The Avalanche defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-3, on New Year’s Eve in Denver.
Since that point, the Avs have been on a complete tear. As evidence, they have had winning records in every month of 2014, and their longest losing steak was only three games – from March 18-21 (Montreal, Winnipeg in OT and Boston). Even in defeat, Patrick Roy’s club can’t help but accumulate a standings point. It’s not quite "worst to first", but that’s only because the St. Louis Blues are ahead of the Avs in the Central Division standings. Worst to second…that’s a very real possibility. Madness, I tell you.
While the Avs are towering high over much of the NHL from their perch in the Rocky Mountains, some cracks in the bedrock are forming. Knee injuries, to be specific. Alex Tanguay (February 25th), P.A. Parenteau (March 11th) and Matt Duchene (March 30th) all are out with banged-up knees. The loss this week of Duchene especially hurts, seeing as he’s already at 70 points on the season and is Colorado’s top scorer. The NHL’s 6th-best scoring team will push rookie phenom Nathan MacKinnon up to Duchene’s spot, a nice thing to be able to do when in a pinch.
No fooling, the Blue Jackets will have their hands full tonight. These Avs are legitimate NHL contenders once again.
Top scorers in Colorado are:
– Forward Matt Duchene (23 goals, 47 assists, 70 points)
– Forward Gabriel Landeskog (24 G, 37 A, 61 pts.)
– Forward Ryan O’Reilly (26 G, 32 A, 58 pts.)
– Forward Nathan MacKinnon (23 G, 33 A, 56 pts.)
– Forward Paul Stasny (21 G, 31 A, 52 pts.)
Sergei Bobrovsky’s Russian Olympic teammate, Semyon Varlamov, likely will start in goal. In 55 starts, Varlamov is 37-14-5 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
With the NHL winds swirling all around Columbus as they enjoyed their last two-day rest of the regular season, the Blue Jackets find themselves not in seventh but rather in eighth place in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight’s game. They hold a one-point lead over Washington (who plays Dallas tonight) and trail Detroit by two points. This is what the playoff chase is all about. Win, and you get to keep playing to qualify. Lose, and hope that you get some help. The Blue Jackets are right on the edge.
Past that, this likely will be the best rested roster that we’ll see between now and game 82. I appreciate that the Avalanche have vaulted themselves into the class of the (dominant) Western Conference, but a well-rested team on home ice that’s playing for their playoff lives should be able to go toe to toe with anyone in the league. It only gets harder from here on out, so don’t look for moral victories. It’s about winning. Period.
WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:
It’s sometimes the easy way out to say, "I’m going to watch the goalie." Goalies are at the crux of the game, the last line of defense between a win and a loss. Tonight’s a little different, so I’m going to pay close attention to Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s for two reasons:
1. Bob has missed the last two and a half games with the flu. This is his first game back, and we can hope that he has the bug out of his system. No…hope isn’t a strategy. We need him to have the bug out of his system.
2. Colorado’s strengths are in goal and on offense. Their defense isn’t the greatest. They’re not bad, but they’re nowhere close to the offensive side of things in Denver. The CBJ defense has been taxed since Ryan Murray went out for the balance of the regular season, and they’ll likely be taxed again tonight. Even without Tanguay, Parenteau and especially Duchene, the Avs are still very potent. Bob will need to be back on his game for the CBJ to be able to counterpunch.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
FOX Sports Ohio has it all for you tonight:
– Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" with the late-breaking news and info, as well as a full preview of the game, at 6:30PM.
– The puck drops at Nationwide Arena at 7PM, with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.
Yet another huge game down the final stretch. Aren’t they all huge? You betcha! Go Jackets!