After getting back into the win column with a 3-2 victory in overtime on Friday evening, the Colorado Avalanche will close out their first road trip of the season in a rematch with the Anaheim Ducks. While the sample size is small, Avalanche rookie defenseman Bowen Byram seems to have settled in nicely after completing his second professional outing — a game that saw him record his first NHL point, an assist, on a beautiful play between him and teammate Mikko Rantanen. Byram looked poised and in control for much of the game, a sight that should excite Avalanche fans and surely remind them of the early success of another stellar, young blueliner.
There still remains a lot of questions around the right lineup combination for head coach Jared Bednar. The lack of cohesion and depth scoring from the second and third lines continues to be puzzling. The performance of forwards Nazem Kadri and Brandon Saad is particularly baffling as the pair are a combined -13 through the first five games of the season. Coach Bednar doesn’t appear concerned, however, and is of the belief that it’s too early in the young season to hit the panic button. If anything, Bowen Byram has certainly impressed enough in the early going to make his coach’s decision whether to keep him in the lineup on a nightly basis a no-brainer.
Another easy decision is to continue to roll with Philipp Grubauer in net. The Avs did not play their best hockey, especially not through the first 40 minutes on Friday night, but fortunately it was Grubauer as the true catalyst between a win and another loss to a sub-.500 squad. Expect the German netminder to once again get the nod in goal.
In addition to the positives the bench boss had for Grubauer after Friday’s win, he also had high praise for forward Matt Calvert. According to Bednar, Calvert has been one of the team’s most dangerous forwards thus far in terms of creating chances, finishing his checks, and overall engaging in good habits. The Avs made friends with the penalty box on Friday, but thanks in-part to the solid effort from Calvert on the penalty kill, the Ducks were not able to cash in on their man-advantage opportunities. Don’t be surprised if we see Calvert jumping up to provide some juice to the third line.
Erik Johnson will not be in the lineup tonight as he simply isn’t ready to go. According to Bednar, missing 15+ days of work, including the entire training camp, set Johnson back. In fact, EJ supposedly wasn’t even ready to play on Tuesday against the LA Kings, but was forced into action because of the trade between Colorado and Minnesota earlier that day. This is where the deep defensive unit that the Avs possess helps — there won’t be any rush to get EJ back until Bednar feels he’s ready and in a spot to help the team win.
When asked postgame on Friday night about any updates on the status of forward Andre Burakovsky, Bednar indicated that depending on how the weekend plays out, there’s a possibility that he could re-enter the lineup for Sunday’s contest. If he’s not ready to go, expect to see Martin Kaut suit up again. There have been no further updates on the availability of goaltender Pavel Francouz.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Brandon Saad - Nazem Kadri - Valeri Nichushkin
Matt Calvert - JT Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Tyson Jost - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Martin Kaut
Devon Toews - Cale Makar
Ryan Graves - Samuel Girard
Bowen Byram - Conor Timmins/Greg Pateryn
The Ducks played a solid game on Friday night and earned a point after tying the contest shortly after the Byram-Rantanen connection. The Ducks outshot the Avs 38-32 and will look to continue that sustained pressure in the opposing zone.
Ducks goaltender John Gibson played a stellar game in the first meeting between these two teams and kept the game close for the home squad. Defenseman Hampus Lindholm had high praise for his goaltender after Friday’s contest and admits to the team’s over-reliance on their netminder early on this season.
Anaheim has registered only one win on the season, a split decision in the back-to-back games with the Minnesota Wild earlier in the week, so expect a determined squad to come out and attempt to foil the Avs’ plans of earning another two points before heading back to Denver.
Projected Lines (From Anaheim Calling)
Sonny Milano - Ryan Getzlaf - Rickard Rakell
Danton Heinen - Adam Henrique - Jakob Silfverberg
Max Comtois - Sam Steel - Troy Terry
Nicolas Deslauriers - Derek Grant - Carter Rowney
Hampus Lindholm - Kevin Shattenkirk
Cam Fowler - Andy Welinski
Jacob Larsson - Jani Hakanpaa