Avalanche hope to keep struggling Vegas down

National Sports

The last time the Colorado Avalanche saw the Vegas Golden Knights is a painful memory for the Avs … Vegas was celebrating its second-round victory over Colorado in June.

That lost stung. Colorado had won the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record, swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs, and started the second-round series with Vegas by winning the first two games.

But then the Knights swept them right out of the playoffs.

Four months later the Avalanche can put a little salve on the open wound when they host Vegas on Tuesday night, with both teams hoping to break out of an early slump.

The Knights have lost four of their first five games and are missing two key guys — forwards Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. Pacioretty has been moved to long-term injured reserve while dealing with a shoulder injury. What’s more, the productive Alex Tuch underwent shoulder surgery on July 30 and is not expected to be available until at least January.

In the meantime, Vegas has struggled to find the back of the net. The Knights were shut out by the New York Islanders 2-0 on Sunday night for their fourth straight loss. Vegas has scored just six goals in those games.

The only win came in the season opener over the expansion Seattle Kraken, when the Knights were a little healthier. They have had 10 players miss at least one game this season.

“It is what it is,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s not easy, but you have to look at the bright side, and the bright side is it’s an opportunity for guys to jump into roles maybe they haven’t had, opportunities for young guys to step in, opportunities for us to really test the depth of the organization. While those things are great, we still have to find a way to win games.”

Colorado has been dealing with injuries and COVID-19 issues early on and suffered another loss Saturday night when defenseman Sam Girard was checked into the boards in an overtime win at Tampa Bay.

Girard avoided serious injury but did not practice Monday and is listed as day-to-day, and he is not expected to play against the Knights.

Still, things might be looking up for the Avalanche on the injury front. Forward Valeri Nichushkin, who hasn’t played since the first game, began skating, as did goaltender Pavel Francouz. Following double hip surgery, Francouz hasn’t played since the 2020 playoffs.

In addition, defenseman Devon Toews, who had off-season shoulder surgery, has been cleared for controlled contact and could return soon.

Colorado is coming off of a 4-3 shootout win over the Lightning that ended a three-game skid. The Avalanche got Nathan MacKinnon back from the COVID-19 protocol list on their three-game road trip and he had a goal and two assists in Saturday’s win.

Colorado never trailed in the game and finally prevailed when defenseman Cale Makar scored in the sixth round of the shootout.

The Avalanche, one of the title favorites coming into the season, are still searching for some cohesion, in part because of injuries and illness. The locker room isn’t worried about the slow start, however.

“From our standpoint, we just have to get rolling,” Makar said. “Guys are still building chemistry. I think our goal is to never lose two in a row. It’s not a position we want to be in right now. But we trust each other. It will come.”

–Field Level Media

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