Jesse’s Observations:

Denver isn’t worried

Meghan and I were concerned about you Avalanche fans. It was looking like the entire fanbase needed to be talked off the ledge in light of the teams recent struggles. So we decided to take to the streets before Saturday’s game with the Ottawa Senators,

I thought I would start off my weekly observations with this one because I thought it was a great reminder that Twitter isn’t a real place, and what you may think is the overwhelming majority is actually the extremely-vocal minority. 

I couldn’t believe how many people said that they had faith that this recent stretch for the Avalanche would end up nothing more than a temporary rough patch. When I say that on the DNVR Podcast, I’ve got the chat just lighting me up for being overly optimistic and positive. 

It was refreshing to talk with these folks in Denver, and it was somewhat of a full-circle moment that night when we were talking to Jared Bednar after the Avs rewarded all of those fans’ positive attitudes with a 7-0 smacking of the Ottawa Senators.

Bednar was asked if the game against the Chicago Blackhawks was a line in the sand, a game where they had to say “enough is enough” and turn things around. Bednar essentially went on to say that when he thinks the Chicago game was blown a little out of proportion (maybe even internally as well) since it was the most recent game in a stretch of bad games, but when you take each of those games individually, the teams’ play really hasn’t been THAT bad, and he feels like they’ve actually been building towards an offensive breakout.

I love passionate fans. It’s part of what makes sports so amazing. The Avalanche are selling out, standing room only, every single night right now. That’s passion. Just remember folks, you don’t have to live and die on every shift. It’s a long, emotional season, and it’s all part of the ride. 

Francouz is back at it

We talked to Pavel Francouz earlier in the week who said it was nice to be back, and that he and the team had made the decision to use the holiday break (plus a little extra) to help him heal up from a couple smaller injuries that had been nagging him a bit. He’s all good to go and posted a shutout in what may have looked like a game that didn’t need a solid goaltending performance, but he made some crucial saves early in the game to keep his team in position to have the offensive breakout that they did.

Francouz is probably my favorite guy to chat with in the locker room. He’s always got something good to say, and he’s just a pretty positive guy overall. In addition to being able to provide some much-needed relief for Alexandar Georgiev, I just think Francouz is a welcomed addition back into the locker room. 

Injury Updates

Are you ready for your weekly updates on the Avs’ key injuries?

Jared Bednar told us that none of Gabe Landeskog, Josh Manson, or Bowen Byram are really that close to coming back. Both Manson and Byram have been skating pretty regularly over the last week or so, with Manson pushing things a bit harder than Byram. Landeskog was officially confirmed to be out of town while rehabbing his injury, so he’s geographically nowhere close to getting back on the ice here for the Avs. 

The two real significant updates we have this week are on Darren Helm and Val Nichushkin. Both are slightly troubling to me. 

Helm, after coming back for just five games, has been put back on the shelf and Bednar said he will “miss some time”. Bednar also confirmed that this was in fact related to the injury that caused him to miss almost the entire first half of the regular season so far. It’s never good when an injury is re-aggravated, you just hope that it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with just some time off. I would imagine it’s quite the shock to your body to go from not playing for that long, right to NHL action, but Helm only played 5:34 against Chicago before exiting the game… so we’ll have to wait and see. 

The other big update which has had my mentions blowing up all week with “Just like Forsberg” sentiments, Val Nichushkin is having a hard time getting back on the ice. 

Bednar told us this past week, in regards to Nichushkin’s ankle injury, that Val is able to do all of the off-ice workouts just fine, he’s feeling good… until he puts on skates. 

The Avalanche head voach said that Nichushkin is only really running into discomfort when he puts his foot in the boot of his skate, there is something there that is causing him to not be able to skate comfortably. 

Look, I’m not super privy to the fine details of Nichushkin’s injury. We know he broke his foot in the playoffs, then had to have ankle surgery at the beginning of the year, beyond that the Avs have kept it very quiet in terms of what is going on. So it’s hard to speculate exactly what might be giving him the problems. 

Nichushkin is a big, heavy, hard-skating player who is at his best when he can be using his size and speed to generate offense and run down opponents. As long as they feel like they’re seeing improvement, let him take as much time as he needs. He’s just too valuable to this organization to risk doing long-term damage. 

Most Valuable Mikko

He’s just on another level right now. 

“A player determined”. That’s exactly how it looks on every shift. I get people have been a little annoyed with him barking at the refs a little more than we’re accustomed to, but at the same time… how many times in the past do people have wished to see that kind of fire and passion out of Mikko? 

He’s engaged in a way that I’ve never seen before, and as I’ve said a thousand times this season, he’s embracing his size like he never has. 

This version of Mikko Rantanen is a truly elite playmaker and goal-scorer. We’ve always seen the shot when he gets a lane, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him be this assertive in the offensive zone. Wants the puck, shooting from all different areas, going to the net. He understands what is needed from him right now, and he is delivering to the tune of nearly 25% of Colorado’s total goal share. 

If we had to vote today, I’m not saying that he would be my Hart Trophy pick no doubt, but I can tell you for absolute certain that he would be in my top three. 

Nela Lopusanova

Every week I have a topic that doesn’t need much introduction, and it speaks for itself, and that is absolutely the case this week with 14-year-old phenom Nela Lopusanova.

Lopusanovza plays for the U18 Women’s Slovakia team and spent the week absolutely tearing up the U18 Women’s World Championships. Lopusanova tallied 9G and 12P in just 5GP. The previous point record for a female under 15 years old at the U18 Women’s World Championships was 3.

The USA and Canada have dominated women’s hockey for decades now, but Nela Lopusanova might just have something to say about that in the coming years. The fact that she’s doing all of this at just 14 years old is absolutely bananas to me. 

