It’s been a rough few weeks for the Colorado Avalanche.
The team is nowhere close to the position they were in at this point last year, when the club was the worst in the league by a country mile. They should not only finish out of dead last, but far from the bottom-dwellers - that is, if they can return to the level of play they exhibited prior to their last handful of games.
Colorado is just 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, though, and they most recently dropped a 4-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres - who are, for lack of better words, the league’s 2017-18 Colorado Avalanchen - as a part of their current three-game losing streak.
In comparison, the Lightning currently look like the NHL’s most lethal franchise.
They’re leading the league with 19 wins and 40 points, and are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games. No club has scored more than their 101 goals so far this year, and they boast the third-lowest goals against with just 69 (compared to Colorado’s 86, which is far from the top of the league).
Colorado will have to hope that the return to Landeskog will jump-start their offense, but this certainly won’t be an easy win.
GABRIEL LANDESKOG - NATHAN MACKINNON - MIKKO RANTANEN
TYSON JOST - ALEXANDER KERFOOT - JT COMPHER
MATT NIETO - CARL SODERBERG - BLAKE COMEAU
SVEN ANDRIGHETTO - COLIN WILSON
NIKITA ZADOROV - ERIK JOHNSON
PATRIK NEMETH - TYSON BARRIE
SAMUEL GIRARD - MARK BARBERIO
The team is returning to trying out the ‘kid line’, icing Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot, and JT Compher together - likely in hopes to kick-starting Compher, who has looked sluggish in his last few games.
It’s great to see Landeskog back in the lineup after his latest suspension, which should hopefully help the top line out; while MacKinnon has far and away been the best forward on the team so far, the trio of him, Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen has been another level altogether.
Head coach Jared Bednar has scratched Nail Yakupov again, and will ice seven defensemen instead - but the real player to watch for is Mark Barberio, who will return to the lineup after getting scratched for his own subpar play.
In net, Varlamov will get a chance to improve his current record, which is an 8-6-1 with a less-than-ideal .905 save percentage in all situations.
Vlad Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Slater Koekkoek - Dan Girardi
Projected starter: Peter Budaj
Few teams in the NHL look like they can go up head-to-head against the Lightning, and it shows in their record. They’ve only lost six games in regulation so far this year, and it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down any time soon.
It’s good news for Colorado that goaltender Peter Budaj will take the net, as he’s the backup for Tampa Bay (and not their potential Vezina-worthy up-and-comer). After having an excellent renaissance year with goaltending coach Dusty Imoo in Los Angeles, he’s back to posting sub-.900 numbers, so this could be where the Avalanche jump out ahead.
Still, there’s no guarantees. With Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov split up to create more scoring depth, and a trio of Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and Mikhail Sergachev all on the blue line, they remain a serious risk.
To read more about them, check out the Raw Charge game preview.