While there have been a lot of candidates for the most disappointing Colorado Avalanche loss of the season, like dropping games to basement dwellers Chicago and Anaheim, the 5-0 Stanley Cup Final rematch blowout in their last game may top the list. Colorado is far from being a true Stanley Cup contender if that indicates how the rest of the season will play out. The offense has been genuinely bad most of the year, as it currently sits 29th in the NHL in goals at 5-on-5 and 24th in total goals overall. Suppose the Avs are going to mount a 2nd half-comeback. In that case, the forwards must play better because outside of Mikko Rantanen and Nathan Mackinnon, this hasn’t been a championship-level group of forwards this year.
The Avs will be without Cale Makar again, as he is still dealing with the effects of the unpenalized cheap shot he took to the head from Jeff Carter against Pittsburgh. Luckily Bowen Byram is starting to get his legs under him after sitting out for an extended period with a lower-body injury, so they will still have a formidable backline. The defense has been good all year, as only six other teams have given up fewer goals than Colorado, and they will need to be at their best against a Florida team that is starting to get hot.
The Avs will likely trot out the same lineup they had against Tampa Bay, with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Jared Bednar has been reluctant to play a consistent 4th line all year, and that trend has continued after the acquisition of Matt Nieto. He has been rolling three lines and then double-shifting an array of forwards to pair with Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor, which has kept the forward groups quite fluid.
Valeri Nichushkin — Nathan MacKinnon — Artturi Lehknonen
Mikko Rantanen — J.T. Compher — Evan Rodrigues
Matt Nieto — Alex Newhook — Denis Malgin
Andrew Cogliano — Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews — Samuel Girard
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Brad Hunt — Kurtis MacDermid
While the Avs have struggled, Florida is likely the front-runner for the NHL’s most disappointing team this season. Last year’s Presidents Trophy winners made a massive off-season trade with Calgary, and even though their big prize from that trade, Matthew Tkachuck, has been the best player on the team, the rest of the squad has not played up to their standards from last year. That said, they’re starting to get hot, as they beat the league-leading Boston Bruins going into the All-Star break, and then they routed Tampa Bay 7-1 in their next game, following that up with a 4-1 win against the struggling San Jose Sharks a couple of days ago. The Avs might be playing the best version of the Panthers all year today.
Anton Lundell (15) - Eetu Luostarinen (27) - Sam Reinhart (13)
Carter Verhaeghe (23) - Sam Bennett (9) - Matthew Tkachuk (19)
Ryan Lomberg (94) - Eric Staal (12) - Nick Cousins (21)
Givani Smith (54) - Chris Tierney (71) - Colin White (6)
Gustav Forsling (42) - Aaron Ekblad (5)
Marc Staal (18) - Brandon Montour (62)
Josh Mahura (28) - Radko Gudas (7)
Colorado somewhat surprisingly began this trip with Pavel Francousz against Pittsburgh, so unless they are now committing to playing both goalies every other game, we will likely see Alexandar Georgiev in net today.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been Florida’s starter for most of this year, with former first-round pick Spencer Knight playing around 40% of the time. Knight hasn’t played since January 8th, so he is due to get some action. Initially, one would think the Panthers wouldn’t want to throw him right into the fire against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but a matchup against the team that’s 29th in 5-on-5 goals may be precisely what Knight needs to ease back into action.