The much-anticipated matchup between the defending champion Colorado Avalanche and the eastern powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs is finally upon us. The last time these two clubs met, the Leafs beat the Avalanche in their barn by a score of 6-2. Can this Colorado team that has slightly recovered from injuries (not really) give the Leafs a taste of championship pedigree?
The Avalanche lost another quality and consistent performer in their top 6 group in their victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Artturi Lehkonen will be out for 4-6 weeks due to a broken finger. Lehkonen returned to Denver for surgery, and we await further updates on his return timeline. The last time Colorado faced Toronto and got dominated, they were without some key members and are still without Gabe Landeskog, who is progressing toward a playoff return. Thank goodness Nathan MacKinnon is going off these days.
Our contributor Jacob Weindling mentioned on this week’s Mile High Hockey Lab episode that this contest might represent an opportunity for Colorado to show some defensive superiority by shutting down one of the NHL’s best offenses. If the Avalanche want a real shot at doing so, they must play defense first and stay out of the sin bin.
Here are Jacob’s (@Jakeweindling) thoughts ahead of tonight’s matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Avalanche can show their defensive prowess tonight against an explosive Leafs squad. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/c5Rg5MhGky— Mile High Hockey Lab (@MHH_LAB) March 15, 2023
Evan Rodrigues — Nathan MacKinnon — Valeri Nichushkin
Denis Malgin — JT Compher — Mikko Rantanen
Andrew Cogliano — Lars Eller — Logan O’Connor
Alex Galchenyuk — Alex Newhook — Matt Nieto
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Samuel Girard — Bowen Byram
Jack Johnson — Brad Hunt
Note: With Artturi Lehkonen on the mend, the Avalanche recalled Alex Galchenyuk, who had performed exceptionally for the Colorado Eagles before this call-up. Avs could also elevate Newhook or recent standout Denis Malgin into the top 6.
Tonight will be a substantial test for Colorado’s newest netminder. Colorado has played the first of a back-to-back tonight, so I’d expect Alexandar Georgiev to get the nod against the Leafs and Joonas Johansson to get the net against the Senators. I’m sure Georgiev wasn’t too pleased with giving up four to the Habs, but a few of their tallies weren’t saveable.
The Leafs got Ilya Samsonov via free agency ahead of the 2022-23 season and employed Matt Murray, who has given up four goals in five straight starts. The talking heads in the six think that Samsonov and Murray can be enough to hoist the cup, sighting Colorado’s success last year as proof of a team winning without a true starter. Darcy Kuemper says what? Kuemper was top 5 in goals saved above expected previous season (among goalies with at least 20 starts). Neither Samsonov nor Murray are top ten in that category this year. Georgie is top 10, though!