The Colorado Avalanche haven’t played a game since Monday.
That means they’ll enter their Friday evening road game nice and rested, but it also means that on paper, they’ve got the same number of wins as their opponents in Las Vegas — and they’ll be ravenous to pick up another win on the road, which has been their notably weaker record through the first few weeks of the season.
On the other side of the ice, the host team is coming off of a stellar 2-1 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks — but they lost their previous game 6-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers and should have been able to do more damage to the floundering Chicago roster. They’re coming off of a nice two-day break of their own, but an injury to backup goaltender Malcolm Subban means that they’ve been heavily relying on starter Marc-Andre Fleury to hold down the fort — and as he ages, his ability to shoulder workloads will continue to be a necessary question to keep an eye on.
It’s not a divisional matchup, but it’ll be important for the standings nonetheless.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - JT Compher
Andre Burakovsky - Nazem Kadri - Joonas Donskoi
Matt Nieto - Tyson Jost - Valeri Nichushkin/Colin Wilson
Matt Calvert - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Vladislav Kamenev
Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Cale Makar
RyanGraves - Nikita Zadorov
The Avalanche will play their first game since losing Mikko Rantanen to a week-to-week lower body injury on Monday, and it’s going to be important to watch and see how the top line responds to his absence.
Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog are clearly both top-caliber players on their own, but the top line has been so incredibly dominant largely because all three players are both talented and complementary of one another. J.T. Compher was filling in for Rantanen on Thursday during practice, which is a clear step down from the player he’ll be replacing — something that the offense-heavy Golden Knights may look to take advantage of.
The good news, though, is that Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky have both been immensely instrumental in the team’s improvement over last year depth-wise. During last season, any absences on the top line left the bottom three trios all struggling to get anything done; this year, there are additions to the middle six that hold their own regardless of who they play with in the event of injury. Even though the absence of Rantanen is bound to hurt, it certainly won’t hurt as much as it might have last year.
THE GOLDEN KNIGHTS
After a road trip that saw trips in Pittsburgh, Philly and Chicago, Vegas is going to want to have a good start to their four game home stand. With Mark Stone riding a seven game point streak, the Golden Knights come into this game three points behind the Oilers for top spot in the Pacific Division.
Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Reilly Smith
Max Pacioretty - Paul Stastny - Mark Stone
Brandon Pirri - Cody Eakin - Cody Glass
William Carrier - Tomas Nosek - Ryan Reaves
Brayden McNabb - Shea Theodore
Jon Merrill - Nick Holden
Jake Bischoff - Deryk Engelland
The Avalanche, unsurprisingly, have been giving starter Philipp Grubauer the distinct advantage this year; he has significantly more NHL experience than backup Pavel Francouz, and he’s been winning them games so far. His 5-1-1 record and .915 save percentage aren’t all-world, but they’re decidedly good enough for the offense-heavy Avalanche to get the job done in front of him — and they’re good enough that the team can afford to give Francouz the easier pickings while he gets adjusted to playing in the NHL full-time.
That means that against the Golden Knights, who boast a pair of high-scoring forwards in Reilly Smith and Max Pacioretty already through the first few weeks, Grubauer has been given the formal nod.
Across the ice, the Golden Knights are projected to give Marc-Andre Fleury yet another start — but if something starts to go wrong, don’t be surprised if they give the recently-recalled Garret Sparks a chance to right the ship. Sparks, who was picked up for scraps (and David Clarkson’s contract!!!) by Vegas this summer, has been one of the most impressive AHL goaltenders this year — while his fellow prospect, Oscar Dansk, struggled in his one AHL start before struggling even more in his one NHL nod. That’s left Fleury playing in 10 of Vegas’ 11 games already this year, since true backup Malcolm Subban was injured during his lone start against the Arizona Coyotes earlier in the month.
There’s been no official word on what, exactly, his injury is, and he was originally only listed as day-to-day by Vegas. But he hasn’t skated in two weeks, which suggests that things might be more serious than a day-to-day diagnosis might imply — and if Vegas is hoping to rely this heavily on Fleury, they may not want to take any chances if he gets scored on early in the game.