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At the Rink: Is Compher Mister Clutch for the Avalanche?

Meghan Angley Avatar
January 10, 2023

Jesse’s Observations:

JT Compher has been Clutch

It’s a contract year for JT, and to this point, he is setting himself up for a nice little payday next summer. 

Compher has always been the Swiss Army knife of Colorado’s forward core. Able to moonlight in the top six is a center who can play on the wing if necessary (though Bednar really does like him in the middle of the ice), he kills penalties, plays on the power play, is on the ice in the last minute of a close game whether his team is looking to close out a game, or come back.

Compher has scored several big-time goals for the Avalanche in playoff games, including having a huge hand in helping them eliminate the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of Round 2 en route to a Stanley Cup. Once part of the “Frat Line” (Compher – Kerfoot – Jost), Compher is the last man standing with this Avs team of those three, and it’s not hard to see why when you look at the way he plays. 

I would also be remiss if I didn’t call out his game-saving play in the crease just a couple nights ago in Edmonton. Compher is literally doing it all for the Avs right now. 

Compher has long been an under-appreciated asset in the Avs’ bottom-six, but has stepped up in a massive way in the first half of what has been an injury-riddled season for the Avs. He looks confident, and determined. It has been a great start to the year for him, I’ll be curious to see how it rounds out as the Avalanche get healthy. 

The Avs’ Secret Weapon

OK, I’ll be honest.. this right here was originally planning on doing this huge in-depth piece on Avalanche Skills Coach Shawn Allard, and how he was this one-off specialized coach that was a key to the Avs’ success. 

While Allard has been a key to the Avs’ success, it maybe isn’t AS specialized as I originally thought. 

Allard has been credited by players and coaches alike for his ability to help players hone in on parts of their game that need improvement, as well as help players who are dealing with injuries get back up to game speed quicker than what we’ve seen in the past.

He works with players on things like taking the puck off the wall at full speed, the timing of their passing, catching passes in stride, exploding out of the corner, things that you maybe wouldn’t think of in a traditional hockey drill, but all things that are a huge part of playing the game at the NHL level. 

Again, I’ve always been under the impression that this was something that is at least semi-unique to the Avalanche organization. In talking with some players from other teams, and guys with the Avs who have played for other organizations, what I found is that most teams have a coach that does that type of work with players. I was a little bummed when I found that out, because that was what the majority of what I was interested in with this story. Now, not every team has it listed as a “skills” coach, but a lot of these coaches around the league do this same type of thing. 

Even still, that doesn’t mean that Shawn Allard isn’t just great hire, and a huge piece of the Avs’ coaching staff. He is another guy that falls into the category of being a great communicator and someone who seems to have a strong pulse on the needs of players and the team. I firmly believe the Avalanche do not win a Cup without Allard helping to get the most out of the entire lineup. 

Darren Helm

Alright, we’ve talked about a guy who has stepped up for the Avs while they’ve been injured, we’ve talked about the coach who is helping get all of these injured guys back up to game speed, now let’s talk about one of those players who was injured for what felt like forever, and who FINALLY made his return to the lineup last week. 

Darren Helm came into training camp nursing an injury that required offseason surgery. We all knew he wouldn’t be ready for the start of the season, but given that we had seen him on the ice at multiple points during camp, it really felt like he wasn’t going to be that far off. 

Well, days turned into weeks, weeks, turned into months, we stopped seeing him on the ice, and then we got word that Helm (like Gabe Landeskog) had to get a second “clean-up” surgery done because the first one wasn’t healing properly. 

After a couple more months of rehab, Helm was ready to make his debut on January 2nd, 2023 against the Vegas Golden Knights. Talk about being thrown into the line of fire, eh?

His first game back you could tell he was hurtin’! I can’t even imagine what it’s like to try and jump back into that type of conditioning. I don’t recall any egregious mistakes he made or anything like that. Given the opponent and the amount of time off, I think just blending in was a total win for Helm. 

Since that first game, I think we’ve started to see Helm regain his for just a bit. Multiple plays in each of his next two games where he made really good reads or just strong defensive plays. He even as able to help generate a breakaway for himself against Vancouver. He missed the net with the shot BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT. 

