Game Day Preview #36, Colorado Avalanche @ Los Angeles Kings

The Avalanche aren’t terrible? Now what?

Preview: Los Angeles Kings (21-10-4) @ Colorado Avalanche (16-15-2)

Game Time: 7:30 PM, FS-W

Good news for Avalanche fans: they’re not as historically bad as they were last year!

More good news for Avalanche fans: while they’re technically out of the playoffs picture now, they’re in a very tight division and are only five points back of Chicago and Minnesota, both currently holding down the Western wild card spots.

Bad news for Avalanche fans: the fear is there that this is possibly as good as it gets.

The Avalanche have had a very up-and-down December, starting the month off with four straight losses, including a 4-2 loss to Buffalo. They broke out of that funk in a big way, scoring seven goals on the Florida Panthers (including four in the third period) for a 7-3 win. They’ve also twice bested the somewhat-average looking Pittsburgh Penguins; the most recent game featured an especially dominant second period from the Avalanche where they outshot the Penguins 15 to six.

You can’t lump this year’s Avalanche in with the Arizonas and Buffalos of the league. Despite selling off parts, like the unhappy Matt Duchene, the Avalanche are starting to claw their way back to respectability. A lot of that lies on the back of defenseman Tyson Barrie, currently third on his team and second of all defensemen in the league with 27 points. His two goals on Monday helped secure the Avalanche’s win over the Penguins. Barrie’s been taking on tougher minutes, particularly in the absence of the suspended Erik Johnson; in the Pittsburgh game, he was largely matched up against the Evgeni Malkin line.

Leading the way for the forward corps is Nate MacKinnon, with a team high 39 points (the same as Kings’ leader Anze Kopitar). Surprisingly, MacKinnon’s performance against the Kings over the course of his career has been just so-so -- he’s got one goal and two assists in ten career games played against Los Angeles. Regardless of a historical lack of success against the Kings, MacKinnon is still an extremely dangerous two-way player -- even on that truly terrible Avs team of last season, MacKinnon was often the only bright spot. Expect his line to take on the toughest competition of the evening.

The Kings finally put together a complete performance in Philadelphia, salvaging the last stop of their road trip with a strong win against a surging team. With a handful of days off, the team should be well rested and ready to take on the Avalanche in this brief one-game visit home. The only lineup changes for the Kings are on the blue line, with Christian Folin out with an upper body injury. Kurtis MacDermid draws back into the lineup and Oscar Fantenberg stays put; Kevin Gravel has been called up but, for now at least, will sit as the extra defenseman tonight. (If you missed it, Jon Rosen has a great feature with Gravel on some health issues the defenseman has faced recently.)

Defense might be even more of a key than usual to get a win tonight. The Avs -- uh -- average 3.15 goals/game, which is in the top ten for the league. But the Kings are notoriously stingy when it comes to goals against: their 2.34 goals against/game is lowest in the league. If Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov looks like a Vezina nominee, it could be a long night for the Kings. If he continues to be just okay -- his stats for the month of December are decidedly middle of the road -- well, we could see some nifty goals.

Let’s root for nifty Los Angeles goals!

Make sure you tune in on time, as the Kings will be honoring Marian Gaborik’s 1,000 games in the league before puck drop. (Dustin Brown meets the 1,000 game milestone tonight; he will be celebrated next week when the Kings return home after the holiday break.)

Projected Line Combinations

Los Angeles Kings

Iafallo - Kopitar - Brown
Pearson - Kempe - Toffoli
Gaborik - Shore - Lewis
Andreoff - Mitchell - Brodzinski

Muzzin - Doughty
MacDermid - Martinez
Forbort - Fantenberg


Colorado Avalanche

Landeskog - MacKinnon - Rantanen
Andrighetto - Compher - Wilson
Comeau - Soderberg - Nieto
Jost - Kerfoot - Yakupov

Zadorov - Barberio
Nemeth - Barrie
Lindholm - Girard


Opposing Preview: Mile High Hockey