Two teams who have their sights set on winning their respective Western Conference divisions meet on Sunday as the Pacific's Seattle Kraken host the Central's Colorado Avalanche.
After finishing bottom of the Pacific in their inaugural season, the Kraken (35-21-6) are much improved in their second NHL campaign and are currently four points behind leaders Vegas Golden Knights.
The Avalanche (34-21-5) are eight points from Central top spot following a 7-3 defeat to the leaders Dallas Stars, but they do have three games in hand.
|Seattle Kraken @ Colorado Avalanche
|Ball Arena, Denver
|9PM Et, Sunday 5th March
|How to watch
|SEA Kraken +150, COL Avalanche -170
The run to be crowned Stanley Cup Champions last season took a lot out of the Avalanche and they have been hampered in the current campaign due to long-term injuries to several key players, including Captain Gabriel Landeskog, who is yet to play a game in the regular season.
However, with the likes of forward Valeri Nichushkin and defensemen Cale Makar and Bowen Byram returning to health, the Avalanche's form has picked up at the most important time of year and made them +650 to retain the championship.
The Avalanche are 7-2-1 in their last ten games, which included a six-game win streak, and they are benefitting from the fantastic form of star players Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
MacKinnon has 18 points in the last ten games (ten goals, eight assists), which takes his season tally to 73 (24 goals, 49 assists in 49 games) and Rantanen has seven goals in the past ten, taking his team-leading number to 41 in 60 games.
Defenseman Cale Makar, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs last season, returned on Saturday from concussion protocol and his presence on the blue-line is a crucial one for the Avalanche.
Helped by Makar’s 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists) Colorado are averaging 3.15 goals per game which ranks 16th in the NHL and thanks to sterling performances from netminder Alexander Georgiev (.919 save percentage) have conceded just 2.80 goals per game which is good for top ten in the league.
Not only have the Kraken gone from 30th in the overall NHL standings to 11th but they have also improved in all key measures.
Their average goals scored has shot up from 29th to sixth (3.50) and their goals conceded from 24th to 17th (3.15).
Additionally, their powerplay has increased from 29th in the league to 20th (20.4%) and their penalty kill from 31st to 29th (73.9%), though, there is still clearly room for improvement on their special teams.
Andre Burakovsky who they signed from the Avalanche after he won the Cup with them last season has played a big part, scoring 39 points (13 goals, 26 assists) in 49 games, but he will miss the meeting with his former team due to injury.
The Swede is fifth on the Kraken for points with Jordan Eberle on 50 leading the way and Jared McCann the top goal scorer with 30.
Twenty-year-old Matty Beniers has also been a revelation and he leads all rookies with 44 points and 19 goals and is -350 to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.
The Kraken have taken three points from four available against the Avalanche so far this season, including a 3-2 win at Ball Arena in late October, which will give them confidence going into the third encounter with the reigning champions.
Seattle are 20-9-3 on the road and Colorado 16-10-4 at home and, with another close game expected, the Kraken will need whoever gets the nod in goal between Martin Jones (.890 save percentage) or Philipp Grubauer (.895) to elevate their game to match Georgiev or his partner Pavel Francouz (.919) if they are to be successful again.
The Avalanche made a shrewd addition on NHL trade deadline day by bringing in 33-year-old Lars Eller, who won the Stanley Cup with Washington Capitals in 2018.
He will make his third appearance in a Colorado uniform after scoring 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 60 games previous with the Capitals.
Defenseman Jack Johnson will also again be part of the Avalanche's roster after being re-acquired from Chicago Blackhawks, who he signed for in the off-season after helping Colorado win the Cup.
The Kraken made a minor but sizeable addition to their roster in 6'6" blue-liner Jaycob Megna from San Jose Sharks.