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Preview: Avalanche look to bury Stars in Dallas

Colorado heads south to face off with the division rival Stars.

Colorado Avalanche v Dallas Stars Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images

The Colorado Avalanche head into the heart of Texas tonight riding astride a three-game winning streak and looking to show the Dallas Stars that the top of the Central Division is not big enough for the both of us. Led by Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP-caliber production, the Avs are once again looking like the biggest and baddest in the West.

But Dallas is no pushover, just three points back for the division lead with two games in hand. They’ve won seven of their last 10 games despite missing injured goaltending ace Jake Oettinger, and will certainly be out to prove they’re the true top dogs in the Central in this one.

Colorado Avalanche

Nathan Mackinnon is a force of nature, wheeling, dealing, and scoring his way through swaths of opponents - and his sidekicks are following his lead. With Mikko Rantanen on one wing and Valeri Nichushkin or Jonathan Drouin on the other, the Avs top line is pouring in points right now at an unrivaled rate in this year’s NHL.

Behind them, both Ross Colton and Ryan Johansen have been playing strong hockey of late but are dealing with nagging injuries that have kept them out of practice and forced Colton to miss a few games. He may be back tonight, which would give the Avs a much deeper, more balanced group of centers.

Speaking of guys being back, Sam Girard has returned from the Player’s Assistance Program in full force. His steady, responsible defensive zone work was sorely missed, as was his creativity in the offensive zone. Adding a resurgent Girard to a D-corps already featuring Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and the finally healthy version of Josh Manson makes the blueline a lethal weapon again, and that doesn’t even factor in the potential of young Bowen Byram.

All that points to a team ready to go on a run back to the top of the league standings, but to do so they’ll need improved play in goal, as both Alexandar Georgiev and backup Ivan Prosvetov have shown more cracks this season than the Avs have been accustomed to from their netminders in recent years. Georgiev may lead the league in wins right now, but he’s also 28th among starting goalies in Goals Saved Above Expected - a key goaltending stat that demonstrates how much the team in front of him is really earning those wins while he works through his struggles.

Projected Lines

Jonathan Drouin (27) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Miles Wood (28) - Ross Colton (20) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Ryan Johansen (12) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Kurtis MacDermid (56) - Frederik Olofsson (22) - Joel Kiviranta (94)

Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Bowen Byram (4) - Josh Manson (42)
Jack Johnson (3) - Sam Girard (49)

Dallas Stars

They’re deep and they’re good, but are they at the top of the Central Division good? Tonight’s game is a huge test for Dallas, as the Avs are playing some of their best hockey right now and the Stars just lost to the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal won with multiple goals from the defenseman, a strength of the team and one that Colorado shares, so Dallas will need to focus on shoring that shortcoming up to win.

They could also just try to outscore their problems, as their top line of Roope Hintz with Jason Robertson and Joe Pavelski has been strong and the Matt Duchene - Tyler Seguin - Mason Marchment second line is also producing. Forward depth is the true strength of this roster, as even their fourth line is three guys who’d play top nine minutes on most other teams.

Defensively, the Stars are led by young stud Miro Heiskanen and old workhorse Ryan Suter, both of whom are having strong seasons in front of whomever the Stars have in net - though Jake Oettinger’s absence has certainly made their lives more difficult. Scott Wedgewood is a good backup, but his ability to handle a starter’s workload is being tested while Otter is on the shelf.

Projected Lines

Jason Robertson (21) - Roope Hintz (24) - Joe Pavelski (16)
Mason Marchment (27) - Matt Duchene (95) - Tyler Seguin (91)
Jamie Benn (14) - Wyatt Johnston (53) - Evgenii Dadonov (63)
Sam Steel (18) - Radek Faksa (12) - Craig Smith (15)

Ryan Suter (20) - Miro Heiskanen (4)
Esa Lindell (23) - Jani Hakanpaa (2)
Thomas Harley (55) - Joel Hanley (44)

Goaltenders

This should be a duel between Georgiev and Wedgewood, two goalies looking to prove their recent struggles are not who they are. Georgiev in particular needs to prove he can bring his floor up while reaching for his ceiling.