So it begins. The first 82 game season in two years. Tonight the Colorado Avalanche begin another journey towards the most coveted trophy in sports. After three straight second round exits the team has a chip on their shoulder and is looking to prove everyone wrong. There have been big changes to the team since last year, veterans replaced by prospects, a change in starting goaltender, more grit added to the lineup. A lot of changes for a team that just won the Presidents Trophy. Tonight will be the first time we see this brand new team in action. The 27th season of Colorado Avalanche hockey begins tonight.
In their home opener the Avalanche will be playing a much improved Chicago Blackhawks team. After acquiring star defenseman Seth Jones and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury the Blackhawks are looking to make one last push for a cup under the old guard of Kane and Toews. The Avalanche haven’t seen the Blackhawks since December of 2019, where each team won one of the two games in that week, with the Avalanche dominating the Blackhawks at home and winning 4-1 and the Blackhawks negating a 3-1 deficit and winning at the Pepsi Center. Recently the Avalanche have owned the Blackhawks, holding a record of 6-2-2 against Chicago in their last ten meetings, winning four of those games by three goals or more. However this is a much different Chicago team than the one we saw almost two years ago. This is likely Chicago’s best team since they got swept in the first round by the Nashville Predators in 2016, so the Avalanche are in for a challenge tonight.
Chicago’s strength is their top nine. Their combination of experience and youth in their forward core has been one of their biggest, and sometimes only, strengths. Tyler Johnson, who they traded for from Tampa Bay this offseason, will likely center the Blackhawks elite wing duo of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. This will make for a bit tougher of a challenge for the Avalanche’s MacKinnon-less first line. The Blackhawks second line takes a big step back compared to their first line with Kirby Dach centering Henrik Borgstrom and Branden Hagel. Dach has performed well during his time in the NHL, and the Blackhawks coaching staff clearly believes he is capable of carrying a line. With MacKinnon in the lineup Colorado’s second line of Burakovsky, Kadri, and Nichushkin would be expected to dominate their matchup against that second line, but with MacKinnon out the battle will be much closer, depending on who Jared Bednar moves up to the first line to replace him. The Blackhawks third line could be their biggest advantage tonight. The line of Dominik Kubalik, Jonathan Toews, and Philipp Kurashev is likely to be better than Colorado’s third line of Newhook, Compher, and Ranta, but rookies are unpredictable.
As previously stated, the Avalanche will be without superstar Nathan MacKinnon tonight due to MacKinnon testing positive for COVID. The team recalled Jayson Megna earlier today to fill the empty roster spot, and although the team hasn’t indicated who exactly will replace MacKinnon on the first line, it will likely be Nazem Kadri, which leaves another spot to be filled. Bednar has stated that the team wants Alex Newhook to be a center, because that is the position he is most comfortable with, so it is very likely we see him take Kadri’s spot centering Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin.
The Avalanche have two other important players out for tonight’s season opener. Defenseman Devon Toews and backup goalie Pavel Francouz will both be out tonight against the Blackhawks. Samuel Girard will be taking Toews’ spot on the first pairing with Cale Makar and recently signed Jack Johnson will be filling in on the bottom line. Francouz will be replaced on the bench by Jonas Johannson.
Tonight will be the first night the Avalanche will be playing as official West Division Champions and Presidents Trophy winners, both accolades have been recently honored with banners in the rafters of Ball Arena. The team has been predicted by many to defend those titles (although the West Division no longer exists) this season, although the team is looking for a different banner, a Stanley Cup Champions banner.