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Avalanche Gameday: Intriguing Goalie Choice, Nichushkin’s Struggles




The Colorado Avalanche starting Justus Annunen in a meaningless game isn’t that big of a deal…is it?

That’s who Jared Bednar is choosing to play against the Edmonton Oilers, who are expected to rest some of their best players on Thursday night. Annunen hasn’t actually started a game since April 4 in Minnesota, but he did end up playing the majority of the game on Saturday against Winnipeg after Georgiev was pulled in the first period.

Is there anything to read into this decision? My assumption was that Alexandar Georgiev would get the nod, as they wouldn’t want him to have to sit for a week in between starts before the playoffs begin. Clearly I was wrong on that one. I still expect Georgiev to be the starter when the Avalanche and Jets do eventually play (waiting on you, NHL), but this has got me questioning things just a little bit.

It could be just as simple as the Avalanche wanting Georgiev to get a hard mental reset heading into the playoffs. He’s given up 26 goals in his last six starts, and was pulled early in two of them. It just hasn’t been going well, and letting him get away has worked in the past. However, starting Annunen tonight to get him some action before the playoffs is a pretty clear sign (to me, at least) that the Avalanche know they may need him.

Am I reading too much into this? Probably, but that’s also my job. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

This game is pretty much meaningless for both teams. While the Oilers are likely to rest some players, the Avalanche will not.

“I talked to the players, I gave them the option if they wanted to play or sit,” Bednar said. “Guys don’t want too much time off in between games.”

That means no NHL debut for Nikolai Kovalenko, who Bednar mentioned on the radio yesterday as an option if they did rest anyone. His team is more focused on finding any sort of rhythm before their series with the Jets.

One guy who really needs to find a rhythm is Valeri Nichushkin. Since returning from injury, he has just one secondary assist and five shots on goal in five games. We discussed yesterday how his on-ice numbers with Casey Mittelstadt aren’t pretty, and they seem likely to start the playoffs together. If the Avalanche are going to have any success in the postseason, they need him to be better.

I asked Bednar if he’s still getting his legs back under him after missing a little bit of time.

“I do,” he said. “(He’s) playing with really strong intentions and committed on the defensive side of it. I think there’s been plays we’ve seen him make in the past under pressure and execution that’s been higher than what it is right now, but that’s why he’s playing tonight.”

Nichushkin was one of just nine skaters to take the ice for the optional morning skate.

In other news, Sam Girard will not play, as he’s still recovering from the hit he took from his own teammate, Ross Colton. It’ll be interesting to see if he will be healthy enough to return for the start of the playoffs. Caleb Jones will play again in his place.

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