As we head into the final week of the NHL’s regular season, the Colorado Avalanche are slight favorites to win the Central Division, while Edmonton are slight underdogs to overtake Vegas in the chase for the Pacific, and this game will have a dramatic effect on both division races. Colorado is tied with Dallas in points with an extra game to play, while Edmonton is two points behind Vegas with just two games remaining for both teams.
The Avs are riding a five-game winning streak while Edmonton is unbeaten in their last seven games, and this contest has all the hype the NHL could want out of a late-season nationally televised matchup between two teams with as much star power as any other roster in the league. The Oilers have the rest advantage coming into tonight, having three days off since their last game, while the Avalanche will be playing their third game in four nights.
The Avs are coming off a successful road trip where they played far from their best hockey. They struggled to beat the hapless Sharks in overtime a week ago, then drubbed them 6-2 two nights later. After another day off, the Avs came into Los Angeles and promptly got out-shot 18-4 in the first period, but thanks to some early Alexandar Georgiev heroics, he kept the Kings at bay and Colorado found their footing to win the 3rd period, and steal two points. The next night the Avs looked to be on cruise control against the Anaheim Ducks, only to watch their two-goal lead get turned into a two-goal deficit in the blink of an eye before storming back to win in OT thanks to some really sloppy Anaheim play that put them on the power play for practically the entire last 10 minutes of the game.
Any critique of Colorado’s play the past week must include the fact that they played without some key players like Bowen Byram and Cale Makar, in addition to still missing guys like Josh Manson and Gabriel Landeskog, but there is finally some good news on the injury front today. Byram is good to go tonight and Artturi Lehkonen is back at practice.
Lehkonen is out here in a white jersey working on the PK. One step closer.— Evan Rawal (@evanrawal) April 11, 2023
Cale Makar is skating today but he is still donning a red non-contact jersey, so he will not play tonight. While Lehkonen seems closer to a return than Makar, Jared Bednar confirmed he is not quite ready yet and will also not play tonight.
Evan Rodrigues (9) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Denis Malgin (81) - J.T. Compher (37) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Lars Eller (20) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Ben Meyers (59) - Alex Newhook (18) - Matt Nieto (83)
Devon Toews (7) - Sam Girard (49)
Bowen Byram (4) - Erik Johnson (6)
Jack Johnson (3) - Brad Hunt (17)
The Oilers are the hottest team in hockey right now, as they have won 16 out of their last 19 games, and have outscored their opponents 32 to 11 on their current seven-game winning streak. A week ago it looked like Vegas likely had the Pacific division wrapped up, but the Oilers have made it a very close race. Vegas still has the advantage being up two points with two games to play, but Edmonton holds the tiebreaker with eight more regulation wins than Vegas, so if the Oilers go 2-0-0 this week and Vegas goes 1-1-0, Edmonton will get the first overall seed in the West. The Avs also have a chance to get the first overall seed out West, but they would likely need to win all three remaining games, combined with Vegas only getting three points or less out of their two games against Seattle this week. In short, there are all sorts of intrigue out West, and the only certainty right now is that one of Winnipeg or Nashville will claim the final playoff spot. Everything else is still up for grabs.
Edmonton is surely chomping at the bit to win tonight’s game and prove both to the broader hockey world and themselves that they can beat the defending champs. They are 1-4-4 against the Avs in their last nine games including the playoffs, with four of the last five regular season contests between these two teams going to overtime and the shootout. This is the definition of a measuring stick game for both teams, as the Oilers and Avs will use their performance tonight to gauge how ready they are for the crucible of the playoffs. With Ryan McLeod on long-term IR, look for the Oilers to continue using a lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) — Connor McDavid (97) — Zach Hyman (18)
Evander Kane (91) — Leon Draisaitl (29) — Kailer Yamamoto (56)
Klim Kostin (21) — Nick Bjugstad (72) — Mattias Janmark (26)
Warren Foegele (37) — Derek Ryan (10)
Mattias Ekholm (14) — Evan Bouchard (2)
Darnell Nurse (25) — Philip Broberg (86)
Brett Kulak (27) — Vincent Desharnais (73)
Jason Demers (44)
In a nationally televised Western Conference Finals rematch with all sorts of playoff implications on the line, it’s a certainty that both teams will turn to their starters. Georgiev is putting the finishing touches on his best season ever and one of the best Avalanche goaltending performances since Patrick Roy retired, and rookie Stuart Skinner has been a godsend in net for Edmonton after their big off-season acquisition, Jack Campbell, struggled mightily before losing his job to Skinner just as the Oilers went on this two-month-long hot streak.