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Three's Company: Game 20- Caps @ Avs

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The Avalanche (6-8-5) return home looking to earn their third straight win against the Capitals (8-7-3) without their star goalie, Semyon Varlamov.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

It's been awhile since last game, but it's now officially the quarter mark of the season.

Last Saturday the Avs defeated the Devils 3-2 in Jersey to earn back-to-back victories for the first time this season. Their reward, if you can call it that was four days off. While I'm sure the rest was good, the result was that a lot of teams ahead of the Avs played games and won them. Entering Thursday, the Avs find themselves five points out of a playoff spot. If the Avs want to shrink that gap, they have to start stringing together some victories. What better way than to make it three straight on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the Avs will be without their star goaltenderSemyon Varlamov will miss the chance to play against his former team Thursday due to a re-aggravation of the groin injury that kept him out earlier this season. Reto Berra will get the action in net while Varlamov (listed "day-to-day") recovers. Call-up, Calvin Pickard will serve as the back-up. Varlamov wasn't the only injury news to come out this week though. The Avs have also loss veteran defenseman, Ryan Wilson for the rest of the year. Wilson will undergo shoulder surgery, ending his season. While the surgery is bad news for the impending free agent, Wilson, it may spell good news for one of the Avs' defensive prospects, as it will open up a roster spot once Varlamov is off the med.

The Avs' opponent Thursday night is the Washington Capitals. After a couple of loses, the Capitals bounced back with a 2-1 OT victory in Arizona on Tuesday night (Seriously? Arizona again? Every time I preview!). After a less than extraordinary season last year, the Capitals seem to be heading in a similar direction so far this season, despite the addition of long time Nashville Predators coach, Barry Trotz. While no one can really argue that the Caps have been a bad team these past couple years, it's hard to argue that they've been very good either. Even after all their offseason changes, the Capitals continue to be an average team. The Capitals star though, Alex Ovechkin continues to shine at point-per-game pace. Those points, however, haven't been coming in the usual onslaught of goals. Despite leading the league in shots, the four-time Rocket Richard winner currently sits tied for 13th in the NHL in goals and six tallies behind first place, Tyler Seguin. But beware, with all of those shots, Ovechkin could get hot at any moment.

LINES

O'Reilly-Duchene-Tanguay

Landeskog-Mitchell-Iginla

McGinn-MacKinnon-Briere

McLeod-Cliche-Talbot

Hejda-Johnson

Guenin-Barrie

Holden-Redmond

Berra

Pickard

QUESTIONS

Q: Can Berra step up in Varly's absence?

A: Berra has been pretty solid in the handful of games he's played so far this year. He's 2-1-1 and has a save percentage just .004 less than Varly. Though he is a drop off from the Avs' HART and soul from last season, he's not a bad back-up. With the Avs' next three opponents all in the bottom third in the NHL, it's not such a bad time to have to play him either.

Q: Will the Avs call-up a defenseman?

A: It's hard to say. Roy seems pretty committed to the group he already has in place, despite the fact that players such as Nate Guenin continue to make alarming errors. With Stuart out for awhile and Wilson out for the year, I wouldn't be completely surprised to see a guy like Stefan Elliott come up for a game or two or even see Roy give a young guy like Duncan Siemens a chance to prove himself at the NHL level. Injuries tend to open up opportunities for others to shine. It worked for Holden last year. Who gets their chance this year?

Q: Who is the next Avalanche Hall-of-Famer?

A: On Monday, former Avalanche greats Rob Blake and Peter Forberg entered the Hockey Hall of Fame. Many of you saw my article accrediting Peter Forsberg for his inspiration on my own hockey career. But those players time has come and gone. The question now is who will be the next former Avalanche in the HHoF? While I personally feel Adam Foote deserves some recognition for his influence on the game, I doubt he'll be immortalized in Toronto. The easy answer to this question is Jarome Iginla, but what about the young guys? Who has that future-hall-of-famer flash. If we're talking right now (MacKinnon will get there in time), I say it's the Avs' MVP so far this season, Matt Duchene. Duchene has taken the step into super-stardom this year. While his point totals don't even get him into the top-50 right now, I firmly believe Duchene will be a top-ten point producer before the season ends. Another interesting candidate is the man who is currently tied with Duchene for the team lead in points, Tyson BarrieTied for third in the NHL in defensive assists, I think Barrie will be a cornerstone of this Avalanche franchise and could quite possibly be a hall-of-famer at the end of his career if he continues to produce like he has.

GAME INFO

Game Time: 7pm, MT

TV: ALT, SN360