The new decade has so far been kind to the Colorado Avalanche, as the team will look to push its 2020 mark to 3-0 tonight in Brooklyn. The Islanders, on the other hand, have had a rougher go at it as of late, losing their last two in a row and going 2-3 in their last five.
This should be an interesting matchup, as the NHL’s strongest offensive team takes on one of the the league’s best defensive units.
After a rocky finish to 2019, the Avs rang in the new year with a 7-3 trouncing of the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues, and continued its winning ways with another 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils to open up the road swing through the Big Apple, which ends tomorrow night in downtown Manhattan against the New York Rangers.
Saturday night’s 5-2 win over the Devils was clinical. Against a bad team, the Avalanche did what they were supposed to do, went to work early and dispatched the Devils. Despite playing under 15 minutes, Mikko Rantanen netted goals number 13, 14 and 15 of the season on the way to his second career NHL hat trick. He started the game on the Avs third line but was quickly reunited on the top line (where he belongs, in my opinon) with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog. MacKinnon, by the way, continued his mid-season push for the Art Ross Trophy, recording two more assists to boost his points total to 20 in his last 14 games. He is now just one point shy of the Edmonton Oilers’ dynamic duo of Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for the scoring lead.
After a quiet December for Cale Makar, in which he only played six games due to injury, the current Calder Trophy-favorite has matched his December points total (three) in his first two games of January. Also of note, don’t look now, but Sam Girard may be turning a corner. He’s recorded eight helpers in his last three games and has looked a whole lot sturdier on the blueline as of late, showing flashes of the player he was last season despite playing fewer minutes than we saw him play in December.
This is lineup the Avs have been rolling with in practice, however, I flipped Rantanen back to the top line and Donskoi on the third — assuming Bednar liked what he saw from the top line on Saturday.
*We’ll update the lineup accordingly after morning skate
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Calvert - Nazem Kadri - Val Nichushkin
Matt Nieto - J.T. Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Tyson Jost - P-E Bellemare - Andre Burakovsky
Ryan Graves - Cale Makar
Sam Girard - Erik Johnson
Ian Cole - Nikita Zadorov
New York Islanders
Despite their recent troubles, the Islanders have been a very solid team — probably surprisingly so for most. The Isles have been one of the best defensive teams in the NHL this season, allowing the second-fewest goals to opposing teams while holding team’s to just 2.6 goals per game on average (fourth-best).
Scoring goals has been an issue for New York, and the microcosm of proof for that lies in their combined one goal over their current two-game losing streak. They sit in the basement of the league in terms of total goals-scored while flirting with the bottom-third of the NHL in average goals per game.
Of note, the Isles are 5-0 against the Avalanche in their last five home games, while the Avs have not beat New York since New Year’s Eve 2017.
Anthony Beauvillier - Mathew Barzal - Josh Bailey
Anders Lee - Brock Nelson - Jordan Eberle
Michael Dal Colle - Derick Brassard - Tom Kuhnackl
Matt Martin - Casey Cizikas - Leo Komarov
Nick Leddy - Ryan Pulock
Devon Toews - Scott Mayfield
Noah Dobson - Johnny Boychuk
Philipp Grubauer is expected to get his fifth-consecutive starting nod. His win against the Devils improved his record to 12-9-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
A familiar face will be between the pipes, as Semyon Varlamov is expected to show up between the pipes tonight. It’ll be his first game against his former friends after spending eight seasons and nearly 400 games with Colorado. Varly is 14-5-3 with New York this season, earning a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save percentage.