Tomorrow morning sees a match between the two most recent Stanley Cup champions: Colorado Avalanche takes on the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Colorado Avalanche has been showcasing impressive results in recent matches, securing seven wins out of the past nine games, including overtime victories against the Islanders, Dallas, and Boston. Critical roles in these encounters were played by Valeri Nichushkin, who scored decisive goals, and Nathan MacKinnon, who made a mark in overtime against Islanders and managed a double with an assist against Dallas.
MacKinnon, being one of the team's standout players, ranks second in the NHL for points scored, accumulating 66 points, inclusive of 22 goals. He has extended his home point streak to 22 games and has scored in 24 out of the last 25 games. Nichushkin also contributed substantially, securing 20 goals and 20 assists. MacKinnon is nearing Joe Sakic's franchise record for the longest home serial score.
The team also grapples with injuries to key players, including the absence of Miles Wood, Josh Manson, and Bowen Byram. Forward Jason Pohl was called up from the AHL and debuted in the NHL in a shootout victory over Boston with a score of 4:3, while defenceman Sam Malinksi replaced Manson and scored his second goal of the season.
Malinksi, having played 15 games for the Avalanche, has impressed the coach and may get more on-ice time due to Byram and Manson's absence. The team ranks second in the league in offensive measures, averaging 3.66 goals per game but letting in 3.09. Russian goaltenders Georgiev and Prosvetov are demonstrating variable results, but the team's attacking power compensates for these shortcomings.
The Vegas Golden Knights kicked off the season with a brilliant start of 11-0-1 but recently faced significant difficulties, losing seven of the last ten matches. This dip in form has had an impact on their positions in the Pacific Division, where they have slipped to second place. Losses against Florida with a score of 1:4 and against Seattle in the NHL Winter Classic have particularly underscored the team's current issues. Nevertheless, Vegas claimed a win over the Islanders with a score of 5:2, where Jack Eichel scored two goals and Pavel Dorofeyev added one more.
The team also faces hardship due to injuries to significant players. Defenceman Shea Theodore has been out of action since the end of November, and his return date remains unknown. Forwards William Karlsson and William Carrier are also out of the game, as is goaltender Adin Hill, who has only played for 6 minutes 25 seconds since November 30. Hill started training and may return to the ice shortly. Defenceman Zach Whitecloud missed the last victory over the Islanders due to an upper-body injury. These injuries have provided opportunities for other players, such as defenceman Lucas Cormier, who assisted in his NHL debut, and defenceman Tobias Bjornfot, who debuted for Vegas after moving from the Los Angeles Kings.
Vegas's results have dropped to 13 wins and 15 losses after a successful start. Team leader Jack Eichel has 42 points, including 18 goals, and Mark Stone added 39 points with 27 assists. William Karlsson, despite the injury, scored 15 goals and made 17 assists. Russian Ivan Barbashev scored 9 goals and made 10 assists for 40 matches, and Dorofeyev added 5 goals and 5 assists. Rookie Denisenko played only two matches.
The champion Vegas annihilated the Denver team with a score of 7:0 in the first match of the season. Last season Colorado took 2 out of 3 matches with scores of 3:2 and 3:0.
With the Colorado team in splendid form and just 3 points short of leading in the West, while Vegas trails by 4 points, Nichushkin's home team is sure to put up a fight and exact revenge for the 0:7 outcome in the first match. But Vegas knows how to play for a result, and I imagine the match will be exciting with a high number of goals. I'm betting on a total of over 5.5.