Avalanche @ Coyotes: Game 22 Preview


The Colorado Avalanche are coming off their most exciting win of the season. The finish in Boston, with Daniel Briere scoring the winner was perhaps more dramatic. Scoring two late goals, on home-ice, to finish off a comeback win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night was slightly more awesome!

The Avalanche take that momentum to the desert, to take on the Arizona Coyotes of Phoenix in the greater Glendale area. That’s right, nestled in the Saguaro cactus littered landscape, is a hockey arena, home of the recently re-branded Arizona Coyotes.

Drinking game: Every time Peter McNab and Mike Haynes refer to the team as the Phoenix Coyotes, take a swig. 

The Coyotes enter the contest sporting a 9-11-2 record, good for 6th in the Pacific Division. The Avalanche sit at 7-9-5, which has them last in the Central. Simply put, the Avalanche need to pick up two points if they want to climb back into the playoff picture. The Yotes are a team that you have to take advantage of, and find a way to beat. Especially with a date against Chicago on the radar tomorrow night.

In order to get that win, the Avalanche will once again turn to Reto Berra between the pipes. Reto hasn’t been Berra good in his last couple of starts, with the Berracade showing some significant leaks. On Saturday night, Berra let in 3 goals on 10 shots, before being pulled in favor of Calvin Pickard. Pickard earned the win with a perfect 17/17 save performance, but Roy has elected to show trust in Berra rather than ride the hot pads of Picks.

Berra’s save percentage has dipped to 0.895% on the season, and his GAA is now an inflated 3.16. Not ideal, even for a backup. In fact, Berra has posted a sub 0.900 save percentage in 4 of his last 5 starts. He needs to be better. Simple as that. Especially with ace Semyon Varlamov nursing a groin issue.

Offensively, the Avalanche have a few guys who are starting to percolate. Nathan MacKinnon has taken over the team lead, with 16 points in 21 games, thanks to 5 assists in his past two games. His linemates, Jarome Iginla and Gabriel Landeskog, also enjoyed nice nights against the Canes. Iggy had a goal and an assist, and Landy had a pair of assists, giving him 4 in his past three games.

Roy on MacKinnon: “Wasn’t he fantastic in the final 10 min. vs. Carolina. [His line] dominated the game.”

The MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Iginla line has been the Avs’ best unit over the past couple of games. Hopefully they can continue their hot streak. If MacKinnon can play like he did in the last ten minutes against Carolina, look out. He completely took over that game. As @DarioinDenver so aptly put on twitter, it looks like someone replaced his batteries.

The other top line for the Avalanche may be getting a boost. Alex Tanguay practiced yesterday with the full cage, and is reportedly making the trip to Arizona and is expected to play. Tanguay was injured against Washington, after taking a slapshot to the face. Prior to his injury, he had shown some real nice chemistry with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly. Briere filled in for Tanguay on Saturday night, but the line just didn’t have the same spark.

The fourth line of Marc-Andre Cliche, Maxime Talbot, and Cody McLeod figures to be intact. It will be interesting to see what Roy elects to do with his Lake Erie line. Against the Canes, the Monster Mash trio of Agozzino, Street, and Vincour was the Avalanche’s best line in the first period. Agozzino has since been sent down in favor of the speedier Paul Carey. Will Roy choose to keep the  Lake Erie trio magic going? Or will Daniel Briere slide in on this line?

The Avalanche also can ride Erik Johnson, who is playing lights-out, number-one caliber defense right now. His goal against Carolina was sublime, and showed off incredible poise from the point. Look for him to once again play big minutes, and important minutes for the Avs.

On the Phoenix side, keep on eye on Keith Yandle. He leads the Yotes with 15 points in 22 games, and is one of the smoother defenseman in the NHL. The Coyotes lack real stand-out, star-caliber forwards, so they rely a lot on Yandle to facilitate and create offense for them.

Captain Shane Doan remains productive, with 7 goals and 14 points in 22 games. Center Martin Hanzal is a guy who has given the Avalanche trouble in the past, and is one of the unknown/underrated centerman in the league. Hanzal is a big body, and can dominate down low with his size. He has missed some time this season, but still as 5 goals and 6 assists in 11 games.

In net, the Coyotes rely on Mike Smith, who isn’t having a very good season. Smith comes in with a 3.22 GAA and 0.893 save percentage in 16 appearances. If he is in net, the Avalanche need to get after him. They can’t fall into the trap of being too cute and fancy, which sometimes can happen with the Avs. Rubber on net at every opportunity. Smith’s backup, Devan Dubnyk, has posted far more impressive statistics. Avalanche fans will remember him from his days as an Edmonton Oiler. Dubnyk is a big goalie, who takes up a lot of space in the net when he is on his game. Thus far, his GAA sits at 2.34 coupled with a 9.926 save percentage.

This contest figures to be an even affair. Both teams enter with 67 goals allowed on the season. The Avalanche’s 53 goals scored is one fewer than the Coyotes have.

You can catch the game on ALTITUDE 2 at 7 pm MST.