On the final day of 2022, the Colorado Avalanche will host the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs at Ball Arena in a potential Stanley Cup Final preview.
This will be the first of two regular-season meetings between the Avs and Leafs, who will meet again at Scotiabank Arena on Mar. 15. Of course, the main question is how many regulars will be suiting up for Colorado in the New Year’s Eve showdown.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have been hit hard by the injury bug through the first quarter of the season. They’ve fallen well behind the top two Central Division teams the Dallas Stars and the Winnipeg Jets. There’s plenty of time for a turnaround, but it’s also not too early to believe the Avs may have to start out the postseason on the road.
Toronto, on the other hand, has been vying for the NHL’s top record since a 15-game point streak began with a 5-2 home win over the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 12. But with the Atlantic Division rival Boston Bruins are off to a scorching start, the Leafs find themselves playing catch-up for the top seed.
Auston Matthews’ Maple Leafs are among the prime favorites to win the Stanley Cup at top Ontario Sportsbooks, including FanDuel (+1000) and DraftKings (+1000). Despite the sluggish start, the Avs have the best odds at FanDuel (+550), and the second-best odds at DraftKings (+550), behind only the Bruins (+500).
Avalanche Will Still Short-Handed Against Leafs?
Superstar Nathan MacKinnon is likely to return. He was ruled out for four weeks, but coach Jared Bednar said earlier this week that could play Saturday.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog has yet to suit up this season as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Standout defenseman Bowen Byram (lower body) hasn’t played since Nov. 4, and blueliner Josh Manson (lower body) likely won’t return until the new year.
The Maple Leafs have endured their fair share of injuries to key players as well. There’s concern that veteran defenseman Jake Muzzin (cervical spine injury) may not play again, and top blueliner Morgan Rielly has been out for a month with a knee injury.
But Toronto has gotten world-class goaltending out of the Matt Murray-Ilya Samsonov tandem. Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander are all playing above, at or near a point-per-game pace, too.
Toronto, simply put, has managed to get by with injuries to key players this year. Nobody can blame the Avalanche for struggling with consistency over the past month. When healthy, we know what this team is capable of.
But until the Avalanche get their top players back from injury — especially MacKinnon — it’s going to be tough for them to hang in there with top teams like Toronto. Just look at how Colorado was no match for Winnipeg (a 5-0 loss on Nov. 29) or Boston (5-1 and 4-0 losses on Dec. 3 and Dec. 7, respectively).
Prediction: Maple Leafs Will Beat Avalanche 5-2
The Maple Leafs are one of the few teams that can keep pace with the world-class speed and skill that Colorado’s top players bring to the table. But when the likes of MacKinnon, Landeskog, Byram, and Manson are out of the equation, there’s no contest as to which team displays the better talent.
Colorado likely won’t have the firepower up front to keep pace with Toronto’s best players. Both Murray and Samsonov have played like All-Stars for the Leafs in 2022-23, so the Leafs are well-equipped to hold off Colorado’s short-handed offense in this one.