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Struggling Avs make changes on every line

Adrian Dater Avatar
December 28, 2018

Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, meet your new top linemate – Matt Nieto.

Alexander Kerfoot and J.T. Compher, say hello to your new second linemate – Gabe Landeskog.

Carl Soderberg, your new linemates are Sheldon Dries and Matt Calvert, and Tyson Jost, Sven Andrighetto and Gabriel Bourque – you’re the new fourth line.

Those were the sizable changes made to the Avalanche forward lines by coach Jared Bednar at what was a lengthy practice Friday at Family Sports Center.

“We’ve lost three in a row, so we’ve gotta change something up,” said Landeskog, when asked if he was surprised by the moves. “Obviously, we had some chemistry with me, Mikko and Nate, but I’ve excited to play with Comph and Kerf, and I think Nietsy’s gonna do great with Nate and Mikko. It’s very rare that a line stays together for 82 games, but I kinda figured you guys would come in and get excited over this, but for us it’s just a part of the business. For me, it doesn’t really matter who I’m playing with. I’m just excited to get back out and get back on the winning side.”

The Avs are 2-6-1 in the last nine, and many of the losses have been close games that got away in the third period. A struggling power play, too many turnovers in the neutral zone and some bad penalties and resultant poor penalty killing have been the prime culprits as to what’s gone wrong.

A power play that was leading the league two weeks ago has slipped to fourth overall. A PK unit that once was in the top five has free-fallen all the way down to 18th – although it has been better the last three games.

Rantanen is no longer the league’s leading scorer (Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is) and counted-upon forwards such as Tyson Jost have fallen out of favor with Bednar at the moment. Jost hasn’t scored a goal in 14 straight games. His last goal was Nov. 27, at Nashville.

Just how concerned is Bednar, entering Saturday’s game with the suddenly-surging Chicago Blackhawks?

“For us right now, especially with what we’re going through, we’ve gotta take it one game at a time, one shift at a time. I know that’s cliche, but that’s the truth. That’s where we’re at,” Bednar said. “We’ve got to dig in and concern ourselves with tomorrow night’s game. We can’t look any more past that.”

Nieto might seem an odd choice by many to be a top-line replacement for Landeskog. In 35 games, he has four goals and 13 points. But Bednar said he thinks Nieto’s speed will be a good asset on the line.

For his part, Nieto calls the promotion a “great opportunity” for himself.

“I got some shifts with them in Arizona. I’m not the most skilled guy, but I think I have the ability to make plays and I can think the game at a high pace, so I’m just going to try and make the most of it,” Nieto told BSN Denver. “Tomorrow’s a new game. We’re going to focus on the start of the game and try to work our way to the finish there.”

Jost, who hasn’t scored a goal in 14 straight games, has to dig his way out of the fourth line again and the shorter minutes such a role entails.

“(He got) an opportunity on the second line last night, and things just aren’t working for him right now,” Bednar said. “He looks like he’s thinking too much, and not freeing himself up to go play. He’s not playing at the pace that I think he can. I know his heart is in the right place, and we’re still trying to give him opportunities. He’s still playing on the power play. I’d like to see him simplify his game, play more of a straight-line game, get a little more physical and hopefully things will go his way. We saw this kind of happen to him at the start of the year, then he was out of the lineup for a bit and he came back and it looked like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. I think he had points in five or six straight and now he’s cooled off again. It’s something he’s just got to work through and we’re here to help him, but certainly I’d like to see him make more of an impact on a nightly basis.”


  • Semyon Varlamov will start in goal against the Blackhawks.
  • Defenseman Ryan Graves, who made his NHL debut in Vegas, suffered a cut left wrist at the morning skate there and is wearing a bandage, but he said things are fine, that it gives him no problem. He is expected to play again Saturday.
  • Bednar said he had no new update on defenseman Nikita Zadorov (lower body), other than he won’t play Saturday.
  • Defenseman Conor Timmins skated for the full practice, in a non-contact sweater.; Bednar said he almost certainly would start with the Colorado Eagles when his status is upgraded to active, which remains unknown but seems to be on the right path.
  • Defenseman Mark Barberio skated on his own. He remains out to injury.



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