Jack Eichel and the Golden Knights await.
They’re waiting for the Avalanche, who lost their first home game in regulation in nearly four months on Tuesday, falling 4-1 to the Dallas Stars despite outshooting them 47-20. Stars goalie Jake Oettinger was the difference-maker. His 46 saves were a career-high.
“I thought there were parts of the game that Oettinger saw too much,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “I don’t think we did enough around the net to make it difficult enough.”
Despite the loss, the Avs won’t have much time to unwind. The highly-anticipated debut of Eichel with the Vegas Golden Knights will take place on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena. And the Avs will be the first team to see the Pacific Division leaders with their new no. 1 center.
“It’ll be it’ll be a big game,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said of Wednesday’s meeting in Vegas, which will be nationally televised on TNT. “Obviously Eichel hasn’t played in a long time and he’s a great player. That’s a big move for them.”
Eichel is expected to skate on the top line with wingers Evgenii Dadonov and Max Pacioretty. To make enough cap room to activate Eichel, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in November, Vegas captain Mark Stone was placed on long-term injury reserve in his place.
The Avalanche suffered a 3-1 defeat in the only matchup between the two teams in October, which was the last time they lost in regulation at Ball Arena.
“They (losses) all sting but I can’t sit here and say that we played poorly,” Bednar said. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing every night and tonight they made the plays they needed to make on their powerplay. We made a couple of mistakes, they capitalized.”
Eichel was acquired by Vegas for a package involving Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and draft picks following a bitter breakup with the Sabres, who drafted him second overall just seven years ago. The 25-year-old sat out the first month of the season because of a stalemate with Sabres management regarding his neck injury and the route that should be taken to operate on it.
Eichel wanted to get an artificial disk replacement — an operation that had no prior history in the NHL — while Buffalo opted for disk fusion. The two sides were unable to come to an agreement on which path to take. Eichel quickly got the artificial disk replacement following the trade to Vegas and has been recovering since.
“It’s exciting for the game in itself that he’s back and healthy obviously after the situation being what it was there for a bit,” Landeskog said. “Nobody knew what was going to happen with the surgery and whatnot. I think it’s great for the game that he’s back and in a great market like Vegas.
“We’re excited to go in there and bounce back.”
Tuesday’s loss was the Avalanche’s first in regulation, home or away since Dec. 16 (17-0-2). Their point streak at Ball Arena came to an end at 18-0-1.
As has been the theme lately, the Avs came out of the gate strong at home. They had 11 of the first 12 shots but surrendered the only goal in the first period on the power play after center Nazem Kadri was whistled for a delay of game penalty for shooting the puck over the glass.
Kadri later was the culprit of a too many men call that led to another power-play tally for the Stars. It was an unlucky night for the fourth-leading scorer in the NHL.
“They are mistakes for sure,” Bednar said.
Colorado’s Pavel Francouz wasn’t as strong as the opposition, stopping just 16-of-19. While it has not been confirmed, starting goalie Darcy Kuemper is expected to play in Vegas.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif