Two of the NHL’s hottest teams will faceoff tonight in Toronto as the Colorado Avalanche head north to being their road trip against the Maple Leafs. Both playing some great hockey as of late, the two teams combine for only two losses in their last 18 games.
With the amount of star power between these two teams, it would surprise no one that one of the players in this game would sit in the top-5 in league scoring - although not many would have guessed that player would be Nazem Kadri. The former Maple Leaf currently leads the Avalanche with 27 points in only 18 games. This will be Kadri’s first trip back to Toronto since December of 2019 when the Leafs handed the Avs a 3-1 loss.
These are two teams that had a bit of a rough start to the season but have worked their way back to a level most expected them to be at. With the return of an Avs superstar, tonight has the potential to be a barn burner featuring two of the NHL’s best teams.
Riding a steak of seven wins in their last eight games, the Avalanche are set for a huge boost as Nathan MacKinnon will be in the lineup for the first time since November 6th. With 10 points in only eight games this season, MacKinnon’s return will allow Mikko Rantanen to shift back to his natural position on the wing as the team looks to settle into a more normal lineup.
With MacKinnon out of the lineup, it has been Nazem Kadri who has been carrying the offensive load for the Avs putting up an incredible 27 points in his first 18 games this season.
Cale Makar has re-intrenched himself as the league’s best defender after returning to the lineup from an injury of his own. The 23-year old is currently riding a six game point streak scoring seven goals and adding five assists in that time.
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Ratanen-Logan O’Connor
Val Nichushkin - Nazem Kadri - Andre Burakovsky
Jayson Megna - Alex Newhook - Logan O’Connot
Nick Aube-Kubel - Tyson Jost - Darren Helm
Devon Toews - Cale Makar
Bo Byram - Sam Girard
Jack Johnson - Erik Johnson
Tied for first place in the entire NHL, the Maple Leafs have put a slow start behind them and are now the hottest team in the league. With their big-4 leading the way offensively, it’s the defense and goaltending that have been most impressive this season.
Toronto currently sits second in the NHL giving up only 2.13 goals against per game. A lot of that has to do with Vezina caliber play from Jack Campbell but also an apparently change in team philosophy. Unlike in the past, the Leafs are far more willing to win close, low-scoring games and have found a way to hold on to leads - something that had become an issue in past season.
With a top-four defensive group lead by veterans, the third pair of recent first round picks Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren have provided the team’s blueline with a depth they haven’t had in recent years.
Add to that, great value UFA signings in Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase and David Kampf up front and this is a Leafs team that has a lot more balance to it than others in the Kyle Dubas era.
Alex Kerfoot - John Tavares - William Nylander
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Pierre Engvall - David Kampf - Joey Anderson
Nick Ritchie - Jason Spezza - Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly - TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
Both Colorado and Toronto have backups that are getting close to returning from injury but tonight we will see the workhorse starters in net.
For Toronto, Jack Campbell comes in with a 12-4-1 record and an amazing .946 sv%.
Across the ice will be Darcy Kuemper who has put up a 9-5-0 record with a .903 sv% during his first two months with the Avs.
UPDATE: the Avs will be starting Jonas Johansson tonight as Darcy Kuemper is ruled out with an upper body injury. University of Toronto net under Jett Alexander will serve as the EBUG for the team