Rudo’s Observations:

Meghan’s Observations:

Kris Letang and his hockey family

In another touching display of the familial bonds forged through hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a decision to make after their 4-1 win in Arizona this past Sunday. They had a game against Vancouver coming up at home on Tuesday, so they could have elected to return to Pittsburgh and sleep in their own beds. Instead, they decided as a group to be there for a teammate who needed them more. The team’s management group approved their request to fly overnight to Montreal to attend the funeral of Claude Fouquet, Kris Letang’s father.

Letang has had a challenging year. On November 30th, he suffered his second stroke of his career. With the close advice of the team’s medical staff, he was able to return to practice less than two weeks after. Their knowledge of his first stroke in 2014 helped to navigate that decision. Before the Winter Classic on January 2nd, Letang was dealing with a lower-body injury that was listed as day to day. It was announced that he would miss the event and, and he returned to Montreal to be with family following the death of his father.

The Penguins were there for Letang and returned back to Pittsburgh the day of the Vancouver game. A handful of players took an optional skate, and Pittsburgh pulled out the 5-4 win.

A gentleman’s agreement

Fighting in hockey is a nuanced fabric of the game. Some struggle to justify its merit and others reduce it to superficial bloodlust. It’s complicated and understood like another language to players. Instances like Andreas Englund’s bout with Austin Watson in the Ottawa game are an interesting example. Ottawa was down two goals in the first period. Early into the second, Englund had just angled the puck off the boards up the ice in transition. Following the play up ice, you can see Englund push against his back and Watson turned around to press the issue. 

They fought briefly and as they were broken up, Watson gave Englund a friendly pat on the head. You may wonder what spurred it on. “Nothing really, I guess,” Englund laughed

It can be a catalyst in lighting a fire under a team.

In this agreement between LA’s Sean Durzi and Edmonton’s Zach Hyman at the faceoff circle, the pair jovially agree to a fight once the puck was dropped. It appeared to be brought on by Hyman’s hit on Quinton Byfield before. The pair had also gotten tangled up when Hyman hooked Durzi earlier. Down 5-2 at that point, Hyman cracked a grin to Leon Draisaitl to let him know he’d be dropping the gloves shortly.

It’s unlike anything you’d see outside of sports.

Denver chasing tenth national championship

The No. 3 University of Denver Pioneers improved their season record to 19-5-0 this weekend. In a dominant series against the Miami RedHawks, the Pioneers dropped two back-to-back 7-0 shutout wins. Sophomore forwards Carter King and Tristan Broz each had a hat trick in separate games, and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Magnus Chrona was perfect in between the pipes.

After returning from a bronze medal win in the World Junior Championship tournament, Sean Behrens has had a goal and four assists in three games. Friday’s game story touches on the competitive year Denver is having so far. You’ll want to watch this team as they embark on their stretch run. They’ll play the first game of the Gold Pan series – the rivalry games between Colorado College and DU – later this month at Ball Arena. A demand for tickets moved the event to a larger venue and we’ll be there to cover it.

Mental resets

Colorado hit a difficult stretch of games. In a December wherein they got by with close wins and a 7-6-2 record, six games are outside of regulation and four of them are wins. January has proven a more difficult challenge. A losing streak carried over into the start of this month and the Avs went on to win one game in an eight game stretch. The first win of the New Year came on January 7th in their overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers 3-2. It came on the heels of a frustrating loss to the Vancouver Canucks the game before. Andrew Cogliano had a particularly rough game. He earned an unsportsmanlike conduct after a clear on the penalty kill was interrupted by an official and led to a goal against.

Cogliano talked about the frustrations of that game and their response to it:

After the disappointing loss to the Chicago Blackhawks this week, the topic of hitting the reset button following difficult games became increasingly important. The Avs held a meeting before practice on Friday, and Evan Rodrigues talked about the highlights of that conversation:

It yielded immediate results in their triumphant 7-0 win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Not unlike the Edmonton game, the Avs still need to prove that the strong response is sustainable against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

Darren Helm’s health and depth

Jesse discussed the updates on Helm’s health. On January 13th, five games into his season return, Jared Bednar announced that Darren Helm would miss some time. He was supremely limited the game before against the Chicago Blackhawks. Today we learned that Helm re-injured what he had surgery on earlier this year. There is concern that he could possibly be out for the season. Bednar said that the lower-body injury was one that he can rehabilitate and come back from, but they need more information.

Following Saturday’s game, Martin Kaut and Sampo Ranta were reassigned to the Colorado Eagles. Ranta was recalled to fill Helm’s absence in the lineup. These could be merely paper transactions, but it’s notable that the pair missed Sunday’s practice. Since there won’t be a morning skate for Monday’s matinee game, today’s practice is viewed as the pregame skate. After less-than-stellar outings in Saturday’s game, it will be interesting to see what the Avs do to fill Helm’s absence tomorrow. Without Helm and Denis Malgin, Colorado’s depth has taken a big hit.

Positively – as Jesse also mentioned – Val Nichushkin skated in a regular contact jersey and may very well be an option for tomorrow. Nichuskin’s injury is described as a nuisance related to the cut and scar tissue from his previous ankle injury. His presence will be a huge relief, but the Avs will have plenty to think about even once he returns as we await a status update on Gabriel Landeskog. Their forward group is still searching for more from their depth in the interim.

Newhook’s impressive showing in the Ottawa game is important. Meyers has one point on the season – the weird tip-in goal against Minnesota back in October. He hasn’t had a hand in any other scoring outside of it through 21 games.

If this is the beginning of the rise of Newhook, the Avs will be in a much better position. For Meyers, the calls to contribute grow louder. He’s had a hand in some chances. He’s right there, but the clock is ticking. If Helm truly isn’t an option, Colorado will need to evaluate what their bottom six should look like for a postseason run.