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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Feel the Bern

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Jonathan Bernier gets the nod against the San Jose Sharks

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After the Avalanche went on their impressive 10-game win streak, the team has fallen back to earth a bit lately.

Things came to a head in their last game, when the Avalanche allowed starter Semyon Varlamov to be absolutely shelled in their 3-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

On one hand, Nathan MacKinnon was out; on the other, the rest of the roster was unable to find a way to score. Now, with another star forward possibly missing the game, it looks like the fate of the team rests with Jonathan Bernier’s ability to hold back the offense in tonight’s matchup against the San Jose Sharks.

THE AVALANCHE

The biggest piece that’s missing from the lineup is MacKinnon, who is one of the league’s most potent offensive threats this year.

In a stroke of impossibly bad luck, though, it appears that when it rains in Denver, it really pours; Mikko Rantanen, their second-best offensive weapon, is a game-time decision himself. He wasn’t on the ice for morning skate, and we won’t know more until puck drop.

Head coach Jared Bednar has confirmed that Nail Yakupov was moved up the lines in an attempt to spark offense, which is excellent news for the Russian-born winger. After a tough couple years between the Oilers and the St. Louis Blues, it appears that he’s finally getting his groove back, and that could help the Avalanche if he builds on the faith Bednar has in him.

On defense, there’s a huge return in Tyson Barrie, who will make his way back after a hand injury suffered against the Arizona Coyotes December 23rd.

In his absence, the defensive corps has been surprisingly efficient, but they’ve started to wear down a bit in the last few games. Getting him back is a relief because it clearly brings back a ton of talent, but also because it gives guys like Nikita Zadorov a bit of a break after a tough month.

THE SHARKS

Just as the Avalanche are living life without MacKinnon, the Sharks are adjusting to life without Joe Thornton due to an injury of his own - and they’re already working on their first season in nearly 20 years without Patrick Marleau.

It’s hard to imagine San Jose as anything but a lethal offensive threat, but they’ve been incredibly weak this year. Brent Burns has just nine goals and 44 points, a steep drop-off from last season; no other player has hit 40 points so far this year (for perspective: Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington, and Colorado all have three players with 40+ points, both Dallas and Las Vegas have four, and the Islanders have five, while Pittsburgh and Philadelphia both have three with 50+ points).

On defense, though, the Sharks have been incredibly impressive. Just eight teams have allowed fewer goals against this year, and they still boast a 1-2 punch of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski up the middle. That’s pretty tough to work against, even without Jumbo Joe.

STARTING GOALIES

The Sharks are projected to start Martin Jones, as the team has bounced back and forth between Jones and Dell a bit down the back stretch of the season.

When Jones is good, he’s excellent; his last two games saw a .966 save percentage on 29 shots and a heartbreaking .977 save percentage on a whopping 44 shots that resulted in a shootout loss for the starter. When he struggles, though, he really struggles; he has trouble with low-high cycle plays and accuracy when pushing laterally to his blocker side, something that can burn him if teams manage to capitalize on that.

For Colorado, it’s a night for Jonathan Bernier, who owns 15 of Colorado’s 28 wins this year - two more than Varlamov in one fewer game. He’s allowed three or more goals in his last four starts, but let’s not forget: he made every single start while Varlamov was out. After being given some much-needed rest, he may be back and ready to go again.