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NHL: Colorado Avalanche @ Winnipeg Jets preview

The Winnipeg Jets and Colorado Avalanche do battle on Saturday at Canada Life Centre in the race to catch Dallas Stars at the top of the Central Division.

Following a four-game road trip across New York, during which they won just once, the Jets welcome a return home where they have won their last three and are 20-8-0 over the season.

Despite continued injury problems, the reigning Stanley Cup champion Avalanche have won their last three and gone 6-2-2 in the last ten games.

Colorado (31-19-5; 67 points) are fourth in the Central and within five points of Dallas (30-16-12; 72 points) on top, but crucially with three games in hand. 

The Jets (35-22-1; 71 points) are four points ahead of the Avalanche and one behind the Stars, with the Minnesota Wild (32-21-5; 69 points) also in the mix. 

The Avalanche are +155 to win the division, with the Stars +165, the Jets +333 and the Wild +600.

WhatColorado Avalanche @ Winnipeg Jets 
WhereCanada Life Centre, Winnipeg
When8pm ET, Friday February 24th
How to, TVAS, TSN3 & ALT
OddsCOL Avalanche -110, WIN Jets -110

Jets need to use home comforts

If the Jets are to keep the Avalanche in their rear-view mirror and maintain their challenge for the Central Division title, they quickly need to improve their recent 4-6-0 in their last ten form.

Since coming back from the All-Star break, Winnipeg have scored 13 goals in five games, which puts them 26th in the NHL and has lowered their overall goal scoring average to 3.10 per game which is 18th in the league.

To get out of their offensive slump, the Jets will look to their big guns Kyle Connor (26 goals, 40 assists), Pierre-Luc Dubois (24 goals, 31 assists) and Mark Scheifele (34 goals, 18 assists), plus Josh Morrissey who has a team second best 59 points (11 goals, 48 assists) from the blue-line.

Morrissey's production ranks third among all NHL defenseman and makes him +900 to win the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the NHL's best blue-liner, currently held by the Avalanche's Cale Makar (+1100).

The Jets can take heart from scoring on the powerplay in each of their last two games, which has taken their success rate to 21.9% (14th), and with the standings so close they will be aiming to take advantage of the next stretch of games at home, with six of their next seven coming at Canada Life Centre.

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Avs dealing with injuries

In order to overcome long-term injuries to key players and stay in the Central Division title race, the Avalanche have been forced to show the character and rely on the depth which helped them end a 21-year championship drought last season.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog has missed the entirety of the season, forward Valeri Nichushkin and defensemen Bowen Byram and Josh Manson significant time and now blue-liner Makar has been forced into concussion protocol.

In addition to the Norris Trophy, Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in Colorado's run to the Cup.

The 24-year-old sits third on the Avalanche with 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists) and his absence above all will be sorely felt.

With Makar, fellow All-Stars Nathan MacKinnon (19 goals, 48 assists) and Mikko Rantanen (36 goals, 30 assists) have led the Avalanche through their injury troubles.

But now without their number one defenseman, Colorado will look to Devon Toews (four goals, 27 assists) and Samuel Girard (four goals, 19 assists) to carry the offence from the blue-line.

Strong defences could dominate

The Avalanche have averaged 3.07 goals per game which is 19th in the NHL and like the Jets have often had to rely on strong defense for results.

Colorado have conceded an average of 2.76 goals per game which is 10th in the NHL and the Jets' 2.59 which ranks an excellent third.

Netminding has been a major reason for each team's proud defensive record, with the Jets' Connor Hellebuyck going 26-17-1 with a .925 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average (GAA) and the Avalanche's Alexandar Georgiev 23-12-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.72 GAA.

While both teams have star offensive players who have the ability to take over, the numbers point to a low-scoring affair and whoever comes out on top of the goalie battle will no doubt have a big say on the result.

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