The Colorado Avalanche were given a softball one-two punch of games heading into the holiday break.
With the floundering Chicago Blackhawks at home first and then the offense-starved Arizona Coyotes the next night, it was about as easy of a schedule as the team could have gotten on a back-to-back.
But then, the Blackhawks started top goaltending prospect Collin Delia, who turned aside all eight Nathan MacKinnon shots and 35 of 36 total shots faced to pull off an impressive 2-1 win for Chicago. Now, Colorado will have to face off against the Coyotes having put in more effort than expected the night prior, and with a handful of recent absences to the lineup.
The Coyotes are injury-riddled themselves, but it’s far from how the Avalanche wanted to get their freebie pass.
Pavel Francouz recall is for backup purposes. Semyon Varlamov is sick.— Ryan Boulding (@rboulding) December 22, 2018
Philip Grubauer will get the start at the Coyotes in the final game before the holiday break.
Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Compher - Kerfoot - Jost
Nieto - Soderberg - Calvert
Andrighetto - Dries - Bourque
Girard - Johnson
Cole - Barrie
Nemeth - Alt
The Avalanche have been reasonably healthy recently, but lost Colin Wilson during the second period of their game against Chicago last night - and now he’s on injured reserve, which leaves Sheldon Dries taking up a spot in the lineup on Saturday.
The good news is that the top line produced shot-wise against the Blackhawks, and a lackluster goaltending performance would have put them easily over their opponents. If the Coyotes can’t put up a top performance on Saturday night, the game could quickly fall in favor of the Avalanche to take home at least two points in the back-to-back.
The bad news, though, is that Semyon Varlamov is sick, and that leaves Grubauer to start again. Although he had a good performance on Friday night, it’s never ideal to play a goaltender in both games - and if he falters, there’s no historic basis of performance from rookie Pavel Francouz to count on.
Galchenyuk - Schmaltz - Fischer
Panik - Stepan - Keller
Cousins - Richardson - Archibald
Crouse - Kempe - Garland
Ekman-Larsson - Goligoski
Hjalmarsson - Chychrun
Connauton - Lyubushkin
Arizona has lost a big chunk of the team’s most effective players to long-term injury already, leaving them right where they were in December of last season.
Top-pairing defender Jason Demers is out with a leg injury, likely to miss the rest of the season. So are Christian Dvorak, who is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, and Antti Raanta, who suffered a knee injury during rehab for another absence.
They’ve had Vinnie Hinostroza out for a chunk of time with an ankle injury and Michael Grabner missing games for a severe eye injury suffered at the hands of a high stick, Alex Galchenyuk floating in and out of the lineup with minor injuries, and . now a small tweak for Nick Schmaltz that caused the highly-touted center to sit out of practice earlier in the week. Add in the stretch that backup goaltender Darcy Kuemper missed last month — from which he still doesn’t seem fully recovered — and it’s been a long season already for the desert dogs.
The Coyotes’ second line, with Derek Stepan flanked by Clayton Keller and Richard Panik, was particularly impressive last season - but they’ve been separated for chunks of this year, as Keller tests out the top line with Nick Schmaltz and Panik occasionally serves as a healthy scratch. Schmaltz has been effective so far, but hasn’t been able to get his team over the hump - and while Oliver Ekman-Larsson still has brilliant stretches, he’s struggled without Demers as his partner on the ice.
The biggest question mark will be Hill, who has done well in limited appearances but starts to falter with too many games played in a row.