The Colorado Avalanche head into their fifth-to-last game of the 2018-19 season in a playoff spot.
On Friday, though, they’ll play their 78th game against none other than Arizona — and if the Coyotes are able to squeak out a regulation win, it could put Colorado’s playoff hopes in jeopardy.
The good news is that Nathan MacKinnon seems to have found his scoring skill again, and Philipp Grubauer has been completely unstoppable. The bad news, though, is that Arizona’s own goaltender has been just as good — and without Mikko Rantanen, even with the return of Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche will have their work cut out for them.
The biggest thing to watch is Gabriel Landeskog’s return, as the captain has been missing in action since getting pancaked along the boards by Dallas Stars goaltender Ben Bishop.
Alex Kerfoot - Nathan MacKinnon - J.T. Compher
Gabriel Landeskog - Carl Soderberg - Colin Wilson
Derick Brassard - Tyson Jost - Matt Calvert
Matt Nieto - Andrew Aggozino - Gabriel Bourque/Sven Andrighetto
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie
Nikita Zadorov - Patrik Nemeth
Arizona practiced at home on Thursday before flying out for Denver — and while head coach Rick Tocchet didn’t even want to discuss the possibility of Colorado being at less than full strength (he said, after the team’s own injury-riddled season, that he “didn’t even want to think about the word injury”), his line formations were likely held off until the team knew if Gabriel Landeskog would be strengthening Colorado’s depth a bit.
The Coyotes have been struggling to score in the last few weeks, but they’ve had a few stand-out players to keep an eye on. Alex Galchenyuk has been doing everything from scoring power-play goals to leading the team in hits, while team captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson is up to 12 goals and counting after a luck-averse start to the year. Their biggest question mark is likely how their defense will perform; after Jason Demers returned to leave them with an eight-man blue line roster, they’ve had to do some shuffling to find their optimum comfort zone in each game.
They have a pair of young up-and-comers sitting out on Friday, as both Conor Garland and Jakob Chychrun will be healthy scratched for the game against Colorado. They’ll be joined by Ilya Lyubushkin, who has been a routine scratch since Demers’ return, while Kevin Connauton returns to the lineup in the place of Chychrun.
This will be the seventh straight start for goaltender Philipp Grubauer, who has been the driving force behind Colorado’s resurgence and return to the playoff picture. With points in his last six straight games and points in seven of his last eight, he’s been one of the best players in the lineup night after night.
He won’t be facing an easy challenger on the other end of the ice, though, as the Coyotes give Darcy Kuemper his own 19th straight start. After spending his career as a backup — and a career average one at that — he’s stepped up to the plate in the absence of Coyotes starter Antti Raanta, who has missed time with injury. He boasts a .922 save percentage in all situations on the year, putting up 32 quality starts and four shutouts and counting.