There is no hotter team in the NHL right now than the Colorado Avalanche. The Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers may be in the discussion, but the Avalanche have placed themselves solely in the driver's seat within the Northwest Division with their past two weeks of play. While currently tied with the Vancouver Canucks for first place at 42 points, Colorado faces a very favorable schedule the next five weeks, with 15 of their next 20 games taking place at Pepsi Center (where they hold a 10-4-1 record on the season.
Not only are the Avalanche preparing to enjoy plenty of home cooking over the holidays, but they are finally getting healthy as well. Paul Stastny and T.J. Galiardi have both returned from injury, and Chris Stewart -- the team MVP from the first two months of the season -- is only a couple of weeks from returning to the ice after breaking his finger in November. Milan Hejduk is still recovering from a nagging groin injury, but should see action sooner rather than later.
Hejduk can afford to rest and fully heal, as the Colorado offense has been unstoppable in December. Led by Matt Duchene's 12 point month and the arrival of Tomas Fleischmann (11 points in nine games wearing an Avalanche sweater), Colorado is completely loaded at forward, easily leading the league in goals scored and goals per game. They are currently on pace to score 301 goals this season, which would be their highest offensive output since the 1995-1996 Stanley Cup Champion team.
Goals may be at a premium tonight, as the Los Angeles Kings have been very stingy on defense this season. Led by Jonathan Quick (who is making his case as a Top 5 NHL goaltender) and elite defenseman Jack Johnson, the Kings don't allow many easy goals. Forward Anze Kopitar continues to produce instant offense for the Kings with a team-leading 14 goals so far this season.
Despite these very solid players, Los Angeles finds themselves mired in the Pacific Division bottleneck; in fourth place, but only six points behind the surprising Dallas Stars. Their power play has been lacking this season, with only 20 power play goals total for the year. To compare, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos alone has scored 12 power play goals this season. If the Kings want to make a return trip to the playoffs this year -- and they certainly have the talent to do so -- they need to find a way to take much better advantage of their extra man opportunities.
Craig Anderson and Jonathan Quick are expected to start in net. Milan Hejduk and Cody McLeod will not dress for Colorado.
Puck drops at 7:30pm MST.