The Colorado Avalanche received good news and bad news regarding injuries, with the Edmonton Oilers about to visit on Wednesday.
Forward Mikko Rantanen practiced Tuesday with no restrictions after missing 15 games with a lower-body injury. Although he said he won’t play against Edmonton, Rantanen likely will return when the Avalanche play at Chicago on Friday night.
Defenseman Erik Johnson, however, is out after suffering an injury in Saturday’s loss to Toronto.
Johnson was hurt when he was boarded by Maple Leafs forward and former teammate Alex Kerfoot. The NHL handed down a two-game suspension for Kerfoot, who expressed contrition and said it was “a bad play by me.”
Johnson joins a growing list of Colorado players who are sidelined. In addition to Rantanen, forwards Gabriel Landeskog (lower body), Matt Calvert (concussion protocol) and Colin Wilson (lower body) remain out. Landeskog and Wilson are not close to returning, while Calvert has improved since Sunday.
“It’s really bizarre. I’ve never been on a team where things have gone like this,” forward Matt Nieto said after practice on Monday. “Even if you’re losing a regular player in the lineup, it’s tough. Unfortunately for us, we’ve lost a couple guys on the top line, some leaders around the room and guys playing in key situations. It hasn’t been easy.”
It won’t get any easier against the Oilers, who lead the Pacific Division with the most points in the Western Conference through the first quarter of the season. Edmonton is coming off road wins in Vegas and Arizona.
The Oilers also have the top scorers in the NHL in Leon Draisaitl (48 points) and Connor McDavid (47), and the team’s 35 team points are almost half of last season’s total (79).
“We feel we’re a good team in here if we play the right way,” forward Zack Kassian said after the win over the Coyotes. “We’re a different team than last year. The guys who came back have a chip on their shoulders and the systems that the coaching staff implemented, everyone is following them to a T. We feel we’re a dangerous team if we play the right way.
“We have a focus in here to get better every day. There have been some lapses where we haven’t had our best effort, but it shows a lot of character in our team that we respond really well.”
Wednesday’s game is the second of three between the teams this season. Edmonton won the first game 6-2 at home on Nov. 14 during a successful road trip for Colorado. The Avalanche went 3-2 on that trip and nearly had four wins, but a late goal in Minnesota in the final game beat them.
With Landeskog and Rantanen out, coach Jared Bednar has shuffled several players onto the top line with leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon. Lately, that has been Andre Burakovsky, who has six goals in his last five games and had pair of two-goal games on the road trip.
–Field Level Media