The Colorado Avalanche will face their first big test of the season as they face what many outlets have as the betting favorite to win the Eastern Conference, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Avs have come flying out of the gates, outscoring their opponents 15-4 in their four wins, while the Hurricanes have struggled a bit versus middling to bad teams, leading them to a 3-2 record and they will surely be looking to put their best foot forward tonight.
Colorado is coming off a dominant win against Chicago where they shut down Connor Bedard, the most hyped prospect to enter the NHL since Connor McDavid. That followed a revenge game against Seattle where the first period looked quite a bit like last year’s upset playoff series, but the Avs found their footing in the second and never looked back en route to a comfortable 4-1 win. The superstars are doing superstar things, and Colorado is getting some improved play from the bottom six, as Logan O’Connor has started out the season on fire with two short-handed goals. The Avs remade third line has been impressive so far, as Ross Colton and Miles Wood have proven to be the high-energy physical players that were advertised this off-season, and the defense is rock solid once again, while Alexandar Georgiev is off to a great start in what he is hoping will be his best season as a pro.
The lineup is a bit in flux, as Jared Bednar has said he is experimenting with the third forward to play with Nathan Mackinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the top line and wants to try to make those changes based on the matchups for each game. That led the Avs to start Valeri Nichushkin on the top line against Chicago, but Tomas Tatar finished the contest playing with the big line, and it’s really anyone’s guess who Bednar will stick with on any given night in that role right now. That trickles down to the rest of the lineup, so don’t be surprised to see the Avs play with some different lines throughout the night. Given how Jonathan Drouin has looked his best on the top line, we’ll project him to start there, but the only guarantee we can make is that someone else will eventually occupy that spot at some point in the night tonight.
Jonathan Drouin (27) - Nathan Mackinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Artturi Lehkonen (62) - Ryan Johansen (12) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Miles Wood (28) - Ross Colton (20) - Tomas Tatar (90)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Frederik Olofsson (22) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Bowen Byram (4) - Sam Girard (49)
Jack Johnson (3) - Josh Manson (42)
The Canes are a trendy Stanley Cup pick because of their top-shelf talent, their cap space providing them with the flexibility to make any move they desire, and their shutdown defense that frustrates opponents. So far, that defense has not shown up.
Carolina gave up seven goals to Seattle, then proceeded to give up three to what is expected to be the worst team in the league in San Jose, then six against another perpetual basement dweller in Anaheim, and then they gave up five to Los Angeles in a shootout win, and they are coming off their best defensive performance of the year only giving up three against Ottawa, holding them to one goal through the first two periods.
If Carolina has put that middling defensive stretch behind them, then tonight’s contest should live up to the hype of a potential Stanley Cup Final preview. If the team who gave up seven to the Kraken arrives at Ball Arena tonight, then this game might not look too different from the last one for the Avs. Carolina’s best player, Sebastian Aho, missed Thursday night’s game with an upper-body injury and his status for tonight is in doubt. If he misses another game, expect Carolina to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen again.
Michael Bunting (58) - Teuvo Teravainen (86) - Martin Necas (88)
Stefan Noesen (23) - Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) - Seth Jarvis (24)
Jordan Martinook (48) - Jordan Staal (11) - Jesper Fast (71)
Brednan Lemeiux (28) - Jack Drury (18)
Jaccob Slavin (74) - Brent Burns (8)
Brady Skjei (76) - Brett Pesce (22)
Dimitry Orlov (7) - Jalen Chatfield (5)
Tony DeAngelo (77)
Expect Alexandar Georgiev to start every game this month and most games next month. With Colorado’s backup goaltender very much in flux right now with Pavel Francouz’s potential season-ending injury, there likely won’t be much clarity on who the backup is until the Avs know whether or not Francouz will play this year, and until then, Georgie is likely to get every start until Bednar believes he needs a night off.
On the other end of the ice, Carolina also has a bit of an unsettled situation in net, but theirs is a bit more urgent. They have played three goalies in five games, with Antti Raanta starting the first three, and Frederik Andersen starting the last two, although he got hit in the mask in one of the games and currently carries an upper-body injury designation because of it. Given that they won their last two games, it’s possible to expect Andersen to get the start in net tonight, but as of this writing, Carolina has not indicated who the starter is and whether or not Andersen is still injured, so it’s possible they could go back to Raanta.