Tonight’s game at the Pepsi Center isn’t an ordinary one. As if being Hockey Fights Cancer night wasn’t big enough, this game marks the first time the Colorado Avalanche and Toronto Maple Leafs will face off since connecting on a blockbuster trade this past offseason.
Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot return to Denver for the first time while new Avalanche fan favorite Nazem Kadri will play against the Maple Leafs for the first time in his 10-year NHL career.
Not only will the teams be facing some old teammates, tonight’s will be Toronto’s second game since they fired head coach Mike Babcock. Former Calder Cup champion Sheldon Keefe has taken over behind the bench of a young Leafs team that has fallen short of expectations so far this season.
Re-connecting for the first time since the summer, Barrie was planning to go out for dinner with Nathan MacKinnon last night, but mentioned that he wasn’t overly thrilled to see his old buddy:
“Oh, I’ll tell you who I’m not looking forward to seeing,” said Barrie, in reference to MacKinnon.
“Yeah. I’ve never played against him in my life, I’ve been on the fortunate end of that one when he’s playing well. I’m sure he’ll take it easy on me.”
Despite a both teams missing some of their top player - Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Mitch Marner are all out with lower-body injuries - this is going to be an emotional game for both teams. All the outside factors will definitely create an atmosphere that goes well beyond a normal regular season game in November.
Avalanche fans already know just how special Cale Makar is as a player. Tonight is the night he gets to show off to the hockey world as this will be the marquee game on Hockey Night in Canada. Avalanche players don’t always get the attention some believe they deserve, but tonight the spotlight will be squarely on their star rookie.
On pace to shatter the all-time record for points by a rookie defender, Makar seems to get better with each game he plays. The scary part is that he doesn’t even believe he’s fully comfortable in the NHL yet.
Asked Cale Makar about his performance and how hes making the NHL look like an easy league and he just said:— AJ Haefele (@AJHaefele) November 22, 2019
"None of it is me. I have unbelievable teammates."
I followed up and said NONE is you?
"Not me. Not yet."
Just wired differently.
Makar’s play has been so amazing that it has overshadowed a Hart Trophy worthy first quarter of the season from Nathan MacKinnon. Playing without his all star linemates, MacKinnon is on pace for a career high 119 points as he has taken it upon himself to carry the offensive load for the Avalanche once again.
After missing the last 13 games with a lower body injury, Mikko Rantanen returned to practice with his teammates Friday. He’s getting closer to returning to the lineup but isn’t expected to be ready for tonight’s game.
Tyson Jost was also skating with the team in a normal practice jersey so it seems he close to game action. Coach Bednar mentioned that Jost was still questionable for tonight’s game but the team looks as though they’re anticipating him in the lineup as they re-assigned Jayson Megna to the AHL Friday afternoon.
Andre Burakovsky — Nathan MacKinnon — Joonas Donskoi
Tyson Jost — Nazem Kadri — J.T. Compher
Matt Nieto — P-E Bellemare — Val Nichushkin
T.J. Tynan — Vlad Kamenev — Logan O’Connor
Sam Girard — Erik Johnson
Ryan Graves — Cale Makar
Nikita Zadorov — Ian Cole
Toronto Maple Leafs
Though he’s struggled to find his footing with his new team, Tyson Barrie scored his first goal as a Maple Leafs earlier this week.
“I’m not going to lie: That feels good, especially going into Denver,” Barrie said after his game in Arizona Thursday night. “I didn’t want to go in with no goals.”
After getting out from under the weight of Mike Babcock, Barrie and a number of his teammates spoke about feeling a lot more relaxed and energized as they come into Colorado with Sheldon Keefe behind the bench. The team has been struggling over the last calendar year and it had become painfully obvious that GM Kyle Dubas had build a roster that just didn’t fit with the philosophy of Babcock.
With the shackles off, we should expect a Leafs team that somewhat resembles the Avalanche - as they shift to a more up-tempo, possession based style. Like the Avs, they’re at their best when they move at a fast pace and aren’t afraid to rely on their goaltender to made a big save.
Alex Kerfoot missed a few games after dental surgery, but he is back in the lineup - with a Zadorov-like face shield - and like Barrie, he’s likely going to be playing with a lot of emotion tonight.
After being a healthy scratch for the past few games, former DU Pioneer Nick Shore is going to draw back in the lineup tonight for Toronto.
Keefe on Shore: "He's obviously got connections here in the Denver & felt it was important to get him in the lineup. More important to that, he had played well."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 23, 2019
Nick is from Denver & played at U of Denver
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Zach Hyman
Alexander Kerfoot - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Nick Shore
Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin - Tyson Barrie
Travis Dermott - Justin Holl
Freddie Andersen is going to be between the pipes for Toronto. Andersen comes into the game with a 10-5-3 record and a .915 sv%.
After working his way back from a lower body injury, Philipp Grubauer looks completely healthy and ready to carry the load in the Avalanche net. He has a 7-4-2 record on the season while putting up a .916 sv%.
Tonight’s game is already a pretty big one but for those who want to make it a little more exciting, you might want to consider making a pledge to the Leafs Money on the Board campaign. This is a fan-run campaign that uses in-game pledges to raise money for charity.
The day has come!— Leafs MotB (@MotBLeafs) November 23, 2019
Barrie & Kerfoot return to Denver and Naz faces the Leafs for the 1st time. So lets get together to raise money for @MLSEFoundation.
One donator will receive an autographed Matthews jersey.
Quote tweet with your pledge.
Register here: https://t.co/0zcr4vcapb pic.twitter.com/pe08T5KYly
The campaign focuses on the MLSE Foundation whose mission is to “change lives through the spirit and the power of sports.”
I’ll get things started by pledging $20 for every great suit worn by Jared Bednar tonight - so that’s an automatic $20 to charity since he’s the best dressed coach in the NHL. I’ve also added on that could get pretty expensive for me given the way MacKinnon and Makar have been playing:
You know what @MotBLeafs? Another $5 for every point from a player in this game that is on my fantasy team (Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Tyson Barrie & William Nylander).— Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie) November 23, 2019