This is a young team, with an average age of only 26. They're second behind only WPG as the youngest in the league. To make matters worse, their injury list to veteran players is starting to pile up. RW Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone), RW Nathan Horton (shoulder surgery), RW Jared Boll (foot), D Dalton Prout (upper body), and G Sergei Bobrovsky (leg) will all be out tonight. LW Matt Calvert is questionable with an upper body injury. They'll be relying heavily on their young players against the Avs.

Brandon Dubinsky has 9 points in his last 9 games, so he'll be one to watch for tonight. Boone Jenner, Jack Johnson, Artem Anisimov, and Ryan Johansesn are also on hot streaks. The team has gone 7-3-1 since losing Bobrovsky, so this could easily be a trap game for the Avs.

The Jackets are 4-6-1 against the West.

Colorado Storylines:

The Avs haven't had a W since Dec. 19 against the Oilers. They've still managed to pick up 3 points in the subsequent 4 games, but the lost points are starting to pile up. December has not been a great month for the team, who have amassed a 4-5-4 record in their past 13 games. A win tonight would take them back to .500 on the month (and no, I don't count loser points as wins).

Colorado is also in the playoff race, but unlike the Jackets, they're on the inside and hoping to stay there. Both Dallas and Minnesota are 5 points back in the Central, so a win tonight would help widen the gap between 3rd and 4th/5th in the division and eat into the 7 pt lead St. Louis has created for 2nd.

This is the second of a 7 game homestand for the Avs. They lost a heartbreaker against the Jets with 1 second left in OT on Sunday, and after the Jackets, the Flyers, Sharks, Flames, Senators, and Islanders come to town. The consensus seems to be that anything less than 10 of 14 possible points on this stretch would be a disappointment, so the club really needs to pick up some points tonight.

Matt Duchene is our scoring leader with 34 pts in 35 GP, and two goals this evening would bring him to 100 in his career and back to a PPG rate. Landeskog is second on the team with 27pts and O'Reilly in 3rd with 25, but Stastny, Parenteau, and MacKinnon are also all over 20 points on the year. As a team, the Avs have scored 3 more goals than Columbus but allowed 15 fewer. Erik Johnson also has 4 goals in his past 7 games and had some great chances last game, so he'll be one to keep an eye on for the Jackets.

The Avs depth took a hit on Sunday when RW PA Parenteau went down with a leg injury. He is not expected to play tonight. LW Alex Tanguay is also out with a hip injury, although he's expected to start skating within the week.

Perhaps the biggest story with the Avs has been goaltending. Both Varlamov and Giguere have been outstanding, posting a 2.35 GAA and .927% for Varly and 2.51 GAA and .918% for Jiggy. Apart from a few really bad games, both netminders have been consistently strong this year. Patrick Roy's defensive system has helped them out, but the team is still allowing too many shots. However, this is a fairly young team too that's still ironing out some wrinkles. The growth this year has been impressive, but there's still room to grow.

The Avs are 8-3-0 against the East. Only Dallas has played fewer games against that conference. Considering how the West has been feeding off the East this year, that bodes very well for us and could allow us to put more distance between ourselves and the rest of the division if we capitalize on the chance.

Games Played Against the East:

DAL - 10

COL - 11

CHI, SJS - 13

STL, WPG, PHX - 15

LAK, CGY - 16

MIN, NSH, VAN - 19

EDM - 20

ANA - 22

Projected Lines:

Columbus:

Nick Foligno - Ryan Johansen - R.J. Umberger

Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Cam Atkinson

Jack Skille - Derek MacKenzie - Blake Comeau

Boone Jenner - Mark Letestu - Corey Tropp

Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson

Ryan Murray - James Wisniewski

Nikita Nikitin - David Savard

Curtis McElhinney

Mike McKenna

Colorado:

Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Ryan O'Reilly

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon

Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Max Talbot

Brad Malone - Marc-Andre Cliche - Patrick Bordeleau

Erik Johnson - Jan Hejda

Cory Sarich - Andre Benoit

Tyson Barrie - Ryan Wilson

Semyon Varalamov

JS Giguere

Game Time:

Puckdrop is at 6 PM MT

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