What to watch for as the Golden Knights and Avalanche clash in Denver

Both Vegas and Colorado will look to bounce back from disappointing performances Thursday night with just eight games remaining in the regular season.

The Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche are both coming off losses sustained Thursday night, with the Knights losing 2-1 in overtime in San Jose and the Avs getting rocked by the Kings by a final score of 7-1. Ironically, the last time these teams met, the Avalanche gave up seven goals, including four on six shots in the span of nine minutes and 26 seconds in the middle frame. The Oct. 27 tilt featured seven different Vegas goal-scorers as Oscar Dansk recorded a 32-save shutout, the first in his career and the first in franchise history.

But both teams have come a long way since that Nevada Day matchup, and contrary to many preseason expectations, both find themselves playing meaningful hockey down the stretch with just two weeks left in the regular season.

Colorado has eight games remaining and currently sits in the second wildcard slot with 88 points, with St. Louis and Dallas trailing by one and four points, respectively. The Avalanche (40-26-8) are fourth in the Central Division, sitting just two points behind Minnesota with the tie-breaker in their favor.

Vegas (47-21-6) remains in first place in the Pacific Division with 100 points, seven points ahead of the second-place Sharks, and second overall in the Western Conference trailing only the Nashville Predators.

The Avalanche are led by star center Nathan MacKinnon, who is very much in the conversation for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player. MacKinnon is third in the NHL with 92 points, seventh in goals with 38 and tenth in assists with 54. Linemates Mikko Rantanen (27-53—80) and Gabriel Landeskog (24-33—57) as well as defenseman Tyson Barrie (12-40—52) have been stellar offensively in recent games, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov had won four out of his last five games before getting pulled Thursday against Los Angeles.

With two critical points on the line, here’s what to watch for in this afternoon’s matchup:

Temper the top line

Colorado’s top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog is one of the most effective lines in the NHL, and it is one the Golden Knights will have to control if they hope to leave Denver with two points and a win.

MacKinnon has points in 14 straight games, recording 13 goals and 27 points in that stretch. Rantanen scored the team’s lone goal Thursday night, extending his point streak to eight games during which time he has picked up five goals and 16 points. Though he hasn’t been as productive, Landeskog rounds out the group with four goals and 13 points in his last 13 games. Needless to say, the line has been on fire, and it is especially effective on home ice.

In fact, MacKinnon has 64 points in 35 home contests this season, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of his production, while Rantanen has 52 points in 36 home games, or 65 percent of his production. Even on a night like Thursday when the Avs were held to just one goal, all three members of the top line found the scoresheet on Rantanen’s first-period tally, assisted by MacKinnon and Landeskog.

It’s easier said than done, but shutting down MacKinnon and co. will be key.

“Not throwing away my shot”

The Knights were grossly outplayed Thursday in San Jose, getting outshot 44-25 and coming away with a point only because of the outstanding play of Malcolm Subban. The Knights were outshot against Colorado in the Oct. 27 meeting as well, though it didn’t prove to be critical as they pulled out a 7-0 win. However, it’s not a habit the Knights should or can afford to fall into.

Intersetingly, the Avalanche lead the NHL in wins when getting outshot by their opponent, recording 29 of them this season. That’s a pretty remarkable stat considering Colorado has won a total of 40 games. However, the Knights are tied for second in the NHL with 29 wins when outshooting their opponent but are just 15-9-3 when getting outshot. That should make for a fascinating matchup considering a scenario in which the Knights outshoot the Avalanche potentially could benefit both teams’ chances of coming away victorious.

Think outside the box

The Avalanche are second in the NHL in power-play goals on home ice with 34, as their home power play operates at a 23.8 percent conversion rate, good for ninth overall in the league. Even though their power play has been better on the road in the 2018 portion of the season, giving Colorado multiple opportunities on the man advantage has the potential to be a recipe for disaster. Colorado’s top power-play unit consists of its top line, Barrie and Tyson Jost. Barrie had points in 11 straight games before Thursday’s thrashing, and he has 52 points in 60 games this season, 26 (or 50 percent) of which have come on the power play.

Fortunately, Vegas’ penalty kill on the road has been running smoothly of late; the Knights have killed off 82 percent of their penalties since Jan. 1, which ranks fourth overall in the league. That being said, the Avalanche’s home penalty kill ranks second with a 90.6 percent efficiency rate, which means it won’t be beneficial for Vegas to start trading penalties with Colorado, either.

How to Watch

Time: 12 p.m. PT

TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain, NHL.TV

Radio: Fox Sports 98.9 FM/1340 AM