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Well, how’s everyone doin’ tonight? If you’re a fan of the Colorado Avalanche, you’re pretty god damned good right now.
You’re a fan of the team with the most dominant line in hockey. You are a fan of Three-Headed Monster member Mikko Rantanen, who is the hottest Finnish export to the U.S. since pickled herring. You’re a fan of a team with Nathan MacKinnon, whose smirky grins are getting even more “You can’t skate with me”-ish with every game. You’re a fan of a team with youth, the league’s sixth-youngest squad, at an average of 26 years, 80 days (Winnipeg is youngest, at 25 years, 298 days).
You’re a fan of a team with skill, as the numbers of Rants and MacK and Gabe Landeskog attest. You’ve got a top young two-way defensive prospect (Cale Makar) finishing up his college career soon, another kid (Conor Timmins) who will be a real player if the concussions headaches would just lift. You’ve still got good cap room, your own first-round pick next year and that of the Ottawa Senators, whose unexpectedly good start has robbed Avs fans of even more schadenfreude toward the Sens so far, but who figure to fall fast at some point. Jack Hughes could still call himself a Denver resident, folks.
Tonight, the Avs upped their record to 12-6-4 with an easy 5-1 win over the Coyotes at the If A Tree Falls In The Forest Arena in Arizona.
J.T. Compher made the best return since the first encore at a Kiss show, with two goals – both of them short-handed, both of them on the same penalty kill in the first period. The first was a snipe from the circle (yes, a bad goal for Antti Raanta, but still) and a steal-and-breakaway top-shelf job that had the Avs up two goals before the Coyotes faithful could spread out into their dozens through the building.
The Avs won all three games of the road trip, scoring 16 goals overall. Rantanen looks just like a straight-up terror right now, bodying people off him and spinning circles around everyone in the corners, a la Jaromir Jagr in his prime. He’s becoming the story in the NHL right now. If you try to hit him, you don’t make much of an impact, because he’s 6-4 and extremely solid. If you try to finesse him, he’ll whirl and twirl better than you in the end. I expect teams to start putting even more attention on him to slow him down, but that should just free up more milky white ice for MacKinnon to pull from his bag of tricks. Or, it should draw more penalties, leading to more power plays for a unit that is hotter than a habanero pepper.
That Forsberg-esque saucer pass Rantanen made the other night in L.A. from behind the net to Colin Wilson drew a lot of notice around the league for its brilliance.
The Avs are starting to put some distance between any seventh- and eighth-seed hopefuls, and the pack behind them, the Western race, though we’re still on the front nine of the schedule. They have played a road-heavy schedule for the most part so far, so they’ll get good chances to harvest some easy points from here on out.
The defense is just much, much better than it was, even from last year’s team. The addition of Ian Cole has added not just a savvy, veteran presence on and off the ice, but he’s still got plenty of runway in his career. He’s not just the wise old man out there; he can still play.
Sam Girard remains the whirling-dervish, “I can’t believe we got this guy” revelation he’s been pretty much since last November when he first joined the team. A skillful guy who can handle the puck in almost any kind of situation and make calm, correct decisions under pressure? You can’t over-estimate how important that kind of guy is on defense.
Tyson Barrie remains a point-producing machine, whose defensive game has seemed better this year too. Let’s scratch those speculative trade scenarios we all like to toss out there with him sometimes, eh? We should all be grateful for what we have here with this guy.
The goaltending tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer looks as good as most any team in the league. Yeah, Grubauer remains just outside all of our circles of trust still, but he appears to have settled down after that disaster in Vancouver. Varly surpassed the 200-win mark in Los Angeles the other night and really hasn’t had one truly bad game yet.
Does this team still have some flaws? Yep. There’s still worry about the forward depth, but, wow, did Compher alleviate some of that tonight or what? He’s got five goals in the six games he’s played. He gives such an important buffer to the secondary line of attack beyond the Three-Headed Monster. With Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Jost looking strong again, with a hint of promise from Vladislav Kamenev, with a better-than-appreciated big third-line center than many have, in Carl Soderberg, the Avs might have just enough beyond the THM Line to be a serious threat to opponents in the end.
The Avs waste little time in playing to the home folks Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, against the Dallas Stars. Come on out and see what is fast becoming the best show in town.