NHL Weekly Preview: Dec. 4
Host Jordan Hession and analyst Jacob Cheris preview the biggest NHL games of the week:
Colorado Avalanche vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Colorado Avalanche and the Toronto Maple Leafs, with 34 and 30 points respectively, are two teams trying to establish their footholds in the NHL postseason race through the season’s first third. But they’re also two teams hoping to get healthy and stay healthy.
The Avs, 16-8-2, come into this contest against Toronto riding a three-game winning streak that has put them at third in the Central Division. But that streak has come with some injury issues.
Colorado forward Mikko Rantanen played his first game on Saturday since his gruesome ankle injury that he suffered back in October. In his return, he put up a four-point night in a 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Captain Gabriel Landeskog (lower body) made the trip to Toronto, but he will not play. Forward Andre Burakovsky is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Burakovsky been a huge help for the Avalanche, as he’s had a breakout year with 11 goals.
The big storyline for this matchup is the return of former Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. Kadri has played 561 games and scored 357 points with the Leafs. He currently has 20 points with the Avalanche.
Toronto is tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division with 30 points. The Maple Leafs are coming off of a 6-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, but they’ve looked better since the start of the season and could be a playoff contender once again. They recently fired head coach Mike Babcock, who spent the last five seasons as the Maple Leafs’ bench boss. New head coach Sheldon Keefe has gone 4-2 in his six games as the helm. Keefe spent the last four seasons in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and won the Calder Cup in 2017-18. Keefe has relied on his star players more by giving them more ice time and playing a more aggressive style of hockey. Defenseman Morgan Rielly has adjusted nicely to Keefe’s system of getting involved in the play, as he leads the team in assists with 17.
However, the Leafs will be without their star winger Mitch Marner for the 12th game in a row, but he did practice on Monday, so it’s likely he will return soon.
This matchup is going to come down to which star players step up the most. Both teams have very strong top-six forward lines, but both teams are without key components to their success. The Avalanche and Maple Leafs will face off at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. —Jacob Cheris
St. Louis Blues vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
For the second time in four days, the St. Louis Blues and Pittsburgh Penguins will face off against each other, this time in a Wednesday night hockey showdown at PPG Paints Arena. St. Louis won the last matchup 5-2. Two vital points are on the line, as the Blues look to continue to create separation within the Central Division sitting at 42 points (18-5-6), seven points above the Winnipeg Jets, while the injury-prone Penguins are holding the last wild-card position within the East Conference at 32 points (14-9-4): only two points above Montreal and Toronto.
The Blues are seeking to extend their winning streak to five games after defeating a struggling Chicago team 4-0 on the road Monday night. The four-game winning streak can be credited to a collective effort offensively. Averaging three or more goals per game with a variety of players contributing, St. Louis has one of the most explosive offenses in the nation, as the Blues rank ninth in the league in goals scored with 90 and have a faceoff win percentage of 51.3.
Goaltender Jordan Binnington has performed exceptionally well recently. Binnington, who is expected to start Wednesday, ranks fourth in the league in wins with 13. His save percentage of .926 places him ninth in the league. For St. Louis to come out of Pittsburgh with two points, a full team effort will be required.
The Penguins have been plagued by injuries this season. Players who are injured include Sidney Crosby, Brian Dumoulin, Patric Hornqvist, Bryan Rust, Justin Schultz and Nick Bjugstad. Riding a two-game losing streak, the cliché “next man up” is the reality for the Penguins.
The signing of veteran Stefan Noesen will provide a bit of assistance to the lineup. However, lower-end players are going to be forced to elevate their game. Meanwhile, higher-end players such as Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are going to be looked upon as leaders. Matt Murray and the defensive unit will need to step up in this matchup too, as the Penguins have allowed 16 goals in their last three games. —Jordan Hession
Jacob Cheris is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Jordan Hession is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.