A few faces will return to the lineup today for the Colorado Avalanche as the team takes on the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena.
Nathan MacKinnon, who leads the Avs with 14 points and 12 assists in 10 games this season, will return to the lineup after missing Colorado's last game on Feb. 2 against the Minnesota Wild. He will be on a line with Brandon Saad and Mikko Rantanen in the outing, which begins at 5 p.m. MT.
Also returning to the lineup is forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and defenseman Devon Toews. Both Avs skaters were injured in the Jan. 28 outing against the San Jose Sharks. Bellemare left that contest at the end of the first period after a collision in the neutral zone, while Toews finished the game but missed the next three contessts with a lower-body injury after blocking a shot in the matchup.
Bellemare will be on a forward trio with Sheldon Dries and Jayson Megna. It will be the first game of the season for Megna, who has 10 goals and 10 assists in 121 career NHL outings. The other forward combinations will feature Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi, and J.T. Compher with Valeri Nichushkin and Logan O'Connor.
On defense, Cale Makar will miss the contest as he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and Dennis Gilbert will enter the lineup. Gilbert has played in one game this campaign as he logged 9:54 of ice time on Jan. 19 at the Los Angeles Kings. He has skated in 23 career NHL outings and has one goal and two assists.
Head coach Jared Bednar says the defensemen will be juggled around "quite a bit" in the contest. Along with Gilbert and Toews, the other blueliners in the contest will be Bowen Byram, Ryan Graves, Jacob MacDonald and Conor Timmins.
Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Avalanche, making his 10th start of the season. He has a .934 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average so far in 2020-21 and has won seven contests.
Samuel Girard's streak of 231 consecutive regular-season games played will come to an end tonight due to a COVID protocol-related absence. His streak ranks as the second-longest ever by an Avalanche defenseman.
Along with Girard on Colorado's COVID protocol list are forwards Tyson Jost and Gabriel Landeskog, who will also miss their first contests of the season this afternoon.
The Avalanche won the two meetings between the clubs last year, both at T-Mobile Arena, outscoring the Golden Knights 13-4 (6-1, 7-3), and Colorado has won the last four contests in this series.
Sunday's outing marks the 11th time that the Avs will play on Valentine's Day. Colorado sports a 5-4-1 record on the day and has won its last two Valentine's Day matchups, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 4-1 on Feb. 14, 2019 in Manitoba and the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 on Feb. 14, 2018 in Denver.
The Avs will also play the Knights at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday before the clubs meet outdoors at Lake Tahoe next Saturday, Feb. 20, and then at Ball Arena on Feb. 22.
Vegas will be the first opponent to ever play the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques four consecutive times in the regular season. The Avs and Wild were supposed to face off in four uninterrupted meetings from Jan. 30 to Feb. 4, but the final game of that stretch was postponed.
Below is the Avalanche's projected lineup. All forward combinations and defensive pairings are subject to change.
20 Brandon Saad - 29 Nathan MacKinnon - 96 Mikko Rantanen
95 Andre Burakovsky - 91 Nazem Kadri - 72 Joonas Donskoi
13 Valeri Nichushkin - 37 J.T. Compher - 25 Logan O'Connor
12 Jayson Megna - 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - 15 Sheldon Dries
7 Devon Toews - 4 Bowen Byram
9 Dennis Gilbert - 22 Conor Timmins
34 Jacob MacDonald - 27 Ryan Graves
31 Philipp Grubauer
32 Hunter Miska
Injury Report: Matt Calvert (upper body), Pavel Francouz (lower body), Samuel Girard (COVID protocol), Erik Johnson (upper body), Tyson Jost (COVID protocol), Gabriel Landeskog (COVID protocol), Cale Makar (upper body)
Taxi Squad: Kyle Burroughs, Dan Renouf, Miikka Salomaki, T.J. Tynan, Adam Werner