After a difficult road trip where the Colorado Avalanche lost all three games—albeit while still capturing two points—they return to Ball Arena tonight to begin a five-game stretch at home where they have been one of the best teams in the NHL.
The Avs didn’t play badly on their road trip, per se. They let a win against a vastly improved Arizona team slip through their grasp at the buzzer, before playing kind of a sleepy game in Anaheim that they lost in overtime, which made their game the following night against the Kings that much more difficult. Anyone can lose to anyone in the NHL on the second half of a back-to-back, and given that they still were able to capture multiple points in a three-game losing streak, there is no reason to press the panic button right now (unless Cale Makar is out for an extended stretch, then maybe keep it nearby).
Something I was curious to check out - teams on the right side have improved their xGoal differential so far compared to last season, teams on the left have taken a hit.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) December 4, 2023
xGoal model is SportLogiq's, source is TSN. pic.twitter.com/h1EaGE3IoO
That said, this is a big opportunity that the Avs need to take advantage of. Dallas, Winnipeg, Arizona and possibly even St. Louis are making the Central chase extremely tight so far, and Colorado needs to capture every point they can get. Last year was a perfect example of how razor-thin this division title race can be, as the Avs needed every single point in order to win the division in the final game of the season.
Dropping points they feel like they should have captured on the road just makes their home games that much more important, especially against a team like Anaheim whom they beat 8-2 the last time they visited Denver. They need two points tonight.
Valeri Nichushkin — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen
Jonathan Drouin — Ryan Johansen — Oskar Olausson
Miles Wood — Ross Colton — Logan O’Connor
Kurtis MacDermid— Fredrik Olofsson — Joel Kiviranta
Devon Toews — Bowen Byram
Caleb Jones — Josh Manson
Jack Johnson — Sam Malinski
*Note: The Avs recalled Oskar Olausson today for the injured Andrew Cogliano, day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Cale Makar did not play against the Kings on Saturday night and is doubtful tonight so Sam Malinski will play once again. Tomas Tatar also seems likely to be scratched and Kurtis MacDermid comes into the team, while Valeri Nichushkin will play despite battling an illness.
The Ducks are rebuilding while currently playing without their best player in Trevor Zegras, so they are a bit of a herky-jerky team. They lost eight in a row before upsetting the Avs in overtime on Saturday, and have beaten other good teams like Carolina, Boston, Pittsburgh and Vegas this year.
Despite their struggles, they are still a dangerous team, and the Avs have lived Anaheim’s season-long variance as much as any team both in their 8-2 win and 4-3 OT loss against the Ducks. Can they find a way to upset the Avs again and end their season series on top?
Frank Vatrano — Mason McTavish — Ryan Strome
Alex Killorn — Leo Carlsson — Troy Terry
Max Jones — Adam Henrique — Jakob Silfverberg
Brock McGinn — Sam Carrick — Brett Leason
Cam Fowler — Tristan Luneau
Jackson LaCombe — Radko Gudas
Pavel Mintyukov — Ilya Lyubushkin
Alexandar Georgiev did not play against Anaheim this weekend so he could play the second half of the back-to-back in Los Angeles, and given how Jared Bednar has used him this year, Georgiev will likely start every game the rest of this month, save for the one back-to-back left in 2023 for the Avs.
John Gibson beat the Avs on Saturday night and the Ducks have not played since, so there’s no reason to believe that a rested Anaheim team will turn away from their starter tonight as they look to build momentum off their win at home against the Avs.