The Colorado Avalanche felt they were good enough to win the Stanley Cup in the pandemic bubble last season but injuries derailed their run to the title.
The championship optimism only grew at the start of this year, but once again injuries are the bigger storyline for Colorado ahead of its Tuesday night home game against the Minnesota Wild in the third of four straight games between the teams.
In the first two games, back-to-back affairs over the weekend in Saint Paul, Minn., the Avalanche earned three out of a possible four points, but it proved costly. Colorado lost two key players in consecutive games, first with defenseman Erik Johnson (upper body) getting hurt in Saturday's win, and then a potentially bigger loss when Nathan MacKinnon left Sunday's game with a lower-body injury.
MacKinnon played the first two periods of the overtime loss but didn't come out of the locker room for the third. The Avalanche didn't update his status after the game.
If MacKinnon, who had two assists on Sunday, doesn't play in Denver on Tuesday it would mean six players from the opening-night roster are sidelined. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (lower left leg) and Devon Toews (foot) were both hurt against San Jose on Thursday while Matt Calvert (upper body) and goaltender Pavel Francouz (lower body) have missed multiple games.
Only Calvert is out "indefinitely," with the others listed as day-to-day, but the succession of setbacks feels all-too familiar for the Avalanche. Yet, Colorado captain Gabe Landeskog said the team isn't feeling sorry for itself.
"We're a very capable team and we're very competitive in there," he said after Sunday's 4-3 loss. "You got to understand, the guys in the locker room, we don't sit around the room looking around the room who's missing, who's not playing. We're just going out there and try to do our jobs and win a hockey game. That's what we're going to continue to do."
The Wild are dealing with injuries as well as the suspension of forward Kevin Fiala, who on Tuesday will serve the last of a three-game penalty handed down by the league.
Minnesota defenseman Matt Dumba is on injured reserve after suffering a lower-body injury in Saturday's 5-1 loss to the Avalanche. Also, Marcus Johansson left Saturday's game with an undisclosed injury and Marcus Foligno was placed on the NHL COVID-19 protocol Sunday.
The Wild welcomed back goaltender Cam Talbot, who responded with big saves Sunday to get his team to overtime. Talbot stopped 22 shots, a few that prevented Colorado from taking a multi-goal lead.
"Coming back after nine days off, no practices, and just jumping in against an offense like that is never easy," Talbot said after the game. "You can't give that team any more goals than they need because they can pretty much score at will out there.
"Any time you can come up with a big save, you keep the game within reach early, that's all I was trying to do, focus on that and make that next save to settle myself down and gain some confidence moving forward throughout the game."
Talbot should be back in net Tuesday for the third straight game between the teams. The Avalanche will likely have No. 1 netminder Philipp Grubauer back in the crease after Hunter Miska played Sunday. Grubauer had 19 saves in Saturday's win.
(Field Level Media)