Even while uncertainty surrounds the health of one of their most prized players, the Colorado Avalanche continue to sneak up the Central Division standings.

The Avalanche can close the gap on second place when the defending Stanley Cup champions visit the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night.

Colorado will need to forge ahead without standout defenseman Cale Makar, however. He’s been ruled out of both games this weekend because of post-concussion symptoms.

Makar missed the 6-5 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday because of symptoms related to a hit to the head in a 4-1 win against the St. Louis Blues the day before.

Makar, who won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie in 2020, the Norris Trophy last season as the league’s best defenseman, and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the most recent Stanley Cup Playoffs, missed three other games this month after sustaining a concussion against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb 7.

“He comes back in and he gets bumped again,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “I don’t think that he goes into protocol on the hit in St. Louis with the glove to the face on any other occasion, except for the fact that he’s just coming out of one.”

Makar will also miss Saturday night’s game against the Calgary Flames.

Even without Makar, Colorado has made up eight points on the Jets in its past 13 games and sits four points back of Winnipeg with three games in hand.

The Avalanche should also be well rested after having four days between games.

Motivation shouldn’t be a problem either, as Colorado has lost the first two matchups against the Jets this season and had to wait nearly three months for a rematch.

Winnipeg most recently beat Colorado on Nov. 29, getting 40 saves from Connor Hellebuyck in a 5-0 victory. Blake Wheeler also delivered his fourth career hat trick in the win.

Wheeler has played extremely well against the Avalanche throughout his NHL career. He has 23 goals and 57 points in 40 games against Colorado.

He doesn’t have more than 16 goals or 43 points against any other team.

The Jets will be looking to get back in a groove on their home ice after posting a 1-3-0 mark on a four-game trip. They most recently fell to the New York Islanders 2-1 on Wednesday night.

“Dropping three of four on the road is never a good thing,” Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry said.

The Jets struggled to generate offense on the trip, combining for eight goals.

“We haven’t scored enough to win games,” said Winnipeg forward Nikolaj Ehlers, who scored the lone goal on Wednesday in his 500th NHL game. “When we have scored, we’ve had traffic in front of the net. So, that’s something (we’ve) got to continue doing.”

Winnipeg should be glad to be back home.

Heading into Thursday, the Jets were the only team in the Western Conference with at least 20 wins on their home ice (20-8-0) and they’ve won their past three at Canada Life Centre.

–Field Level Media