What a year it’s been, this 2017.
The Avalanche are set to wrap up the calendar year with the second-worst record of all NHL teams (ahead of only the Vegas Golden Knights, who have played in half as many games) - but after finishing 20-plus points behind everyone else last season, they’ve made some serious strides this year.
Coming off of a confidence-boosting 4-3 overtime victory against Calvin Pickard and the Toronto Maple Leafs this weekend, Colorado will look to go out on a high note - but they’ll have to get through John Tavares and the New York Islanders to do it.
The biggest news, obviously, is that JT Compher is out for a bit with an injury.
Although he hasn’t been an unreal rookie, he’s still been a solid depth scoring option - and for a team that already lacks a bit of that necessary depth, losing him could seriously hurt.
It’s nice to see that Good Boy Nail Yakupov will get a chance to ring in the New Year on the heels of some ice time, since he’s projected to skate out on the second line (nice, since he missed the last game against Toronto). He’s been a bit inconsistent, but is clearly already improved compared to last season - so hopefully, he’ll have some of that crucial scoring that Erik Johnson mentioned he and the other depth players sometimes pull out when it’s needed most.
The defense is still without Tyson Barrie, but hopefully Nikita Zadorov will continue to play impressively in his absence. And while we aren’t sure yet who’s going to be in goal, it’s hard to imagine either will be able to definitively hold off John Tavares and company for all 60 minutes - so the question won’t be if they get scored on, but possibly how often.
The good news is that no matter who’s in goal for New York, Colorado still holds the statistical advantage.
It’s still somewhat unclear why the Islanders are having so many goaltending struggles this year, but the fact remains that both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss sit well below league average on the season. Even if Greiss (their projected starter) gets pulled - and with a .883 on the season so far, that’s not out of the realm of possibility - Halak only holds the edge over him with a .907 in all situations. Even Varlamov, who hasn’t been incredible, is outpacing them both.
Arthur Staple (the de facto Islanders news guru) missed the team’s practice yesterday due to what sounded on Twitter like flight delays, so the lines we have here are from the 29th.
These lines, of course, are a harsh reminder that although the Islanders lack good goaltending, they have horrifically good forward depth for a team not currently considered a Stanley Cup favorite. Any time Brock Nelson is relegated to be your third-line center, you know there’s talent to spare.
Watch for Mathew Barzal to continue pacing the rookie scoring race, where he, Clayton Keller, and Brock Boeser are setting the Calder standard through the first half of the season. It’s possible that Barzal, like Boeser, is going to see his numbers take a dip over the second half of the season (they both boast inflated shooting percentages so far), he’s still a lethal threat to the Avalanche.
Their defense is a little less shiny, with no obvious top-tier candidates, but it’s still a serviceable lineup.
HOW TO WATCH
You can catch the game on either Altitude TV or MSG+ tonight at 6:00 PM MST.