After a disappointing loss in Montreal last night, the Avalanche boarded a plane to Winnipeg and watched as their slim points lead over the Chicago Blackhawks evaporated into zero. Tonight they have an opportunity to respond with a win against a gritty divisional rival and potentially, retake their two point lead as the Hawks travel back to Chicago for their second game in as many nights against... the St. Louis Blues. Good luck with that one Hawks.
This pair of back-to-back games comes with a rich narrative for Avs fans when it comes to the man opening and closing the gate in a ball cap. Last night J.S. Giguere started what is likely one of his last games in an Avalanche uniform in his home town. While it's unfair to pin the loss on Giguere, there is no doubt that the former Conn Smythe winner looked a shadow of his former self. It seems fitting then that tonight he passes the crease over to newly acquired goaltender Reto Berra. This will be Berra's first start for the Avalanche, and though he has yet to appear in an Avalanche jersey, Roy and the front office have already shown great confidence in the developing net-minder, signing him to a 3-year contract extension last week.
The Bad Guys:
Last we met the Avalanche beat the Jets 3-2 when Matt Duchene scored in overtime. It was a hard fought, physical game, in which the Jets refused to give an inch, pushing as hard as possible for points towards the 8th and final Western Conference playoff spot. Now a week later the playoffs look out of reach for the Jets. Yes they are just 6 points back of 8th place Phoenix, but it seems unlikely that they could leapfrog over the Stars, Canucks, and Coyotes to sneak their way in. Unfortunately for the Avalanche, the Jets seem to have finally caught up with the rest of the NHL, realizing that Ondrej Pavelec is a terrible NHL goalie. The far superior Al Montoya has been getting the bulk of the work for Winnipeg lately and will likely start in net tonight.
The Good Guys:
It will be interesting to see how the Avalanche play this game, last time around they were physically abused by the Jets. P.A. Parenteau had his season ended by a hard (clean) open ice hit, Semyon Varlamov was run over 3 or 4 times in the game, and Nathan MacKinnon took a dirty elbow to the head from Jacob Trouba. Hey Trouba, you're a pretty good player, so next time MacKinnon schools your ass with the puck, suck it up and learn from it instead of throwing a gutless cheapshot at the head. Okay bud?
Unfortunately, if the Jets want to bring that rough and tumble game again, the Avalanche may struggle to stay in this one. Paul Stastny is one game back from a nagging back injury, Ryan O`Reilly is playing with an injured shoulder, Patrick Bordeleau may be playing with an injured foot, and the Avalanche lost John Mitchell to a back injury last night in Montreal after a very dangerous seated collision with the boards. Good news from Adrian Dater is that Mitchell was released from the hospital and traveled with the team to Winnipeg, but I think it's safe to say that he won't be suiting up for the Burgundy and Blue this afternoon. Speed is your game Avs and the Jets don't have it. Use it, score a few in the first, and take this one home for a winning road trip.
It's tough to say what Roy will do with Mitchell out of the lineup, he's been a versatile and reliable piece for the Avs this year. Roy is certainly not afraid to play 7D 11F and may choose to do so if he doesn't like what Paul Carey, the Avs' lone forward scratch, brings to the lineup. Tentative lines:
Jamie McGinn - Matt Duchene - Ryan O`Reilly
Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon
Cody McLeod - Marc Andre Cliche - Max Talbot
Patrick Bordeleau - Brad Malone - Paul Carey / Double Shifted Forward
Andre Benoit - Nick Holden
No announcement on the backup yet, but I'm guessing it's Semyon Varlamov.
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