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Dire roster holes exposed as Nathan MacKinnon exits shutout loss in Florida

Meghan Angley Avatar
February 11, 2024

The Colorado Avalanche have dropped four games straight coming out of the All-Star break. They’re 4-5-1 in their last ten and 0-3-1 on the road trip so far.

Their road record has invited criticism and presently they’re 12-12-4.

With their 0-4 shutout loss against the Florida Panthers tonight, the Avs are officially in a little bit of a funk.

It’s not their first tough stretch of the season, they had a 4-4-2 period in late-November/early-December.

Of course one key difference from that earlier stretch is the production from the top stars. Nathan MacKinnon posted 19 points in that time, Mikko Rantanen had 12 points, and Val Nichushkin had seven.

MacKinnon has undoubtedly been on a tear, but he’s come back down to Earth following the break, Rantanen has looked apathetic or injured, and Nichushkin’s absence has been felt.

Special teams can offer insight into some of their struggles. The Avs are scoreless through the last 13 powerplay opportunities. On their lone man-advantage against Florida, Rantanen created three shots on net. Passes connected and they established the zone for more meaningful possession than we’ve seen lately, but their inability to convert continued to cost them.

For the fifth time in the last two games, Colorado took an offensive zone penalty. The culprit was an unlikely one too: Logan O’Connor. Usually so dialed into the details, even one of their most consistent players has been affected by the troubles of the team.

The penalty kill was deployed in the first period and allowed two goals against. 

On the first goal, Josh Manson and Joel Kivivranta battled hard in the corner – Manson especially. Manson got the puck out to Andrew Cogliano to clear, but his clear angled off the board right to Brandon Montour at the point.

Florida cycled the puck high-to-low and Aleksandar Barkov found Carter Verhaeghe at the crease. Verhaeghe angled the pass in and it bounced off Alexander Georgiev’s pad back into the blue paint, but Verhaeghe banged it home from there.

On the second goal, Barkov passed to Matt Tkachuk in the right-circle from behind the net. Tkachuk fed Sam Reinhart in the slot and Reinhart dropped to one knee and snapped the puck in. There wasn’t much more Cale Makar could have done defensively. He tried to tie up Barkov’s lane initially and got back quickly to try and block Reinhart.

The goal was identical to Reinhart’s powerplay goal against the Avs in Colorado earlier this month, so I might have liked to see O’Connor more aggressive to confront him in the slot.

A failed clear from Cogliano and O’Connor’s missed assignment in the slot left Georgiev in a tough spot.

Are O’Connor and Cogliano the problem? No, but they are a symptom of a detail issue.

Makar has been responsible for some defensive gaffes we’re not used to seeing, especially in the New Jersey game. Devon Toews had one giveaway tonight and Makar had three. 

The Bowen Byram and Jack Johnson pairing has also suffered.

Byram has looked unconfident.

He went without a registered in-game event in the Carolina game, so it was an improvement to see two shots on net, three additional attempts stopped, three blocks, and a team-high four hits. But alongside that, Byram accounted for two giveaways.

His pair posted the worst Corsi-for-percentage of all defensemen on the night. In 20:04 TOI, Byram was on the ice for 22 scoring-chances-against and with Johnson combined for the most scoring-chances-against of any players.

Usually Colorado’s backend acts as an extra forward on the ice, but the production hasn’t been there the last few games. Girard and Josh Manson have shown promise, but from the top-down, their d-corps has looked spread thin.

To my eye, they’re overcompensating and overcomplicating things. Particularly in their end, they’re scrambling and it appears there’s a lack of trust that they’re going to get the saves they need.

Even on a night where Girard’s play is among the best, he wasn’t immune from mistakes.

On Florida’s final goal, they dumped the puck into Colorado’s end. Girard picked it up in the corner and was rushed by Verhaeghe and backhanded the puck away presumably to Manson. Unfortunately the puck didn’t actually go to Manson. Outstretched, Manson couldn’t get to it and Barkov took the puck and threw it backdoor.

Beyond that, the Avs have lacked consistency inside their forward group. Jared Bednar is searching for a solution because MacKinnon, Makar, and Rantanen each have just one goal in four games.

And tonight, they got shutout.

Just before the midway point, the Ross Colton, Miles Wood, and O’Connor line was reunited.

As a result, Bednar returned to some more familiarity. Jonathan Drouin joined the top line again and Artturi Lehkonen played with Ryan Johansen and Zach Parise.

The Colton line had an immediate impact – good possession and a dangerous chance from Wood at the netfront.

The Johansen line on the other hand was an immediate liability in the defensive zone. Georgiev experienced a flurry of shots, but fortunately the Avs survived a long shift in their end.

While anchored to Johansen’s line, Lehkonen and Parise were the biggest defensive liability on the forward side. Together the line combined for 45 scoring chances against.

On the third goal-against, Evan Rodrigues’ one-timer went wide and Dmitry Kulikov picked it up at the point. Kulikov sent it down the slot and it got deflected on net. Georgiev made the kick save, but Johansen lost his guy in the slot and Eetu Luostarinen snatched the rebound and whipped it into the back of the net.

Bednar continued to experiment with the lines. We saw Colton center a line with Rantanen and Lehkonen. MacKinnon played between Wood and O’Connor. Additionally, Johansen was moved to the fourth line with Kiviranta and Cogliano. Fredrik Oloffson played with Parise and Drouin.

Johansen’s demotion to the fourth line is perhaps the most concerning development.

He hasn’t found his footing in Colorado and has lost the trust of the coaching staff. He has gone without a point in eight-straight games and only has 18 points in 53 games – six of which have come from his opportunity on the powerplay, especially earlier in the season.

I alluded to a lack of trust from the team in their goaltending, but the lack of trust is cyclical.

Bednar can’t deploy four real lines and his options down the middle are limited with Olofsson and Colton having a little less experience playing center compared to depth around the league. Right now, the usually-steady Lehkonen is hampered on Johansen’s line.

Georgiev finished with 39 saves on 43 shots. They like to keep their high-danger-chances-allowed to under 15, and tonight it crept up to 20. Colorado allowed 24 shots in the second period alone.

To that end, Georgiev’s night was fine, but the end result doesn’t feel good after their fourth-straight loss.

It seems like Toews’ comments about guys kidding themselves from December was a lifetime ago. Then MacKinnon was superhuman and the team was better.

It’s concerning that they’ll need to revisit a similar sentiment less than two months from that turning point, but it’s not fatal.

It’s a four game skid and they need to string together some wins and get the top guys going.

Beyond that though, there are some real holes in the current roster construction that need to be addressed by the deadline to support the stars down the line.

The Avs have two more games on the road trip, so they can inject some life back into their road record. Up next? A weird Washington Capitals team ripe with opportunity to turn things around.

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