After what feels like an eternity, the Colorado Avalanche will be back in game action tonight as they take on the Vegas Golden Knights. After being shut down by the NHL’s COVID protocol following their matchup with the Minnesota Wild on February 3rd, the Avs had their next five games postponed while the team was locked out of the arena for a week.
Now, back at it, the Avalanche and Golden Knights will faceoff in four consecutive games - including an outdoor matchup in Lake Tahoe next Saturday. It may still be early in the season but these next four games will go a long way in deciding playoff seeding at the top of the West Division this season.
The Avalanche: (7-3-1)
The Opponent: Vegas Golden Knights (8-2-1)
Puck Drop: 5:00 PM MT
Watch: NBCSN, Sportsnet
Listen: Altitude 92.5 FM, AM 950
This will be a true test of rest vs rust. Coach Jared Bednar has mentioned this week that the team struggled through their first few practices back after the layoff. That is to be expected after a week off the ice and a number of key players missing. The Avs will need to find their rhythm quickly as one of the best teams in the league rolls into the Ball Center.
One positive that came out of the Avalanche having their games postponed is that it gave the team some time to rest and heal. Nathan MacKinnon, Devon Toews and P-E Bellemare all returned to the ice this week after missing time with injury and there is a strong possibility that all three are in the lineup tonight. Nathan MacKinnon said during media availability that he’s “healthy and ready to go” which is music to the ears of every Avalanche fan - and certainly his coaches at teammates as well.
While the team’s best player and one of their top paring defenders might be back in the lineup, it’s not all good news on the health front. Gabriel Landeskog, Tyson Jost and Samuel Girard are all still on the NHL’s COVID list so their status in the lineup will be questionable for the foreseeable future. Coach Bednar let it be known that Jost is the closest of the three to returning but that he likely won’t be allowed to skate with the team for another few days.
Erik Johnson has been added to the IR last week to make room on the roster for Toews.
There are rumblings that Matt Calvert could be back in the lineup sooner than later but the coaching staff isn’t tipping their hand.
Brandon Saad - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky - Nazem Kadri - Joonas Donskoi
Logan O’Connor - JT Compher - Val Nichushkin
Sheldon Dries - P-E Bellemare - Jayson Megna
Devon Toews - Dennis Gilbert
Jacob MacDonald - Conor Timmins
Bo Byram - Ryan Graves
UPDATE: The Avalanche will be without Cale Makar tonight. The star defender is listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury
Vegas Golden Knights
After being shut down by a COVID outbreak of their own - and having another scare a week later - the Vegas Golden Knights come into this game having won four of their last five games. Vegas sits first in the West - using point percentage - and will be looking to create some space between themselves and the Avalanche,
Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty have led the way this season leading the team in points and goals respectively.
Vegas could be missing a key player of their own as Shea Theodore has missed the last two games with an upper body injury. He is listed as a game time decision but is unlikely to suit up. Though Theodore is a huge part of the Golden Knights lineup and it’s hard for any team to fill the hole when they’re best defenseman is injured, youngster Nicolas Hague has done a great job filling the extra minutes created by Theodore’s absence.
Max Pacioretty - Chandler Stephenson - Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault - William Karlsson - Reilly Smith
Keegan Kolesar - Cody Glass - Alex Tuch
William Carrier - Nicolas Roy - Ryan Reaves
Alec Martinez - Alex Pietrangelo
Nic Hague - Zach Whitecloud
Nick Holden - Dylan Coghlan
Philipp Grubauer has started this season as one of the best goalies in the NHL and it’s great timing as Pavel Francouz continues to be sidelined with a mysterious lower-body injury. The will serve as welcome rest as Grubauer will now get back to carrying the heavy load for the team as the schedule ramps back up. With the Avalanche not having a back to back until March 5/6, there is a very good chance that Grubauer starts every game for the next three weeks.
The starting goaltender for Vegas will be up in the air right until game time. Robin Lehner has been out for a few days with an upper body injury so Oskar Dansk has been filling in as the backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. Vegas Coach Peter DeBoer mentioned that Lehner’s injury was minor but he wasn’t sure when he would be dressing again. The coach also mentioned that he would be ok starting Fleury in both games this weekend if need-be. The veteran stopped 23 of the 24 shots he faced yesterday afternoon while not being tested a whole lot by the Sharks. He would easily be called upon for the second of a back to back if Lehner can’t go, or DeBoer could turn to Dansk. It could be any of the three - I don’t think Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen mind which one.