A huge game in the race for the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs takes place on Monday as the Detroit Red Wings travel to Ball Arena to face the reigning Stanley Cup Champions Colorado Avalanche.
Both teams currently find themselves outside of the playoff places with the Avalanche fourth in the Central Division (21-17-3) and the Red Wings sixth in the Atlantic (18-16-7).
Colorado are six points behind Edmonton Oilers for the second Wild Card spot from the Western Conference but have four games in hand while Detroit trail New York Islanders by six points with three games to spare in the Eastern Conference.
|What||Detroit Red Wings @ Colorado Avalanche|
|Where||Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado|
|When||20:00, Monday 16th January|
|How to watch||NHL.COM/ Viaplay Sports|
|Odds||Detroit Red Wings 167/100, Colorado Avalanche 25/48|
The Avalanche ended a 21-year wait for the Stanley Cup last season, hoisting the championship for a third time in their history.
This season they have been hit with several key long-term injuries, not least to captain Gabriel Landeskog and high-scoring forward Valeri Nichushkin, but despite that it's a surprise to see the reigning champions on the outside of the playoff positions.
While expected to be back to full strength and able to put together a run in the second half of the season, the Avalanche are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and concern is certainly rising.
Four other teams in expansion era history have failed to make the post-season after winning the Cup and Colorado are 16/5 to make it five.
After six straight seasons outside of the playoffs, the Red Wings made a coaching change and brought in major reinforcements during the summer in an attempt to become far more competitive this season.
Derek Lalonde was hired as a first time NHL head coach following two championship-winning seasons as assistant coach at Tampa Bay Lightning while several experienced players were added to an exciting young core on the ice.
These included goalie Ville Husso and forwards David Perron, Andrew Copp and Dominik Kubalik.
Generally, the moves have paid off with all three forwards sitting in the top six for points alongside Lucas Raymond and Dylan Larkin who were relied on far too heavily last season.
Detroit's points percentage has risen from .451 last season to .524, their average goals scored improved from 2.77 per game to 3.10 and their goals conceded decreased from 3.78 to 3.34.
Their special teams have also been better with the powerplay rising from 16.3% to 20.3% and their penalty kill from 73.8% to 75.8%.
Each key stat remains 20th or below and so there is still plenty of room for improvement, but General Manager Steve Yzerman will at least be pleased that his off-season work has got the Red Wings playing competitive games in the second half of the season.
Where the Red Wings have improved in key stats, the Avalanche have fallen behind last season’s lofty standards. Their average goals scored has fallen from 3.76 to 2.98 which ranks a lowly 24th in the NHL and their powerplay has gone from 24% to 23.2% and penalty kill from 79.7% to 75.6%.
In addition to the absences of Landeskog and Nichushkin, the Avalanche lost Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky in the off-season due to salary cap constraints and their top-five offensive production has also been sadly missing.
Netminder Darcy Kuemper was also allowed to leave and the cheaper Alexandar Georgiev acquired from New York Rangers to replace him.
While the 26-year-old is far from the problem in Colorado, a slight drop has occurred in net with Kuemper now of Washington Capitals posting a .921 save percentage and 2.54 goals against average last season compared to Georgiyev's .914 and 2.75.
The fixture will see some of the NHL’s most exciting young stars come face to face.
Avalanche defenceman Cale Makar is the headline act and has continued his Norris Trophy-winning form this season sitting third on the team for points with 40 (11 goals, 29 assists).
On the opposite side will be the hard-hitting Moritz Seider who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year last season.
The imposing defenceman forms part of an exciting young core in Detroit which also includes 20-year-old Lucas Raymond who has 30 points (13 goals, 18 assists).
Colorado, 10-8-3 at home this season, will need their big-name stars to come through against a well-built and balanced Red Wings side who are 7-7-4 on the road.
If the likes of Mikko Rantanen (29 goals, 24 assists), Nathan MacKinnon (11 goals, 32 assists) and Makar do perform, the Avalanche will take some beating. But too often this season, the trio alone haven't been able to lead the Avalanche to wins, and aside from needing their key players back from injury, the champions need more from their depth players which is a luxury the Red Wings have generally had this season.