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Colorado Avalanche Game Day: The Quest for the Cup Begins

The Avalanche begin their season at home against the Chicago Blackhawks

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

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.

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.

Colorado Avalanche

This will be four players regular season debut with the Avalanche, Darcy Kuemper, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, and Sampo Ranta, who played two games for the Avalanche in the playoffs last season. All four will have their own big roles to play for the team tonight, but the most important will be Kuemper. It’s hard for a goalie to adapt to a new team so it’s pivotal that he gets comfortable quickly so he doesn’t surrender any soft goals. Most importantly for Kuemper is that he doesn’t get injured. With Francouz already being sidelined for about a month the Avalanche can’t afford to lose Kuemper.

Joe Sakic announced to the press yesterday that 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.

Projected Lineup

Gabriel Landeskog - Nazem Kadri - Mikko Rantanen

Val Nichushkin - JT. Compher - Andre Burakovsky

Alex Newhook - Tyson Jost - Sampo Ranta

Logan O’Connor - Darren Helm - Kurtis MacDermid

Sam Girard - Cale Makar

Bo Byram - Erik Johnson

Jack Johnson - Ryan Murray

Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago went all in this offseason, trading for Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Tyler Johnson. All of whom will be playing their first ever game with the team tonight and will be playing big roles while doing so. Marc-Andre Fleury is going to be extremely important to Chicago’s success tonight. In seven regular season matchups against the Avalanche last year Fleury posted a 2.42 GAA and had two shutouts. Fleury has shown a capability to render Colorado’s high powered offense useless, however he has also been rendered useless by Colorado’s offense, letting in more than 5 goals three times in his past ten regular season matchups against the Avalanche. Behind Chicago’s shaky defense he will have to have one of his monster games if the Blackhawks want a chance of winning tonight.

The Blackhawks have their best opportunity to beat the Avalanche tonight. With Colorado missing the previously mentioned players for a short period of time this will, hopefully, be the only time they see an injured Avalanche team, or at least an Avalanche team without Nathan MacKinnon, a player who has dominated them recently, putting up 8 points in four games against the Blackhawks in the 2019-20 season.

The injury news for Chicago has been quite the opposite of Colorado’s. They will be getting back Captain Jonathan Toews, who missed all of last season, and Kirby Dach, who missed all but some of March and April last season. Although Toews won’t be playing at first line center today, that’s Tyler Johnson’s role, his presence as the leader for the team will be important, and he will need to carry Chicago’s lackluster bottom six. Dach has shown a lot of promise in his first 82 games in the NHL and he will have to take on the task of Colorado’s second line, with likely very little support from his wingers Henrik Borgstrom and Brandon Hagel.

Projected Lineup

Alex DeBrincat - Tyler Johnson - Patrick Kane

Dominik Kubalik - Jonathan Toews - Philipp Kurashev

Henrik Borgstrom - Kirby Dach - Brandon Hagel

Jujhar Khaira - Mackenzie Entwistle - Ryan Carpenter

Jake McCabe - Colin Murphy

Clavin de Haan - Seth Jones

Riley Stillman - Ian Mitchell

Starting Goalies

Both teams will have a new face in the net for tonight’s opener - and both are former Vezina finalists. Tonight we’ll see both Darcy Kuemper and Marc-Andre Fleury make their first starts for their new teams.