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Morning Flurries: NHL upside-down night and Game Day for the Avalanche

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As we prepare for the Avalanche matinee game, here’s a look back at the insanity that was Saturday night

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Game Day!

Since we’ve got a nice early game here, this should serve as both your preview for the game and a look at the links you know you want to peruse before puck drop. Sorry for the laziness (except, well, not really; I’m tired, and this is what ya get).

The Avalanche were absolutely throttled in their most recent game, dropping a 6-1 decision to the Winnipeg Jets in a disappointing effort all around.

As they head into the Sunday afternoon game against the Edmonton Oilers, though, the team has plenty going for them:

THE AVS

The biggest thing going here is that Nathan MacKinnon will make his return after a lengthy absence for injury.

He’s not the first Avalanche player to take a trip to the injured list, but he’s been by far the most crucial - and it’s shown in a struggle to win games in his stead, with the team failing to record consistent scoring in front of some up-and-down goaltending.

His return should single-handedly give the team the kid of boost that they need to take home a win, and that’s not even a joke.

In net, Semyon Varlamov is projected to get the nod, so he’ll get a chance to see if scoring in front of him can earn him the win he deserves - but after a few excellent starts, he let in some stinkers against Winnipeg and will need to prove he’s back on top with what amounts to a must-win for the Avalanche. Jonathan Bernier is going through concussion protocol, so the team needs a rock-solid performance from Varlamov to avoid Andrew Hammond making his team debut in a dire situation.

THE OILERS

Christ almighty, the Oilers.

I’m not sure if the team is prepared to sell off everyone not named Connor McDavid or if they’re still in buyer mode, and I’m not sure if they know, either,

Edmonton will head into Sunday’s game with a miserable 1-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes fresh on their minds, and they’re bound to be more than a bit exhausted in the second leg of a back-to-back - done in the middle of the day, nonetheless. It’s a real shitty hand they’ve been dealt by the NHL, and it may end up incredibly ugly.

Cam Talbot had one of his better games this year on Saturday afternoon, allowing just one goal to Arizona on 32 shots for a .969 save percentage in all situations.

He’s been inconsistent all year, though, and the team seems to inexplicably be planned to have him start on the back half of their road back-to-backs to set up the perfect storm for an absolute collapse.

On the roster, the Oilers have now seen Milan Lucic spend about as many consecutive games not scoring as the New Jersey Devils have seen Taylor Hall put up a point streak, so that’s a thing. Not sure what else to say, other than that they seem to want Oliver Ekman-Larsson for what would likely be a comically high price - which tells you everything you need to know about the shape they’re in right now.

Normally, a team just six points out of 31st in the league wouldn’t even be considered buyers, but here we are. If Colorado can’t beat them handily, that’s a warning sign - Connor McDavid or no.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

The Oilers have one of the most talented players in the world on their roster in Connor McDavid, and another of the league’s most elite young forwards in Leon Draisaitl. So why can’t they seem to win to save their lives?

It could be that they dealt away Taylor Hall for a solid stay-at-home defenseman (but nothing amazing), seriously short-changing themselves after relinquishing one of the NHL’s top scoring wingers. It could be that they overpaid Milan Lucic to be a passenger on the wing, or that they traded away first-round picks for Griffin Reinhart (who can’t even make the Vegas NHL roster now after being given up for free just two summers later). It could also be that they dealt Jordan Eberle and his 20 goals for Ryan Strome, who has been a mercurial fit so far, or that their goaltending has been struggling all year.

Whatever it is, though, they were held goalless against Arizona on Saturday night, and they still haven’t hit 50 points on the season. Colorado doesn’t get many ‘gimme’ games this year, but this has to be one of them.

Puck drop at 1:00 MST. Game will be available on Altitude.

What you missed last night:

The Avalanche are deep in the thick of things in the Western Conference Wild Card race, but what does their upcoming schedule do to affect that? [Mile High Hockey]

Ty Lewis is having himself a year, in some prospect news! [MHH]

Speaking of people having themselves a year, Denver really is on a roll. Check out the latest recap on their winning ways. [MHH]

Do you believe that juicy rebounds can be intentional? Get inside the minds of the league’s best with a look at how goaltenders control the puck. [NHL.com]

Who remembers Martin Erat? He’s currently doing Olympic things, as is Jonas Hiller:

The Vancouver Canucks are wallowing at the bottom of the standings with the Oilers and the Coyotes - so naturally, they beat out the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, delivering a 6-1 walloping to the third-place team. [Canucks Army]

Speaking of backwards wallopings, the high-flying Washington Capitals were 33-17-7 going into their game Saturday. So naturally, the Chicago Blackhawks broke an eight-game losing streak when they put up a 7-1 win of their own. Parity, eh? [Second City Hockey]

Finally, time to address something embarrassing.

The Blackhawks took home an incredible win - much deserved by their young backup goaltender, and with some excellent scoring and chippy play.

After a fight between Chicago’s Connor Murphy and Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly, though, Smith-Pelly - who is black - was sitting in the penalty box when some fans decided they would take it upon themselves to taunt him a bit more. And they took it... six miles too far:

If you missed the game, here’s a picture of the fallout, before the ‘fans’ were sent out on their asses:

Capitals head coach Barry Trotz had some choice words to say about the incident, and the Blackhawks had to release a formal statement, stating that they don’t condone that kind of behaviour and that they hope to promote a more inclusionary environment.

Look: this isn’t being shown to say ‘hey look, Blackhawks fans are garbage!’ because a couple of racist scumbags are not the voice of an entire fanbase. I am a half-Jewish, half First-Nations woman who went from goalie coach to parent who only gets to write about the position, and in my contracted work with the team this year, I’ve had nothing but positive interactions regarding my video analysis. Maybe The Athletic holds their commenters and subscribers to a higher standard, but my belief is that many Blackhawks fans are diverse, inclusionary, and good people.

This is being shown, though, because this is a goddamn problem, and I hope that the secondhand embarrassment everyone feels for these ‘fans’ serves as a wake-up call.

February is both Black History Month and Hockey is for Everyone Month - and Sunday is HIFE Day for Colorado themselves - and yet a couple of spectators were bold enough to not only throw racial insults at a player of color, they were bold enough to do it in public and while seated near constant video recording.

If these people were bold enough to do this - and the ‘fans’ that hurl racial slurs at Wayne Simmonds are bold enough to throw bananas on the ice, and the ‘fans’ that hang racist dolls of PK Subban are bold enough to do it out in public venues - we all need to remember that for every person who does this in such a public manner, there are probably five or six hundred others at the very LEAST who are being equally discriminatory in a much quieter environment. Let this be the reminder of exactly why we have Hockey is for Everyone Month - because right now, that’s sadly still not entirely the case. And if you aren’t sure how, here’s a good example from a black author and hockey player why: