Tonight's game between the Colorado Avalanche and the Edmonton Oilers is significant for two reasons. One, it's Ryan Smyth's first game against his former team. Two, it could become the fifth straight road loss suffered by the Avalanche.
Despite losing every game they've played away from the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Avalanche team members are improving their performances each time. In the first game, they were shut out 4-0 by the Nashville Predators. They managed to score against the Blues in St. Louis but lost 4-1. Then, in Chicago, the Avalanche came back from a three-goal deficit only to get beaten in the final three minutes for a score of 5-3. Finally, two nights ago, the Avs again came from behind to tie the score, but still managed to lose 3-2. The good news is the final points deficit has decreased over the course of those four games: 4, 3, 2, 1. The bad news is, the NHL no longer allows ties.
Edmonton comes into tonight's game having lost five of their last six, and have reclaimed their familiar position at the bottom of the Northwestern Division standings with just six points in eight games.
The Avalanche isn't doing much better, having lost two straight games, all of their road games, and Milan Hejduk to a nagging back injury. Despite a strong 4-2 start, the Avs are now back to .500, familiar territory for a team that underachieved at the start of last season, too.
No word yet on whether or not Peter Budaj or Jose Theodore will (thankfully) start in net for Colorado, but there is no word on Hejduk, who is still listed as day-to-day. Defenseman Karlis Skrastins continues to be out with a shoulder injury. Youngster Kyle Cumiskey has been called up in his place but he will likely view the game from the press box as Jeff Finger takes the open spot on D.
[ADDENDUM: Speaking of D, as of today, Scott Hannan is second in the entire NHL among players on the ice for 5-on-5 goals against (10). His partner Brett Clark is fifth (9). Guess who are first and third, sandwiching Hannan? Lubomir Visnovski and Rob Blake, of the lousy-as-expected Kings. This is not good, for obvious reasons.]
Also no word on whether Jaroslav Hlinka will start scoring points again. He's had trouble offensively since being shuffled from the second line next to Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk around Game 3 or 4 of the season. He now has to work his magic with only guys like Wyatt Smith and Ben Guite to receive his passes. Obviously, that's a tall order for anyone. If Hejduk is out again, I'm hoping Coach Q sticks Hlinka back up with Son Of Stastny and Captain Canada. Andrew Brunette, Joe Sakic and either Marek Svatos or Wojtek Wolski can fill out the first line.
The game starts at 7:00 PM Mountain time (9:00 PM Eastern) and will air on CBC for all you Canadians. For the rest of us, Center Ice and Center Ice Online will carry the feed.
As usual, I'll be live blogging. Mike @ BBnR has been a loyal game-watching companion, but it gets lonely with just the two of us. Help us keep things interesting by joining in on the open thread fun!