Reigning Stanley Cup champions Colorado Avalanche travel to Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday for a crucial game in the race for a playoff spot in the NHL Western Conference.
Colorado (22-17-3) currently sit fourth in the Central Division, while the Calgary Flames (21-15-9) are fifth in the Pacific Division.
With a four-point advantage over their opponents, the Flames currently hold the final Wild Card spot into the playoffs from the West, but the Avalanche do have three games in hand.
The fixture begins a four-game home stand for the Flames, who are 12-7-2 at Saddledome, while for the Avalanche it is the start of a three-game road swing - where they are 11-9-0.
|What||Colorado Avalanche @ Calgary Flames|
|Where||Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary|
|When||21:37, Wednesday January 18th|
|How to watch||NHL.com, SN1, SNW, TVAS, ALT2|
|Odds||COL Avalanche +110, CAL Flames -130|
The Flames lost their top scorers Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk in the off-season, but were felt to have kept their Stanley Cup window open by bringing in forwards Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri plus defenseman MacKenzie Weegar.
Kadri has continued the form which saw him have a career year and lift the Stanley Cup with the Avalanche last season and he leads the Flames with 17 goals in 45 games.
Huberdeau, however, has struggled to hit the lofty heights of an NHL second-best 115-point season with the Florida Panthers, producing 31 points in 42 games, which is fourth for the Flames.
Still coming to terms with their new identity, the Flames’ offense has dropped from sixth best in the NHL and averaging 3.55 goals per game last season to 20th with an average of 3.09 goals per game.
Their goals against average have also increased from 2.51, which was third best in the NHL last season, to 2.93 which is 15th overall.
The drop-off means they have gone from a division leading .677 points percentage to .567 and they find themselves in a fight for their playoff lives.
If they do manage to get in, they are +2000 to win the Stanley Cup, which they have won just once before, in 1989.
Despite being without Captain Gabriel Landeskog and fellow top-six forward Valeri Nichushkin for a long period of time this season, the reigning Stanley Cup champions would not have expected to find themselves out of the playoff positions at the halfway mark of the season.
With concerns rising about whether Colorado will have the opportunity to defend their championship in the post-season, their two top stars have risen to the challenge in the last five games.
Helping the Avs to three wins in five, forward Nathan MacKinnon has registered 11 points (four goals, seven assists), while All-Star defenseman Cale Makar has scored four goals.
Mikko Rantanen leads Colorado overall with 29 goals and 53 points, with MacKinnon second (47 points: 13 goals, 34 assists) and Makar third (43 points; 13 goals, 30 assists).
While Colorado’s position is far from a crisis, recent defeats to Florida and particularly the NHL’s bottom team, Chicago Blackhawks, have raised alarm bells.
Nichushkin returned with an assist in Colorado's last game, which was a 6-3 win over Detroit Red Wings, and with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) from 16 games this season his addition back into the line-up will certainly help the Avs' case and get their average goals up from 3.09 (20th).
However, they also need more from their depth players who were so key to them ending a 21-year-old wait for the Cup or else they may meet their +320 odds to become the fifth team in the expansion era to not make the playoffs after lifting the famous trophy a season earlier.
The Flames opened their season with a 5-3 win over the Avalanche on home ice which was Colorado’s second game.
Huberdeau and Kadri each had an assist on their debut and crucially Calgary won the special teams battle, scoring twice on five powerplay opportunities.
Sadly, for the Flames they haven't been able to maintain that success on their powerplay and they find themselves 24th in the league converting at 19.4%.
On the other hand, the Avalanche's penalty-kill has continued to struggle, sitting 19th in the league at 75.9%.
So, the Flames will feel they can again take advantage with the additional man, but so will the Avalanche, whose powerplay is 11th at 24%. It will be up against a strong Flames' penalty kill, though, which ranks seventh at 82.4%.
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