The Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche are set to play back-to-back games against each other, but the first meeting — Wednesday night in Denver — has become a question of who isn’t playing rather than who is.
Columbus is coming off a shootout win in New Jersey on Sunday but boarded the plane for Denver one short. The Blue Jackets announced forward Max Domi tested positive for COVID-19 and has to quarantine for 10 days, so he won’t play Wednesday or in the Saturday rematch against Colorado back in Ohio.
The Avalanche, who beat the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night, are dealing with injuries. Mikko Rantanen will miss his third straight game with a lower-body injury, forward Andre Burakovsky will miss his first game after getting hurt against the Wild and defenseman Cale Makar won’t play due to an upper-body injury.
The trio join forward Valeri Nichushkin and defenseman Devon Toews among the team’s injured. Eight games into the season, Colorado has yet to have a full complement of players available.
Without Burakovsky or Rantanen available, forward J.T. Compher will move up to the top line with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Compher has bounced between the second and third lines in the early part of the season and is looking forward to playing with MacKinnon and Landeskog.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Compher said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’ve done this a couple of times in my few years here. They play with so much pace and competitiveness and I just have to go in and play my game and not try to be Mikko, just be myself. Be tenacious on the forecheck and get those guys the puck.”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar also said Tuesday that Jonas Johansson would start in net.
Columbus has also been hit by the injury bug, most notably to its defensive corps, but might get a little healthier. Adam Boqvist, who hasn’t played since Oct. 23 because of a lower-body injury, was on the ice for practice Tuesday. The Blue Jackets are without Dean Kukan (fractured wrist) as well.
Injuries can open up chances for other players to make an impression.
“We talked about opportunity on the back end a lot, and right now there’s tons of it,” Columbus coach Brad Larsen said over the weekend. “Some guys are doing fairly well, some guys are struggling a bit and sometimes it’s just game-to-game. It’s a real big opportunity for some of these guys to show that they belong in the league.”
Colorado has had to rely on young players on defense and so far rookie Bowen Byram has played well. Byram was on the cusp of starting the season in the AHL, but Toews’ injury was one reason he stayed with the Avalanche, and he has made the most of this chance.
“I’ve watched him play, I see what he’s done,” Bednar said. “But I also know a lot of young players come in and it’s more difficult than what you think it’s going to be. Bo’s made those adjustments. He’s put in the work. He’s a physical guy, competitive guy, confident guy, and it shows.”
–Field Level Media