Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes Pick & Prediction FEBRUARY 18th 2024

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The Colorado Avalanche went into the extended All-Star break on a roll and atop the Central Division standings.

Two weeks later, they’re trying to regroup after a disappointing six-game road trip.

Colorado went 1-4-1 in its longest road trip of 2023-24 and feels like it left some points on the table, but now pivots to the final 27 games of the season, starting by hosting the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.

The Avalanche started their trip with an overtime loss at the New York Rangers, then allowed a late tiebreaking goal at New Jersey and squandered a third period lead at Tampa Bay on Thursday to come home with three points instead of six or more.

“Not the road trip you want to start off the (All-Star) break,” Colorado defenseman Cale Makar said. “We (have to) learn from it and move on.”

The Avalanche will have to do without center Logan O’Connor, who has missed the past two games after suffering a lower-body injury against Florida on Feb. 10. O’Connor is having a career year with 13 goals and is one point from setting a career high.

Colorado recalled Chris Wagner from the AHL ahead of Sunday’s game.

O’Connor’s injury leaves the Avalanche without two key forwards. Valeri Nichushkin remains in the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, which he entered after scoring two goals against Vegas on Jan. 10.

Colorado had some good fortune with the health of leading scorer and Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon, second in the NHL in scoring with 89 points, took a puck to the face in the loss at Tampa Bay but was able to return to the game.

MacKinnon has registered at least one point in all 25 home games this season.

While the Avalanche are trying to right things during a mini skid, Arizona is in a nosedive that has lasted nearly two months. Since beating Anaheim on Dec. 29, the Coyotes have gone 4-12-2 and are on an eight-game losing streak, with seven of those losses coming in regulation.

The last game was a 5-1 home loss to Carolina in which goaltender Karel Vejmelka allowed five goals, including one 16 seconds after the opening faceoff, before being pulled in favor of Matt Villalta, who made his NHL debut.

Villalta stopped all four shots he faced in 13:39 and got a taste of the NHL.

“I felt pretty good, to be honest, and got a nice warmup before. Sitting for two and a half periods, sometimes you get a little cold, but when the moment came, I said, ‘Let’s get it going; I’m fired up,'” Villalta said.

“I just try to give myself some mental cues to focus on and try to get a little sweaty as much as I could in the amount of time. Overall, I had a good feeling.”

If Villalta gets the start Sunday, he’ll face a Colorado team eager to get things turned around. The Avalanche play seven of their next 10 games at home and have a chance to get right before the trade deadline on March 8.

–Field Level Media

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