After an incredibly impressive road trip through the Metropolitan Division, the Colorado Avalanche return home tonight to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It’s often the case that teams returning from a road trip see a let down in their first game back at home. Luckily for the Avalanche, their opponent tonight is one of the most dynamic teams in the league, so it shouldn’t be hard to get up for the game.
Having won three games in a row, this is the position in which last year’s Avalanche team would take a step back. Let’s see if things have changed. The top line has been outstanding, but tonight the secondary players are going to have to step up as Tampa boasts one of the deepest rosters in the NHL.
The Avs are looking to end a three game losing streak against the Lightning.
The Avalanche forward group consists of the best line in hockey, but after that...yikes.
The line of MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen have score 20 of the team’s 33 goals this season and are all near the top of the NHL scoring race. What makes is even more impressive is that they’re doing it at even-strength and on the road.
Last year, Nathan MacKinnon was incredible at the Pepsi Center, but once the team went on the road and coach Bednar couldn’t work the matchups, MacKinnon’s production dropped off significantly. That hasn’t been the case this season.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for the forward group. The coaches have been mixing and matching the lines in an effort to find a way to spark production - it hasn’t worked. On Monday night in Philly, Tyson Jost was moved down to the 4th line and played a season low 11:16.
Jost’s offensive play has been underwhelming again this season and if he’s not helping to produce secondary scoring, this team is going to have some trouble. At some point, he top line is going to slow down and when that happens, the Avs could be in some trouble.
To compound issues, the Avalanche are still looking for their first goal from a defender this season.
On the flip side, the team’s defense has looked great so far this season. Sam Girard and Erik Johnson have become a legitimate top pair. At only 20-years old, Sam Girard leads the team in even strength ice time, and he’s going so while lining up against the opposition’s top opponents most shift.
Coming into the season, I said this could be one of the best bluelines in the league and so far they are proving that to be the case as the Avalanche currently have the second fewest goals against in the Western Conference.
We aren’t expected to see any lineup changes tonight, so Mark Barberio and Vladislav Kamenev are likely to remain in the press box.
J.T. Compher is still out of the lineup as he works his way back from a head injury.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Sven Andrighetto - Alexander Kerfoot - Colin Wilson
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Marko Dano - Tyson Jost - Gabriel Bourque
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Nikita Zadorov
From @GeoFitz4 of Raw Charge:
Even with a 5-1-1 start, it seems like the Lightning haven’t gotten as much media talk because of the slow start to their schedule and due to the fact that they haven’t been flashy about their start like the Toronto Maple Leafs. Nor was it an unexpected start like Vancouver or Montreal.
After the slow start to their schedule, the Lightning are in the midst of playing 14 games over 29 days and are starting to get into a rhythm. The penalty kill has been one of the big talking points since it was perfect for the first 28 times short handed before giving one up late to Chicago on Sunday. After being horrible last season, a lot of the penalty kill has been about limiting shot quality as well as some hot goaltending.
The power play on the other hand started off slow, but has picked it up after the first couple games. As much talent as there is up front, the second power play unit is just as dangerous as the first unit with Stamkos and Kucherov. The first unit has three goals, two from J.T. Miller and one from Alex Killorn, and the second unit has four goals, three from Yanni Gourde and one from Brayden Point.
The new-comer on the team to keep your eye on is third line right winger Mathieu Joseph. He’s only picked up one assist, a short handed one, but he’s been getting his chances. He’s averaging just under two shots on goal per game with an average of just 12:51 TOI. He’s got speed to burn and it would be interesting to see how he would stack up in the Fastest Skater Challenge at the All-Star Game against Connor McDavid. Numerous times over the start of the season we’ve seen defensemen ease up heading back to an iced puck, only to have it waved off as Joseph comes charging in to beat them to the puck. He has great hockey IQ to go with his speed and has been a contributor to the penalty kill. His skills aren’t high end enough to see him really doing damage offensively. But his work ethic will keep him in the NHL and has provided a nice energy to the bottom six. Also keep an eye on his fellow rookie center Anthony Cirelli (one of Tom’s favorite junior players of all time) who has high hockey IQ, a motor that never stops, and a decent enough shot. They’re paired up with veteran top-six left winger Alex Killorn who continues to lose his battle with gravity every game.
Gourde - Point - Stamkos
Palat - Johnson - Kucherov
Killorn - Cirelli - Joseph
Miller - Paquette - Callahan
Hedman - Girardi
Sergachev - Stralman
Coburn - McDonagh
Still undefeated in regulation this season, we are going tosee Semyon Varlamov in net again tonight. He has looked great this season and seems to be fully healthy for the first time in a long while. Varly comes into the game sitting fourth in the NHL with a .953 sv%.
For the Bolts, we are expected to see Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes. He comes in with a 3-1-1 record and a .933 sv% through the early part of the season.