The Avs desperately needed some veteran stableness in their bottom six, and it’s been nice to see Helm settle back in there. 

Colorado Grit

This one is going to be brief. We were just talking on a show a last week (maybe two weeks now) about how puzzling it is that states like Nebraska have a handful of junior hockey teams, yet Colorado doesn’t have any. 

Well, that all changed last week!

The Colorado Grit are the NAHL’s newest franchise playing out of Greeley. While I don’t live the idea of going up there (sorry Greeley folks), I’m so excited to have some high-end junior hockey coming to Colorado. 

Now, the NAHL isn’t the CHL and we all know that, but there are still some exciting players in the NAHL. The NAHL is really used well by players who eventually plan to go the NCAA route, but want to play some junior hockey and maintain their college eligibility (think what Tyson Jost did, or even what Cale Makar did).

I have a good friend who had a very successful NAHL career before getting plucked to go play for UMASS Lowell at the Div 1 level. The USNTDP also at one point competed regulating in the NAHL, so the league actually has some pretty notable alumni. Including Cam Fowler, Nick Foligno, Phoenix Copley, Roope Hintz, even Erik Johnson and Patrick Kane have games logged in the NAHL. Go the NAHL.com and just look at their list of alumni. There is plenty of reason to be excited about Colorado’s newest hockey team. 

Meghan’s Observations

Since I am coming off IR, my observations are a little more league-focused this time around. I’m so excited to be back at the rink to lean back into the Avalanche focus – quotes, audio, insights, and observations – with you all this coming week:

Illegal sticks – Anaheim Ducks centerman Trevor Zegras spent some time in the penalty box for an unusual infraction. He earned a primary assist on the game-winning goal in their 2-0 win over the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. The shutout was noteworthy because Anaheim recorded a lead in the first period and sought to maintain it throughout the second and the third. During the second period, Zegras made this a little bit more difficult when he took the stick of Joel Kiviranta along the boards. You can see he lost his own upon contact and decided he would simply steal Kiviranta’s.

“Everybody knew it was a penalty but me, I guess,” Zegras explained. 

He attributed some of the confusion to his memory of former Anaheim Duck, Bobby Ryan. Ryan’s goal against the Minnesota Wild in 2010 was scored using his opponent’s stick (Mikko Koivu). It was another entertaining sequence wherein Koivu lost his stick and took Ryan’s. Ryan – a right-shot winger – was able to use Koivu’s lefthanded stick to deliver swift karmic justice.

Canada’s Connor’s: McDavid-Bedard – On January 5th, Connor McDavid etched another accomplishment in hockey history with his 500th career assist in Edmonton’s 4-2 defeat of the New York Islanders. McDavid aided Kailer Yamamoto on the rush shorthanded. With another primary assist earlier in the period, McDavid joined the elite company of players who’ve also cracked 500-assists. He sits in the 163rd spot for career totals overall. After all, Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 assists will take some time to close in on. At 25-years old, McDavid is among the fastest to reach the mark in 527 games. Ahead of him are: Wayne Gretzky (352), Mario Lemieux (433), Peter Stastny (507) and Bobby Orr (522).

Connor Bedard, the coveted 2023 first overall pick, earned his second World Junior Championship gold medal on January 5th. The 17-year old center was the top goal scorer and overall points leader in the tournament at 23 points (9G, 14A). The closest behind him was USA’s Logan Cooley at 14 points (7G, 7A). He scored the overtime winner against Slovakia to send Team Canada to the semifinals.

In his return to juniors following the tournament, he casually put up a four goal night with two assists.

SOG alone will not win games – In a formula that is painfully familiar to Avs at the moment, the Carolina Hurricanes faced a frustrating 5-3 defeat against the Nashville Predators last Thursday. Despite registering 67 shots on goal – which doesn’t include 38 additional shots which were either blocked or missed – the Canes were unable to beat Juuse Saros.

Special teams were a factor too. In a sport where the margin of error is paper thin, allowing one goal against on three penalty kills, and not converting on three of their four powerplay chances will emphasize a loss if the scoring just isn’t there 5v5. Brady Skej and Eric Staal provided a goal a piece at 5v5 and Paul Stastny got one for them on the powerplay.

