Last week, the Avalanche came dangerously close to overthrowing the Nashville Predators at home in Denver.
While they ultimately fell with an overtime 4-3 final decision in favor of the current Central Division leaders, though, they’ll look to come back tonight - and against a Predators lineup that was given a run for its money just last night in Arizona.
In comparison, the Avalanche (who are also heading into a back-to-back situation) routed their opponents last night, begging the question: of two tired teams, which will come out on top?
Assuming the lineup stays the same tonight, this is what we’ll be looking at.
Nashville is looking to sweep their back to back games this week and extend their win streak to three games, narrowly edging the Arizona Coyotes to deliver the desert club just their second loss in regulation this month.
The Predators were given some pretty bad news yesterday, when it was confirmed that Calle Jarnkrok (he of the bizarrely good contract and the perfect 15-16 goal seasons) will miss the remainder of the season with injury. They managed without him against Arizona, though, and they’ll be playing for a guaranteed playoff ticket tonight; either a regulation or OT win will punch their ticket.
It’s expected that Juuse Saros will be given the nod tonight, after Rinne turned away 32 of 34 shots faced from a surprisingly resilient Arizona lineup.
Saros has been one of the most promising backups in the NHL this year, boasting a .924 save percentage in all situations through 19 games played so far. He’s been consistent enough, but has had a few mediocre games tossed in here and there to keep him hovering just above league average in quality starts, despite having such a high save percentage overall.
Across the ice, it’s believed that Semyon Varlamov will get the nod - and while he played last night as well, that’s not a prediction that’s expected to change, either. With Jonathan Bernier still missing time for injury, the Avalanche can’t afford to give question marks like Spencer Martin or Andrew Hammond the chance to struggle in must-win games for the Wild Card-chasing club.
Varlamov has climbed to a .917 save percentage on the year on the back of some seriously impressive performances in his recent starts, but the concern will always be durability with him. He’s been given a tremendous workload lately, and that could eventually cause problems; although the hope was that this would be his season of health, things haven’t played out that way at all.
- The Predators are hanging out all alone at the top of the Western Conference, and it’s really not even close. If they aren’t the WC team in the Final this year, it will be on the wings of a very serious upset somewhere down the line. They still have three back-to-backs to play, though, which is never easy for a team looking to remain as strong and healthy as possible heading into the postseason. They may look to take it easy tonight - not failing to produce effort, but perhaps not playing much of a hard-hitting game if they can help it - in anticipation of the workload moving forward.
- As the season winds down, Pekka Rinne’s chances of earning a Vezina have really started to ramp up. But with so many back-to-backs coming up for Nashville, expect Saros to be relied upon at least reasonably often - and expect him to play his heart out to ensure he’s not overlooked by the team in the shadow of his veteran partner.
- Neither team will be well-rested tonight, which will be both an advantage for both and a disadvantage. The Avalanche have far less depth to their lineup, and they may be riding Varlamov in both games - which leaves starts like Varlamov and Nathan MacKinnon to shoulder more of a load with the same lack of proper rest. The Predators, though, had a lot of trouble edging out a win over Arizona last night, which is a sign that they may be human after all - and that, coupled with their lack of a clear-cut star like MacKinnon this year up front, could be a disadvantage on their end.