The Colorado Avalanche made quick work of their still-divisional rivals in Minnesota on Saturday night, pulling out a 5-1 victory to take first (for the moment) in the West.
They aren’t in any danger of giving up that first place berth any time soon, as the Vegas Golden Knights are sitting out their next two games due to a covid-related postponement. But they’ll have the opportunity to pull even farther ahead of the rest of the pack tonight, as they take on the Wild again in a best-of-two back-to-back rematch.
It was an easy-enough offensive effort for the Avalanche on Saturday, as they managed to score five goals on 33 shots — and their defense held strong against what’s been a fairly lackluster Wild roster, allowing just 20 shots to make it through to Philipp Grubauer through 60 minutes of play.
They’ll have to stay on their guard, though, as the Wild desperately hope to be one of the four playoff teams at the season’s end — and while they currently hold the ‘Wild Card’ spot with a two-win lead over the next-best team, they’ll pull two games ahead of both LA and Arizona with Sunday’s contest and need to earn some points to feel more secure in their standings.
Armed with their Subway-esque reverse retro jerseys, the Wild will host the Avalanche for the second straight day. If Colorado can take this game, they’ll be in good shape; they turn around and host the Wild for two straight games of their own in the next few days, so they could potentially sweep the series if they don’t lose steam on home ice.
The Minnesota Wild will be without forward Kevin Fiala for the second straight game, as he continues to serve his suspension due to a dangerous hit against Los Angeles Kings defender Matt Roy.
That’s a huge blow to Minnesota, who struggled to turn on the offense on Saturday down one of their young up-and-comers. Their lack of a dominant effort was hardly a surprise, given that Fiala takes over 10% of the team’s shots and nearly 30% of their shots on the man advantage, and it’s hard to see how they’ll be able to make that up/
Kirill Kaprizov was held off the stats sheet altogether, going completely scoreless while recording zero shots on goal in the process, and the only player who managed to convert on one of the mere 20 shots that made it to Grubauer was Matt Dumba — who, with Jonas Brodin, was one of the two Wild players who managed to stand out during Saturday’s game.
That, in itself, is another massive blow to the Wild. They’ll likely be without Dumba as they try to stage a comeback tonight; he exited last night’s contest in the third period after a collision with Jordan Greenway, and NHL.com’s Jessi Pierce reported via Twitter that he’s likely to sit out this game altogether. As one of the more dominant players on Minnesota’s roster, that could spell trouble for a team that looked outclassed in nearly every area during game one.
The remaining players to watch out for, though, remain the same. Jonas Brodin is still an underrated piece for Minnesota, and newcomer Kaprizov already has seven points in nine games as a rookie — despite being held off the scoresheet last night. It seems unlikely, given the hot start he’s had this year, that he won’t pose a threat for Minnesota even with some of their other heavy lifters out of the rotation.
Zach Parise - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Hunt
Marcus Johansson - Joel Eriksson-Ek - Kirill Kaprizov
Jordan Greenway - Nico Sturm - Marcus Foligno
Victor Rask - Nick Bonino - Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba (possibility)
Carson Soucy - Ian Cole
The biggest test for Colorado will be how they handle losing Erik Johnson, who left midway through Saturday’s contest and won’t be back for this game.
He’s expected to miss this contest, but head coach Jared Bednar hasn’t given any additional information — which isn’t a surprise for the typically tight-lipped coach, but could spell trouble if he’s out long-term. It’s a chance for both Samuel Girard and Bowen Byram to shine, but that’s a lot of leadership and minute-eating for a pair of youngsters to shoulder — especially with Devon Toews out as well. Still no word on who will replace Johnson, although the team has a pair of defenders — Greg Pateryn and Jacob McDonald — on their taxi squad to use.
The rest of the lineup, though, remains as threatening as ever. Andre Burakovsky didn’t manage to record a shot in Saturday’s game, but pitched in with two assists — as did Girard and Nathan MacKinnon, who took four shots on goal despite not being able to convert on any of them. Mikko Rantanen and Brandon Saad were both good for a goal and an assist each, while the team flexed its impressive scoring depth by receiving goals from Joonas Donskoi, Logan O’Connor, and J.T. Compher as well.
Players who need to find a spot on the scoresheet? Nazem Kadri, who only has three goals so far this year, was held off the scoresheet altogether on Saturday — and Gabriel Landeskog, who also only has three tallies so far, earned just a single assist. It would be nice to see either one of them get a goal, especially with the Avalanche facing the Wild two more times after Sunday night before their four-game series concludes. We’re also still waiting on Cale Makar’s first goal of the season, although he has 10 assists already and has looked sharp.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Brandon Saad - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky
Valeri Nichushkin - JT Compher - Joonas Donskoi
Logan O’Connor - Tyson Jost - Kiefer Sherwood
Samuel Girard - Cale Makar
Bowen Byram - Greg Pateryn/Jacob McDonald
Ryan Graves - Conor Timmins
After Kaapo Kahkonen’s struggle in the first game between the two divisional rivals, the Wild are expected to turn to veteran Cam Talbot — who could be much trickier to unravel than his younger tandem partner. He’s sitting on a very respectable .925 save percentage so far this year, boasting a perfect 100 quality start percentage after kicking off the year with a razor-sharp debut for his new team. The only potential red flag for him is that he’s returning from a lower-body injury suffered against the San Jose Sharks on January 22nd, so he’s been out of action for the last week.
On Colorado’s side, Pavel Francouz is still missing from action due to an injury that’s expected to keep him out for the foreseeable future — so in order to avoid overloading starter Philipp Grubauer, Hunter Miska has been confirmed to get the nod. He’s only made one start so far this year, which has left Grubauer to do the heavy lifting, but he allowed three goals on 26 shots in his season debut — so the Avalanche will have to hope that the Wild don’t try to exploit his still-green experience level in the NHL. He was stellar for the Eagles in the AHL last year, improving substantially over his performance for the Arizona Coyotes’ AHL affiliate in 2018-19, but has yet to prove that he’s got NHL-level longevity; while the skating rosters look heavily lopsided in Colorado’s favor, this could be their Achilles heel.