It wasn’t long ago that the Colorado Avalanche were the hottest team in the NHL and headed for the West Division title and home-ice advantage for at least two rounds.
A COVID-19 pause and the first three-game losing streak of the season have Colorado in second place — barely — and facing long odds in catching the streaking Vegas Golden Knights.
The Avalanche (31-12-4, 66 points) can start to turn things around Friday night when they host the San Jose Sharks for the first of two games on consecutive nights. Colorado could also get key players back for the stretch run.
Goaltender Philipp Grubauer and forwards Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi could return as early as Friday, which would be a big boost. Grubauer is having a Vezina Trophy-type season but has missed the last five games after contracting the coronavirus.
Rantanen, the team’s leading goal scorer with 26, hasn’t played the last four games, while Donskoi has missed five games.
“It’s going to change the dynamic of our team,” coach Jared Bednar said after Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss at Vegas.
The Avalanche traded for goaltenders Jonas Johansson and Devan Dubnyk in the last six weeks, and both have filled in for Grubauer. Dubnyk, a veteran with plenty of playoff experience, allowed a goal 10 seconds into Wednesday night’s loss and stopped 21 of 25 shots overall.
“It wasn’t a great night for him,” Bednar said.
Colorado has nine games remaining, with eight of those coming against the Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, two teams out of the playoff picture and with slim hopes of reaching the postseason.
San Jose (20-24-5, 45 points) was a game above .500 three weeks ago but went into a prolonged slump, going 0-7-1 before winning back-to-back games against Arizona this week. The Sharks take that two-game winning streak into the two games in Denver, and if things break just right, they can catch St. Louis, which is currently fourth, five points ahead of San Jose.
The Sharks were peering into the offseason and beyond before the wins over the Coyotes, and while they still have a shot at the playoffs, they will also look at some young players, too.
“There’s going to be some games here where there are probably going to be some young guys getting in, and that’s the position we put ourselves in,” coach Bob Boughner said before the two games with Arizona. “We’ve got to move forward. We’ve got to make sure that we’re working on culture, we’re working on being positive, and we’re working on working hard and being in games.”
Colorado has won three of the first four games from San Jose, and two of those victories have been shutouts. Grubauer was in net for all three victories, and if he can bounce back from having the coronavirus, he will have a chance for another one Friday night.
The Avalanche are going for victory No. 1,000 since the franchise moved from Quebec to Colorado in 1995. Since becoming the Avalanche, they are 999-727-101 and have 142 ties.
–Field Level Media