The Colorado Avalanche have gone from Stanley Cup champs to a team fighting to stay in the playoff hunt just 24 games into a title defense.
Colorado didn’t have an exodus of talent, just a rash of injuries that turned it into an AHL-heavy roster. With 10 significant players out, the Avalanche were blanked 4-0 by Boston on Wednesday night, their third straight loss.
They will try to avoid a fourth straight when they host the New York Rangers on Friday night.
It is the final game of the season between the teams. Colorado won the first meeting in a shootout, 3-2 in New York on Oct. 25.
The shootout hero on that night, Evan Rodrigues, is one of the 10 Avalanche players sidelined with an injury. He hasn’t played since Nov. 23 against Vancouver due to a lower-body injury but was skating with a non-contact jersey before Thursday’s practice, as was Artturi Lehkonen, who has missed the last two games while in concussion protocol.
Nathan MacKinnon will miss 4-5 weeks with an upper-body injury suffered Monday in Philadelphia, and his absence gave Cal Burke a chance to make his NHL debut against Boston.
Along with those of Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, the many absences have forced coach Jared Bednar to use funky lineups. In Wednesday’s loss, only one of the projected top-six forwards at the start of the season was in the lineup.
Even with the health issues, the goal has not changed for Colorado — reach the playoffs and make another Cup run.
“A position to play in the playoffs isn’t given, it’s earned,” Andrew Cogliano said. “There’s a lot of parity in this league. We’re fighting for points. It maybe sucks to say after Game 24 that we’re desperate, but really, we are.”
A sign that one or more of the injured players could return is that the Avalanche placed Martin Kaut on waivers Thursday. Bednar said after practice that Nichushkin and/or Darren Helm could possibly play Friday night.
New York placed forward Ryan Carpenter on waivers on Thursday. He has one goal and two assists in 21 games this season.
The Rangers have bounced back from their own rough stretch to win two straight, including a 5-1 win at Vegas on Wednesday night. New York had lost five of six games before its short winning streak and is looking to sweep its two-game road trip.
The win over the St. Louis Blues on Monday was sparked, in part, when coach Gerard Gallant shook up his line combinations and put Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko on the top line with Mika Zibanejad.
Lafreniere has two goals since moving to the top line, and Kakko had a goal in the win over the Golden Knights.
“They’ve been good,” Gallant said. “I’m real happy with the line and hopefully they can keep going.”
Zibanejad seems to enjoy playing with the two youngsters. He had two goals and an assist Wednesday night.
“Talking about it the last couple of days, (Kakko) keeps doing the right things and putting himself in a spot where he can score and he did it (Wednesday),” Zibanejad said.
–Field Level Media