Colorado is the current placeholder of the final playoff spot with 83-points. They have played more games than practically everyone else in the West so their position is a tenuous one. With just eight contests remaining, Colorado will only be able to hold off San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary if they continue to win.
The Flames, for their part, are still looking up through a maze of legs. The game against the Avs tonight is the first of seven games in a 12-day span, with many of the matches against other WC playoff hopefuls (COLX2, LAK, DALX2). These same two teams meet again next Friday, March the 30th in what could well prove to be a game that determines both club’s fates. Tonight, though, each could still do serious damage to the others’ aspirations.
Blair Jones and Chris Butler are both back on skates with probable returns within the next week or so. Word is Tim Jackman is ready to get back into action as well, at the probable expense of Greg Nemisz
Tanguay – Stajan – Iginla
Glencross – Jokinen – Kostopolous
Comeau – Moss -Stempniak
Desbiens – Horak – Jackman
Hannan – Giordano
Smith – Bouwmeester
Babchuk – Sarich
As expected last game, the new Jokinen unit featuring Kostopolous did most of the heavy lifting against Columbus. More than nine of Jokinen’s 10 ES minutes were spent skating against Rick Nash, while Iginla and company only saw about three minutes of the BJ’s scoring line. Jokinen didn’t do too badly in that role, although Columbus collapsed into a hard "defense only" shell after they got up by one that it was hard to judge anyone in that contest. Expect the second line to see more tough minutes tonight.
Kipper, of course, is in net.
New addition Jamie McGinn has gone from a checking line guy on the Sharks to a scoring dynamo for the Avs. He has seven goals and 10 points in 10 games since being dealt at the deadline.
Landeskog – O’Reilly – Downie
McGinn – Stastny – Jones
Mueller – Duchene – Hejduk
McLeod – McClemment – Olver
O’Byrne – Hejda
Johnson – Hunwick
Wilson – O’Brien
Colorado has a strong Calder candidate in Gabriel Landeskog. The kid jumped straight from junior in the bigs and is already a legit front-line option. The math doesn’t just like Landeskog – it loves him. He plays the toughest competition on the team and has the best possession rate (+11.19/60 corsi) amongst regular forwards. If he was getting even marginally above average shooting percentages at ES this year (he’s not), he’d be running away with the rookie scoring title. I get the feeling he’s going to be scary good.
Of course, what has helped Landeskog is his on going partnership with Ryan O’Reilly. Picked in the second round the same year as Matt Duchene, O’Reilly had just okay scoring numbers in junior. it was therefore very surpring when he made the Avs out of training camp as a teenager that October. He’s played the tough minutes since the day he arrived in the HL and although he got murdered for the majority of his rookie season, O’Reilly has since turned into an effective, consistent, two-forward for Colorado. He’s also leading the team in scoring this year. I guess sometimes rushing guys spoils them forever…and sometimes the hottest fires forge the strongest steel.
That’s the long way of saying the Avs are at least three lines deep up front. Not a lot of easy minutes to go around for the Flames tonight as a result.
Finally, Semyon Varlamov gets the start in net. The former Capital had a really bad beginning to his Avs career but has turned things around in the last month or two. He’s won nine of his last 11 starts, ninie times posting a SV% of .928 or above. His hot streak is a big reason Colorado is in the playoff conversation.
Doesn’t get much simpler than this. When it comes to games against teams like Colorado, Dallas and Los Angeles down the stretch, the objective has to be to win outright. Getting to OT or SO (be it win or loss) isn’t going to do the deed with things as close as they are.
So it’s easy: win it in 60 minutes.
A couple of very notable games this evening with Phonix squaring off with Dallas and the Sharks facing the Kings. San Jose missed an opportunity get back into the top-8 by falling to the Ducks last night while the Coyotes and Stars will both want to stay ahead of the pack. Ideally, Calgary wants none of these teams to garner points, but since that isn’t going to happen they’ll have to settle for hoping for no three point games.