As we say good bye to 2018, the Colorado Avalanche have one more game to lessen the pain of a December to forget.
The Avalanches have now lost four in a row and eight of their last ten games. The comfortable cushion the Avs had in the Central Division standings has now disappeared as they sit only two points up on the Dallas Stars - who currently hold the last playoff spot in the west.
Tonight Colorado will host a Los Angeles Kings team that sits dead last in the entire NHL, so this one is as close to must-win as you can get in December.
Jared Bednar continues to shake up his lines in the hunt to look for a spark. With all of Colin Wilson, Mark Barberio, and Nikita Zadorov skating in red no-contact jerseys at practice, and Matt Nieto taking a “maintenance day”, the lines are in a major flux.
We might see Tyson Jost on the top line against the Kings — I would personally like to see that — or Nieto might reclaim that spot he’s held for a short time. Who plays on the fourth line? Thos questions have yet to be answered, but hopefully we will know by morning skate, or at the latest, the pre-game warmups.
On defense, there’s not much that can be done as a result of the lack of depth. Neither one of Zadorov or Barberio appear to be coming back soon, not at least until they are able to participate in a full practice.
Around 5pm local on Sunday night, we got news that right winger Logan O’Connor has been called up by the team. O’Connor has nine goals, seven assists, for 16 points in 29 AHL games with the Colorado Eagles. This is O’Connor’s first season in professional hockey; he spent three seasons playing at the University of Denver before signing as a college free agent this past July. The recall of the 22-year-old finally gives the Avalanche a 13th forward. He is most-likely Nieto’s injury replacement, or in case someone else gets hurt. Hey, I wonder if he gets a chance with MacKinnon?
Tyson Jost - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog - Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher
Sheldon Dries - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
Sven Andrighetto - Gabriel Bourque - ????
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Ryan Graves
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are bad, but they’ve won four of their past five games against some really good teams (Winnipeg, San Jose, and Vegas to name three). Part of me still worries that they’re going to see their top guys get hot and cause a lot of problems for the rest of the conference.
The Kings lineup is also seeing some changes. Center Michael Amadio was sent back down to the Ontario Reign on Sunday, and defenseman Dion Phaneuf is making his return to the lineup following an upper-body injury. As a result, the fourth line and defense core is in flux.
Phaneuf took part in a skate after practice and will return to the lineup during the upcoming back-to-back, potentially tomorrow in Denver. "He says he’s ready," Desjardins said.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) December 30, 2018
A silver lining in all this is that it’s been great to see Dan Rosen get mad at salty Kings fans who don’t know what to do with their hands.
What are you expecting? This is the 31st place team in the league. There are two active players claimed off waivers. The 2013-14 Kings aren't walking through that door.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) December 28, 2018
Alex Iafallo - Anze Kopitar - Dustin Brown
Adrian Kempe - Jeff Carter - Tyler Toffoli
Ilya Kovalchuk - Nate Thompson - Brendan Leipsic
Austin Wagner - Kyle Clifford - Matt Luff (who?)
Derek Forbert - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Sean Walker
Oscar Fantenberg - Paul Laude
Semyon Varlamov has been confirmed at the start multiple times heading into the game, so there’s that. Philipp Grubauer has been good this season, but has had a really tough stretch with Varly out. Hopefully having him back will help turn things around.
Jonathan Quick is the projected starter for the Kings. In 16 games this season, Quick has a 5-9-2 record, a .904 save percentage (which is below the league average) and a shutout.