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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: Avs take a trip to Buffalo

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Avalanche pay a visit to Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Colorado Avalanche take on the Buffalo Sabres in the second of a five-game road trip. The Sabres have had an up-and-down year, but forward Jack Eichel has had a breakout season thus far. The Avalanche are dealing with some inconsistency of their own, especially in the special teams category. Coming into tonight’s matchup, they sit at 22nd in PP% and 21st in PK%.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

On paper, the Avalanche look like they would be power-play killers. The first power-play unit has usually featured Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. So what gives?

I believe special teams rely heavily on momentum and comfortability. The boys in burgundy battled an early-season injury bug that hit both sides of the ice and the goaltenders. I think this has had a more long-term effect than most people realize.

Two of the three pieces of this dynamic group missed considerable time with lower-body injuries (Landeskog & Rantanen). Add the time missed by the PP unit’s QB Cale Makar and you have a recipe for inconsisetency. A solid PP takes time and familiarity.

As far as the PK goes, let’s look between the pipes for some answers. Phillip Grubauer has caught some flack for his inconsistent play this season, but how hard is it to be consistent when you aren’t healthy? When you aren’t fit, you aren’t practicing and the little things go first. Grub has also shared quite a bit of time with back up Pavel Francouz. The hockey world has long since debated the way to handle a starting goalies’ usage. Most hockey minds believe that splitting time is a good strategy because it allows a starting goalie to ber fresh and healthy going into the post season.

Contrary to that conventional wisdom, I think it’s time to get Grubauer back into a groove with consecutive starts and a heavily work load. When the dude is on, he is on. We saw just how good he can be last postseason. Combine the All-Star break with the mandatory five-day break and he should be as fresh as the produce section on re-stock day. The Avalanche play six games in the next 10 days. The more pucks he sees over those ten days the better.

FORWARDS

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Valeri Nichushkin - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky

Matt Calvert - Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare - J.T. Compher

Joonas Donskoi - Tyson Jost - Matt Nieto

DEFENDERS

Ryan Graves - Cale Makar

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson

Ian Cole - Nikita Zadorov

BUFFALO SABRES

The Buffalo Sabres are in a tough spot once again this season. Their star forward Jack Eichel seems to have stepped into the spotlight as one of the leagues future superstars, putting up Hart Trophy-worthy numbers. He has logged a career high 31 goals in just 51 games and has seemingly carried the Sabres to numerous victories by himself.

With Eichel stepping into his prime, the Sabres have to address his support staff. Drafting defender Rasmus Dahlin was a start, but if the Sabres want to get back into the playoffs there are more holes to address.

FORWARDS

Jimmy Vesey - Jack Eichel - Sam Reinhart

Jeff Skinner - Marcus Johansson - Michael Frolik

Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Conor Sheary

Evan Rodrigues - Curtis Lazar - Jean-Sebastien Dea

DEFENDERS

Lawrence Pilut - Rasmus Ristolainen

Jake McCabe - Henri Jokiharju

Rasmus Dahlin - Colin Miller

GOALTENDERS

Ryan Clark confirmed that Philipp Grubauer will be getting the nod for the Avalanche, as he the first off the ice in today’s morning skate.

Again, I think it’s important for Grubauer to see as many pucks as possible over the next two months in order for him to get back into a groove. Grub comes in with 14 wins in 30 appearances.

The Sabres will go with Carter Hutton after usual starter Linus Ullmark was deemed out for 3-4 weeks with a lower-body injury. Hutton comes in looking for his eighth win in his twenty first appearance.

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