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Preview: Golden Knights wrap up February with tough test against Avalanche

The Vegas Golden Knights will look to keep their point streak alive when they take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight in Denver.

Vegas is 6-0-2 in its last eight games and has not lost in regulation since returning from the All-Star break (the nine-game point streak goes back to Vegas’ Jan. 28 overtime loss to the Islanders just prior to the break).

The Golden Knights will ice a new-look lineup tonight after acquiring forward Ivan Barbashev from the St. Louis Blues over the weekend. Barbashev is set to make his Golden Knights debut tonight and will wear No. 49.

Ivan Barbashev

Vegas landed the 27-year-old in exchange for prospect Zach Dean, the Golden Knights’ first-round selection in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. That leaves Brendan Brisson as Vegas’ lone first-round draft pick in the system, as the other five have been traded: Cody Glass (Nashville), Nick Suzuki (Montreal), Erik Brannstrom (Ottawa), Peyton Krebs (Buffalo) and Dean (St. Louis).

Barbashev is in the final year of a two-year contract carrying a $2.25 million cap hit, which leaves Vegas with roughly $7.2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly. Barbashev had a career season last year with 26 goals and 60 points in 81 games; he hasn’t produced at that level this year, with 10 goals and 29 points through 59 games, but can be an effective player and brings experience, as he won the Stanley Cup with Alex Pietrangelo and the Blues in 2019.

Barbashev is a versatile forward who plays a physical game, fights for loose pucks and goes to the net. He can play all three forward positions and will give Bruce Cassidy options moving forward; he is expected to play throughout the lineup, including on special teams.

His defensive play leaves much to be desired, but his grit and net-front presence will make Vegas’ forward group more dynamic.

General manager Kelly McCrimmon is confident in Barbashev and said the organization knows him well and is interested in keeping him long-term.

“Ivan’s exactly the type of player we believe we need,” McCrimmon said. “[He] complements and broadens the skill set and the makeup of our roster. … He definitely goes to the inside, he plays a hard game, he’s at the net, he kills penalties, he’s a really versatile and useful player that will have an important role on our team.”

McCrimmon also highlighted Barbashev’s ability to get shots from the slot, win puck battles and make plays from below the goal-line.

“He’s a good body-checker, he’s competitive, and we think he’s going to be able to move around our lineup to complement whatever line he plays on,” McCrimmon said.

Preview: Golden Knights at Avalanche

The Golden Knights are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Dallas but have been involved in tight and exciting playoff-style matchups in the last two games.

Golden Knights extend point streak to nine games but drop 3-2 shootout decision to Stars

Tonight could present a similar feel, as both teams are fighting for playoff positioning in the Western Conference standings.

Vegas sits atop the Pacific Division with 76 points, while the Avalanche are second in the Central Division with 71 (the Avalanche have played two fewer games).

Not surprisingly, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen lead the Avs in scoring, with 70 points in 46 games and 69 points in 57 games, respectively. Rantanen has a team-high 38 goals.

Star defenseman Cale Makar has not played since Feb. 18 and has played in just two games this month, which leaves a major hole on Colorado’s back end as well as on the power play. But Colorado still boasts a solid blue line with the likes of Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, Bowen Byram and Josh Manson, not to mention former Golden Knights rearguard Brad Hunt.

The Avalanche added some veteran presence to the blue line by acquiring Jack Johnson from Chicago; he was on the 2022 Cup-winning team and is expected to be in the lineup tonight.

The two clubs have each won once in this year’s season series, and Colorado won two of three last year. The Golden Knights are 9-11-1 all-time against the Avalanche. Both games this season have been 3-2 decisions, with each club winning on the road.

Colorado is coming off a 4-1 win against Calgary and has won five consecutive games while going 6-0-1 in its last seven.

The Avalanche have the ninth-ranked power play, converting at 23.1 percent; that number has gone down to 14.8 percent this month, likely because of Makar missing extended time. Colorado’s penalty kill is operating at 77.7 percent, good for 19th overall. However, the Avalanche will be facing an ailing Vegas power play that has one goal in the last 10 games.

It’s unclear whether Bruce Cassidy will continue with the hot hand and give Laurent Brossoit his fourth consecutive start or whether he’ll turn back to Adin Hill, who was back in the lineup as Brossoit’s backup Saturday against Dallas. Brossoit is 1-0-2 but has been fantastic for the Golden Knights with a 2.22 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

He made a save-of-the-year-worthy stop in overtime against Dallas, robbing Tyler Seguin with a desperation glove save.

Hill won four consecutive starts before getting injured in Vegas’ 5-4 win against Tampa Bay; he is 14-5-1 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in his first year with Vegas.

For Colorado, Alexandar Georgiev is 25-12-4 with a 2.63 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts. He has won his last four starts and is 9-1-1 in his last 11, with both losses coming against Tampa Bay.

Georgiev is 2-3-1 all-time against the Golden Knights and has gone 1-1-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .921 save percentage against Vegas this season.

Projected lineups

Golden Knights
Ivan Barbashev* — Jack Eichel — Jonathan Marchessault
Reilly Smith — William Karlsson — Michael Amadio
William Carrier — Chandler Stephenson — Phil Kessel
Paul Cotter — Brett Howden — Keegan Kolesar

Alec Martinez — Alex Pietrangelo
Brayden McNabb — Shea Theodore
Nicolas Hague — Zach Whitecloud

Laurent Brossoit
Adin Hill

*Subject to change

Artturi Lehkonen — Nathan MacKinnon — Valeri Nichushkin
Evan Rodrigues — J.T. Compher — Mikko Rantanen
Andrew Cogliano — Alex Newhook — Logan O’Connor
Matthew Nieto — Denis Malgin — Kurtis MacDermid

Devon Toews — Samuel Girard
Bowen Byram — Josh Manson
Jack Johnson — Brad Hunt

Alexandar Georgiev
Justus Annuen