I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but the Minnesota Wild are now tied with the Avs in points, in the Honda West Division. The Wild caught the Avs in points by getting one in their 5-4 overtime loss at home to St. Louis – a game the Wild trailed at one point 3-0 in the second period.
I still don’t think the Wild are as good as their record and I still think the Avs would smack them in the mouth should they meet in the playoffs. But the fact that there is a chance the Avs could now start a first-round playoff series with the Wild on the road, at Xcel Energy Center, is setting off some alarm bells here at Chez Dater at least. I’m sure it is for a few of you too.
The big thing the Avs still have going for them in the division chase: two games in hand still over Minnesota. Those four potential points that the Wild don’t have the same opportunity to get are likely to be big down the stretch. But for that two-games-in-hand advantage to mean anything has to start with Friday’s game with the San Jose Sharks at Ball Arena. If the Avs want to avoid the ignominy of ceding home-ice advantage to the Wild for a playoff series next month, they damn well better take care of business against the Sharks.
The oddsmakers say the Avs are heavy favorites to win the game, including the folks up North at realcasinoscanada. But that’s what is making me even a bit more nervous about this one. I am a bit worried about this team going into a funk at the wrong time of the year. I really worry about that last Covid pause having screwed up the team’s rhythm. Those five days the Avs spent cooped up in their hotel rooms in St. Louis did some real damage to their energy levels, both mentally and physically, I believe. They have not looked good at all since the first three minutes of last Saturday’s game against the Blues, and they take a three-game losing streak into this contest.
The good news: Philipp Grubauer and Mikko Rantanen should both be back to the lineup Friday night. Joonas Donskoi might, too, but I think he may need a couple more days.
The Avs today sent Martin Kaut back to Loveland, along with Dan Renouf and winger Miikko Salomaki. For Kaut, it was a very disappointing three games he spent with the big club. I mean, it’s tough to dump on him much, not getting a ton of ice time. That said, he didn’t look too good in the time he got. Fair or not, you just don’t get too many chances as a minor-league call-up. I’m sure Kaut will get more chances, but this was a setback for him, no question about it.
The Avs have the advantage in getting home-ice against the Wild for the first round. And, they still have a shot at first overall in the division. But the way Vegas is playing, that’s looking more like a longer shot every day. It’s time for this team to get refocused and tighten the belts and pull the socks up and all those other wonderful cliches, and get back to winning hockey games.
That needs to start Friday night at Ball.