After three straight overtime losses on the road, the Avalanche are headed back home to Denver to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at 7pm. The last time these two teams met — in Toronto in January — the Avs came out on top 6-3, led by a hat trick from Carl Soderberg. The Avs are standing in 6th place in the Central Division while the Leafs are in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division.
The Avalanche have lost their last seven games and only have three wins in their previous 20 games. The Anaheim Ducks are getting all the publicity for their downward spiral but the Avs actually have a worse record since the start of January. Let’s look on the bright side; the Avs have been playing a lot better lately and are on a three game points streak, so maybe these tough times are coming to an end.
This should be an interesting game as the two teams play drastically different games. Toronto has the most 5v5 time in the league as they both take and draw the fewest penalties in the league. On the flip side, the Avalanche are the most penalized team in the league with the fewest 5v5 minutes this season.
The Avs are coming off of what could generously be described as a tough stretch. They have lost their last three games on the road — all in overtime — and also lost their two most recent home games, leaving them without a win since the end of the all-star break.
In this six-game span, they have played several close games, but also got blown out at home. The overtime losses are an encouraging sign, if only to show that they are keeping games close until the end. The Avs came from behind to tie the game in the 3rd period against the Washington Capitals, but couldn’t find the last goal to win. Now, all that needs to happen is for them to grab and hold on to a lead.
A day off after two back-to-back games on the East Coast should have been a welcome break and should give us a well-rested team tonight.
The following lines will be subject to change as soon as the Avalanche complete their morning skate because Tyson Jost (remember him?) has returned from his exile down the road at the Budweiser Events Center with the Colorado Eagles. Jost should be in the lineup to fill in for Colin Wilson who left Sunday’s game with an injury, but there is no confirmation yet.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Alexander Kerfoot - J.T. Compher - Tyson Jost?
Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert
A.J. Greer - Sheldon Dries - Sven Andrighetto
Erik Johnson - Samuel Girard
Patrik Nemeth - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Ryan Graves
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have been a much stronger team since the break, winning five out of their six games, and are 1-1 on their current road trip, having defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in OT on Saturday but lost to the New York Rangers 4-1 on Sunday.
Also, forward Auston Matthews just signed a five-year, $58 million contract extension that includes a no-move clause for his 5th year. The Leafs are planning for the future, but still have their eyes on winning now.
The team will be riding their current hot streak into Denver to try to beat the Avs in their home after the Avs outplayed them in Toronto last month. The Leafs were also off yesterday, so will be coming to Denver well rested and ready to play.
The Leafs powerplay has been struggling lately so tonight might be a good time for the Avs’ penalty kill - that’s sitting 26th in the league - to get back on track.
The Leafs have made one chsnge to their lineup: Andreas Johnsson has moved up to the third line with Nazem Kadri and William Nylander, while Connor Brown is now on the fourth line. That Kadri line will likely go up against the Alex Kerfoot line, which is going to be a very tough test for his trio.
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Mitchell Marner
Patrick Marleau - Auston Matthews - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Nazem Kadri - William Nylander
Par Lindholm - Frederik Gauthier - Connor Brown
Jake Muzzin - Morgan Rielly
Jake Gardiner - Nikita Zaitsev
Travis Dermott - Ron Hainsey
Since both teams were off yesterday, expect them to play their starting goalies.
Semyon Varlamov took a beating on the road trip, losing all three games, but the day off should give him enough rest to start tonight. He was the winner in the Avs’ previous game against the Leafs so we will likely be trying to extend his winning streak against them.
The Leafs haven’t announced a starter yet, but Frederik Andersen gave up four of the Avs six goals (last two were empty net) in January. Garret Sparks was the loser in their game on Sunday, so the decision could go either way. [Editor’s note: knowing Mike Babcock there’s a snowball's chance in hell that he plays his backup beyond the second-half of back-to-backs]
It is Date Night at the Pepsi Center, so maybe some lucky love will find its way into the Avs scoreboard tonight?