Rantanens run for Avalanche, Golden Knights slump discussed by NHL.com

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There is no shortage of storylines when the Vegas Golden Knights face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena in an ESPN exclusive broadcast Tuesday (8 p.m. ET).

These two teams have quickly become Western Conference rivals since Vegas joined the NHL as an expansion team for the 2017-18 season. They played one another for the time almost four seasons ago, a signature 7-0 victory for the expansion Golden Knights on Oct. 27, 2017.

The Avalanche hold a 9-6-1 advantage in the regular-season series, but each team has had its moments. Vegas holds the edge in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round 4-2 in the 2021 postseason.

Now they play for the first time this season with neither team hitting on all cylinders.

The Avalanche are 2-3-0 after five games and have been outscored 20-14. Vegas (1-4-0) has lost four straight games and is minus-9 in goal differential (19-10).

But there are always reasons to tune in when these teams face off. Here four NHL.com writers share what has each of them excited about the meeting Tuesday.

Best on best

Toss out the standings. It’s too early. These are the two best teams in the Western Conference. So what if between them they have three wins and six points in 10 games. That’s more of a reason to tune in, to see which Stanley Cup contender gets their game untracked. Vegas forwards Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty are each out of the lineup with a lower-body injury. Their absence has impacted the Golden Knights, who have lost four in a row while being outscored 16-6. But they should be enticed by the opponent, especially after defeating in the Stanley Cup Second Round last season. For the Avalanche, this is about building on a 4-3 shootout win against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and taking another piece out of the reeling Golden Knights. — Dan Rosen, senior writer

Mack attack

There are few players in the NHL that I’m more excited to watch than Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon. His season clearly hasn’t started the way he or the Avalanche wanted, with the forward sitting out the first two games of the season because of COVID-19 and a minus-5 rating in three games since. But MacKinnon took a major step forward against the Lightning, scoring three points (one goal, two assists). For a player as motivated as MacKinnon is to push the Avalanche forward this season, I can see him being equally good against the Golden Knights. Even MacKinnon admitted that he was pressing a little bit, having not scored in his first two games, but my bet is that now that he’s broken through, it won’t be long before he scores again. Like, say, against Vegas. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: COL@TBL: MacKinnon hammers home heavy slap shot

Rantanen on rampage

I’m with Amalie in always keeping an eye on MacKinnon when he’s playing. But after that? I’m watching Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen. I’ve been impressed with how he’s improved offensively every season. He’s another one that, when he gets the puck, you just want to see what magic could unfold. The right wing is off to a great start this season, scoring five points (three goals, two assists) in as many games. Rantanen has six points (one goal, five assists) in 13 games against the Golden Knights. Let’s see if he adds to that in this one. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

Video: COL@TBL: Rantanen, MacKinnon combine for the goal

Emotional rescue

I’m curious to see the response exhibited by the Golden Knights. It’s the first time they have lost four straight games under coach Peter DeBoer since he was hired Jan. 15, 2020. They appear to be struggling to find their groove, ranking 30th in the NHL in goals per game (2.00) and 27th in goals-against average (3.80). They went 0-for-2 on the power play in a 2-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday and are 0-for-11 this season, the only team in the NHL without a power-play goal. It’s early, and Vegas did handle Colorado in convincing fashion during the Stanley Cup Second Round last season. Vegas goalie Robin Lehner has started all five games to begin this NHL season (1-4-0, 3.28 goals-against average, .904 save percentage) and is taking an optimistic approach to the losing skid saying, “… you know what, it’s a bit of adversity that this team hasn’t gone through yet. Good teams can dig themselves out.” Let’s find out. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

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