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Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 21.0: An Avalanche of Success? (7pm MT, SNW)

Prior to the season most fans and pundits expected the Colorado Avalanche to be one of the best teams in the NHL. They have star power, depth throughout the lineup an exciting blueline and solid goaltending. So far the Avs have lived up to expectations, despite being ravaged by injuries.

They are third in goals/game at 3.67 and they have the eighth best goals against/game at 2.72. They’ve managed to score a lot and defend very well despite missing Mikko Rantanen for half their games and Gabriel Landeskog for seven. Nikita Zadorov has missed three games with a broken jaw and starting goalie Phillipp Grubauer has also been absent for three games.

The Avs have lived up to expectations, while the Edmonton Oilers have exceeded what even the most optimistic prognosticator expected. They are fifth in the NHL with 26 points, two ahead of the Avalanche and tonight is another good opportunity to prove they belong amongst the better teams in the NHL.

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The Avalanche’s depth players have proven their worth and stepped up in the absence of Rantanen, Landeskog and Colin Wilson. Matt Calvert has 3-4-7 in the nine games Rantanen has missed. Joonas Donskoi has 6-2-8 and Matt Nieto has 2-3-5. Fourteen players have at least three points in their past nine games. The Oilers depth was almost nonexistent early in the season, but in their last nine games nine players have 3+ points and 14 have more than two. Their depth isn’t at the productive level of the Avalanche, but they are showing signs of life after a sluggish first ten games.

Colorado plays fast and aggressive. Their defencemen are effective both at passing and transporting the puck out of the zone. But without Zadorov, they aren’t as good at breaking up the cycle. The Oilers top line will create offence regardless of who they play against, but the other three lines need to be engaged in the game. They need to be on their toes and skating, or the speedy Avs will control the play.

Colorado has outscored teams 43-28 at 5×5. And they force teams to take penalties. They’ve had 74 powerplay opportunities in 18 games. Contrast that to Edmonton’s 57 powerplays in 20 games. That is a major advantage for the Avs as they average 4.1 PP/game while the Oilers are at 2.85/game. Both teams have been shorthanded equally, averaging 3.33 times shorthanded/game.

Edmonton’s special teams have been slightly better. Their PK is fourth at 86.4% and their PP is second at 28.1%. Colorado is ninth on the PK at 83.3% and 17th at 20.3%. Their powerplay hasn’t dipped at all without Rantanen or Landeskog yet. It is 20.5% over the past nine games, so Edmonton’s PK shouldn’t expect and easier night due to injuries.

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Edmonton has played quite well against the top teams in the league thus far. They’ve defeated top-ten teams like Washington, Philadelphia, New York Islanders and Vancouver, and have lost to the Blues, Panthers and Coyotes (in OT). This mini-two game home stand will be another good test against the Avalanche and surging Dallas Stars, who are 8-1-1 in their last ten games.

If they want to keep their early-season success rolling downhill they will need a much more competitive effort tonight against the exciting Avalanche.

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LINEUP…

Oilers

Draisaitl-McDavid-Kassian
Neal-RNH-Archibald
Nygard-Haas-Chiasson
Khaira-Sheahan-P. Russell

Nurse-Bear
Klefbom-Jones
Russell-Benning

Smith

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Tippett sticks with Smith likely for a few reasons. He is 11-1-4 all-time against Colorado, but also because the entire team wasn’t very good in San Jose and five deflections isn’t a sign Smith was horrible. I also wonder if going back to Smith is so Koskinen plays Dallas and then San Jose next Tuesday. Had he gone with Koskinen today, then Smith is back in San Jose next Tuesday. I’m sure there are many reasons. I should have asked Tippett about it, but I arrived late to his presser, after doing an interview with Kassian, and assumed someone asked earlier about the goalies. I asked about Archibald move. (Note to self, never assume.)

Archibald moves up to the second line to get more speed on that line. Gaetan Haas draws back in as well to increase the team speed against a very quick Colorado team.

Jones makes his season debut on the blueline with Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom has become the mentor for young players as he’s been paired with Ethan Bear, Joel Persson and now Jones this season.

“He’s a really good skater,” said Klefbom about Jones. “Definitely that will help when we break out the puck, especially against fast teams like Colorado, we need to get back to pucks quickly and get it out of our zone quickly. I think I have had four partners in five games, so it is a bit different. I will talk a lot. I remember when I came up and how important it was to be vocal. Ask a lot of questions. I was lucky I had Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin, who was a really good mentor actually, when I came up and I have to make sure I can try to make things more comfortable for him (Jones).

Avs

Donskoi-MacKinnon-Calvert
Nichuskin-Kadri-Compher
Nieto-Jost-Burakovsky
Megna-Kamenev-Tynan

Girard-Johnson
Graves-Makar
Cole-Connauton

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Werner

Donskoi and Calvert are not regular first line wingers, but they have produced very well replacing Rantanen and Landeskog. I’ve always argued good teams need players who play up the lineup for a short times to fill in gaps, and so far those two have done it quite well.

I’m curious to see if Avs head coach Jared Bednar plays the Kadri line against Connor McDavid. Kadri likes playing against McDavid, but does Bednar want Compher and Nichuskin, who doesn’t have a goal in 87 games, out against the league’s most dangerous duo? Either way this is a good matchup for Leon Draisaitl and McDavid.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers bounce back after a tough game in San Jose and win 5-3.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: This will be a highly entertaining game with lots of speed. McDavid and MacKinnon have fans watching in awe. Draisaitl picks up two more points, and increases his scoring lead.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Archibald scores his first goal of the season.

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