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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Matinee against Michigan

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Four-way tie for three playoff spots? Fun.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Detroit Red Wings
Colorado Avalanche center Carl Soderberg (34) celebrates scoring a goal in the third period on Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard (35) at Little Caesars Arena.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their most recent loss to the Nashville Predators, the Colorado Avalanche have gotten points in nine of their last 10 games and are in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference. That spot is currently in a four-way tie with the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, and Anaheim Ducks, but that’s just a minor detail.

The Stars, Ducks, St. Louis Blues, and Calgary Flames all play today so today’s game against the Detroit Red Wings is a must-win. The Kings could see themselves in one of the wild card positions tomorrow if the Ducks beat the New Jersey Devils today. That scenario could be doubly dangerous for the Avs as the Kings and Minnesota Wild, who are five points up, play each other tomorrow. In other words, a loss today could see the Avs out of the playoffs and/or 7 points back of a division spot.

The Avs need wins.


Colorado Avalanche

This is the second and final meeting between the Avs and Wings this season, Colorado won the first match 4-3 in overtime back in November. Nathan MacKinnon scored the overtime winner for the Avs at a point in the season where both teams had playoff aspirations. We’ll get to that later, but for now, have you heard the news? Nathan MacKinnon is damn good at this hockey thing.

MacKinnon has points in 11 straight games. This is no Taylor Hall-type point-streak, however, MacKinnon isn’t just getting a secondary assist or only a single point in each game to keep the streak alive. He’s got 21 points in the 11 games — 25 in 13 if you skip the Edmonton loss — and has dictated the game every time he has stepped on the ice for his squad.

The return of Erik Johnson can’t come at a better time. After games against the Wings and Chicago Blackhawks today and Monday, the Avs play the Kings, Vegas Golden Knights (twice), and Philadelphia Flyers before playing the Hawks again to close out the month. A healthy top defenseman would mean so much to the team and their chances at staying in a playoff spot.

Projected Lineup:

Forwards

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Sven Andrighetto - Tyson Jost - J.T. Compher

Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Blake Comeau

Gabriel Bourque - Alexander Kerfoot - Dominic Toninato

Defense

Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie

Samuel Girard - Duncan Siemens

Patrik Nemeth - Anton Lindholm


Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings are in full tank mode. They have lost 9 games in a row (0-8-1), sit fourth-last in the league, and the once great dynasty is quickly falling into the legendary land of the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes. For teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, their visit to the bottom of the league was brief, but with the way the Wings are constructed, they don’t appear to be leaving any time soon.

The Wings are at the end of a five-game road trip that included the “California Roadtrip” that did not go well. Detroit lost all three games, getting out-scored 13-6 in those games. They come into Colorado having travelled and on the back-end of a three games in four nights stretch. C’mon, Avs. This should be easy.

You might think that the Red Wings have a slew of injuries and this is why they have been so bad this season. Uhh, nope. As far as I can tell, the team has been completely healthy during this stretch of poor play.

Our siblings over at WiiM wrote a preview that included a paragraph that perfectly describes the team in a nutshell. [Winging it in Motown]

“Nyquist is having a grand time as he’s scored three games in a row. Bertuzzi has also been buzzing and has a fan in Zetterberg, there’s nobody better for Bert to learn both attitude and hockey skillz from. Jimmy Howard hasn’t been elite, but he hasn’t been that bad for a goalie playing with no defense in front of him. Jared Coreau...well he sure does occupy a volume of space that sometimes coincides with the geographic coordinates of the puck.”

Projected Lineup:

Forwards

Tyler Bertuzzi - Henrik Zetterberg - Gustav Nyquist

Anthony Mantha - Dylan Larkin - Darren Helm

Andreas Athanasiou - Frans Nielsen - Justin Abdelkader

Evgeny Svechnikov - Luke Glendening - Martin Frk

Defense

Jonathan Ericsson - Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser - Mike Green

Niklas Kronwall - Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard

Jared Coreau


Starting Goalies

With Jonathan Bernier still on the shelf due to a concussion and with Spencer Martin being the only other goaltending choice for the Avalanche, Semyon Varlamov starts for Colorado. Varly has been incredibly streaky recently. The end of February saw him win three games in a row, followed by three straight overtime losses, before a stretch of three victories in a row (one was a relief effort after Bernier got injured in Arizona). He lost his most recent start against Nashville so hopefully he can buck the trend today.

With Petr Mrazek in Philly, Jimmy Howard can finally take the starters net without much hassle from his backup (Jared Coreau). Howard “hasn’t been that bad for a goalie playing with no defense in front of him.” So we can take that as he’s played better than his numbers (.909 save percentage in 53 games) show.