Goaltending is another vital part of a winning formula. He may have started the year with some struggles, but Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros has been on the rise and locked this game down. Twenty saves on 23 high-danger shots, 14-of-14 saves on medium-danger chances, and 67 total shots faced meant Saros’ strong play kept Nashville safely in this.

The Canes were unable to keep a lead – always one goal within striking distance – and entered the third period tied. Nashville took the lead early in the final period, and Carolina couldn’t buy a goal. An empty net goal in the final seconds sealed their fate.

Carolina’s inability to finish would remind you of Colorado’s scoring woes as of late.

Holiday break: I don’t think it matters so much if I believe in momentum, but rather if the players and coach do. The realities of the Avs’ performance following the holiday break are hard to ignore all together. It’s the classic rust vs. rest debate. For Colorado, rest does not typically benefit them much – even as injury depleted as they are. Since Jared Bednar’s tenure, the five games following the break have gone as follows:

2022-23: 5 losses 0-4-1
2021-22: 5 wins, 5-0-0 (including two close OT wins)
2020-21: No holiday break, pandemic*
2019-20: 3 losses 2-2-1 (followed by four game losing streak thereafter)
2018-19: 4 losses 1-2-2
2017-18: 1 loss 4-1-0 (including two close OT wins)
2016-17: 5 losses 0-5-0

It’s a mixed bag that leans a bit rusty – especially when factors like injuries only exacerbate the problem. Given the heavy utilization of players like Devon Toews and Cale Makar, it did help Jared Bednar to asses their workload.

“We tack some guys going into the break with three days rest coming in – you can plan for that mandatory no ice time so guys should be fresh and ready to go,” Bednar said just after the holiday break. He explained that the outcome of the next few games would also influence the TOI decision.

“Winning is the most important thing,” he said. “If we need to give them time off and the practices are optional skates, we will.”

Presently, Cale Makar leads the league in time on ice at an average 27:24. Toews has the fifth highest (25:29) and Mikko Rantanen has the most of any forward in the NHL at 23:07. Makar’s OT winner in their sixth game back from break breathed a sign of life back into the struggling Avalanche team. Is it enough to resuscitate them from the haze of the holiday?

Slump-busting: The Avalanche weren’t the only team trying to break a losing streak. Oskar Olausson scored the game-winning goal in the Colorado Eagles’ defeat of the Tucson Roadrunners on Friday. The 2-1 win snapped a three-game losing streak and the Eagles built off the momentum with a stellar 6-1 win over Tucson in their next game. The Eagles’ faced their return from the holiday break with a five-game road trip. They went 2-3-0.

The keys to winning games, according to head coach Greg Cronin, came down to a few factors including preparedness and identity.

Cronin talked about the benefit of analytics in breaking down errors during their losing streak. Before their game on Friday he said, “(Using) our in-house stats with the analytical stats, we can tell how we’re playing. Sports have become almost scientific to an extent that you can actually see what’s going on with heat maps. We can only control what we do as a staff in terms of getting guys to play the way we want to play which feeds our natural identity. Our natural identity right now is to be defense first. We don’t have the weapons to score, so we have to suppress chances against and we’ve got to try and create chances off our effort.”

The Eagles have also been struggling to finish on 5v5 and powerplay chances. The Eagles PP is near the bottom of the division at eight. Most of the Avs call-ups from the AHL have coincidentally been powerplay personnel, so the dip in its performance over time definitely makes sense.

Cronin emphasized the team’s identity in Friday’s pregame. “It’s a combination of us playing really well defensively and eliminating scoring chances. Offensively when we get the puck, it’s being smart with it and making good plays. Don’t keep it so vanilla that we’re just trying to stay alive. We want to make plays that are based on our core identity, which is: we’re number one in the league in offensive zone time. So how can we generate chances off of those possessions?”

The Eagles’ unwavering ability to stick to their identity resulted in a series sweep in Tucson to put them back in the win column. Friday’s game was modest, but Saturday’s game broke the dam containing much of their goal-scoring. Can the Avs respond similarly in pursuit of their next win?

Funny Moment of the Week

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