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Game Day Preview #51, Colorado Avalanche @ Los Angeles Kings

Struggling opponent? Rookie goalie? National television? Hmm.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Colorado Avalanche (13-32-2) @ Los Angeles Kings (25-21-4)

How to Watch and What to Watch

There’s no way around it. The Avalanche are bad. Bad. Dead last in the NHL in points, and it’s not even close: they’ve got 28 points while the Coyotes are a step ahead of them with 38 points. In fact, 44 points separate the Avalanche from the league-leading Washington Capitals. If those 44 points were a team, they’d still be doing better than the Avalanche. They have the worst goal differential in the league (-67), they’ve won one game of their last ten and have lost eight straight.

They’re a team in deep, deep trouble -- and yet, last time these teams met, the Avalanche claimed a 4-1 win. Funny how this game works.

Despite all their woes, the Avalanche still have the speed and skill to dismantle another team, if not the confidence. Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon lead their team in points, and are both a delight to watch when they take over the game. While Duchene missed the last game against the Kings with an injury, MacKinnon put an astounding ten shots on net, though received no points for his attempts. Rookie forward Mikko Rantanen also provides a promising glimpse of the future for the Avs. In his first season, Rantanen is fourth on the team in points and is holding down a spot on the top line. He scored the only goal for the Avalanche last night in Anaheim, as they took a 5-1 loss to the Ducks.

Rookie goaltender Spencer Martin may get the start tonight. He’s only played twice since being elevated to the backup role, both resulting in losses to San Jose. He’s an unknown quantity and the Avalanche are Not Great, so.

Prepare yourselves, that’s all.

Meanwhile, the Kings are still without Tyler Toffoli, but Matt Greene’s move to IR (and the subsequent waiving of Tom Gilbert) means that there will be a roster space for Toffoli’s inevitable return. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him sometime during this upcoming road trip (four games on the east coast), but for now, he’s still out, though practicing with the team. Presuming the lines stay the same as yesterday, Kyle Clifford will continue to hold down the spot to Jeff Carter’s right, where all he really needs to do is be a human wrecking ball and crash the net. No finesse required for that, which is probably a good thing.

The defense continues to be shuffled, with Jake Muzzin drawing top pairing duties alongside Drew Doughty. Muzzin’s inching up on the possibility of having a 10-goal season, and has bounced back from some rough stretches this season. Last night, Muzzin led the defense with over 27 minutes of ice time, a season high for him. (Meanwhile, Brayden McNabb continues to be on a short leash, playing for just over 12 minutes. While he was regularly playing between 18 and 25 minutes before his injury, McNabb’s placement on the bottom pairing means he usually is more around the 14-16 minute range.)

Speaking of the defense: Paul LaDue got called up! The former North Dakota defenseman could potentially make his NHL debut on the upcoming road trip, if Darryl Sutter wants to go back to a seven-man rotation.

Peter Budaj gets the start, as he well should. Thanks for trying, Jeff Zatkoff. You did your best. Maybe see you later in the month. Maybe.

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Brown - Kopitar - Gaborik
Pearson - Carter - Clifford
Lewis - Dowd - Andreoff
King - Shore - Nolan

Muzzin - Doughty
Forbort - Martinez
McNabb - Gravel

Budaj
(Zatkoff)

Colorado Avalanche

Grigorenko - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Landeskog - Duchene - Nieto
Bourque - Soderberg - Iginla
Martinsen - Colborne - Comeau

Beauchemin - Barrie
Zadorov - Goloubef
Gelinas - Wiercioch

Martin
(Pickard)

Opposing Preview: Mile High Hockey