1. Rough start for a couple of former Avs

It has been a tough last couple of off-seasons for Avalanche fans who grow closely attached to some of the team’s players. Some real fan favorites have gone out the door over the last two summers. Obviously winning a Stanley Cup takes almost all of the sting out of losing those players, but still… the organization has lost some good ones. 

While most of them are enjoying good success in their new homes, like Andre Burakovsky (Seattle), Nazem Kadri (Calgary), and perhaps the biggest success stormy of all is Nico Sturm (San Jose) who is off to his best start ever.

It’s not all roses for former members of the burgundy and blue though, and two, in particular, are really not having a great time out of the gates this year. Tyson Jost and Philipp Grubauer are both having nightmare starts, for different reasons.

You had such high hopes for Jost last season after the trade. Thought maybe a change of scenery and an elevated role would be what he needed to finally jump-start his NHL career to be something close to what we thought it could be, but it doesn’t appear to be working out that way. After getting a couple of games in the top six (next to Kirill Kaprizov) early on, Jost has worked his way out of the lineup and, according to The Athletic’s Micheal Russo, is “conceivably at risk of being put on waivers if he doesn’t shape up his game dramatically and quickly.”

Jost has only three points on the season and has now been a healthy scratch on four separate occasions. 

Grubauer, on the other hand, isn’t having any on-ice trouble like he did last year. No, this year the issue is staying on the ice. Grubauer got hurt in his fourth game of the season (against the Avalanche) and hasn’t played since. He was spotted on the ice for the first time last week, but still no hard timetable. Lower-body injuries have plagued Grubauer his entire career, and so far this season is no different, unfortunately. 

2. Reverse Retros start to roll out

While the Avalanche have yet to wear theirs in a game, plenty of teams have begun to sport their limited edition kits semi-regularly. 

Now getting a look at teams’ full uniforms, here are some of my favorites:

 
 

Then you have a team like Buffalo, who took a beautiful thing and ruined it by going with white pants and gloves.

3. Unexpected starts

As there was last year, this season has kicked off with some eye-catching trends. Not *quite* at the same level as the insane goal-scoring pace last season started with, but it has caused us to get some… interesting results early on. 

For example, the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks are more than holding their own in the Central Division, despite being picked to (and let’s be honest, will probably still end up) be at the bottom of the league. The New Jersey Devils are on an insane tear right now despite being down to the AHL goaltenders, and it’s the same situation in Vegas. The Golden Knights sit atop the league in spite of losing all of the goaltending depth. 

Then on the flip side, you have teams like the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Tampa Bay Lightning all severely underperforming expectations. Now factor in Colorado’s Monday night opponent, the St. Louis Blues, who were sitting at the bottom of the league’s standings after an eight-game losing streak. Everyone knew they would take a small step back in the goal-scoring department, and with the depth they lost in net, but I’m not sure anybody saw that coming. 

There’s a good chance they bounce back and are competitive, but they’re behind the eight-ball for sure. A four-game winning streak has only allowed them to surpass Arizona, for example.

4. Goalie Gambles

As with those unexpected starts, there are a few other interesting storylines that I’m following in terms of some offseason decisions that teams have made. Namely, the roll of the dice both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers made in net. Both of those teams need to have big years, both need to find some level of post-season success, and both took a huge risk in net.

Toronto made a lower-risk bet given that they aren’t committed long-term to either one of Matt Murray or Ilya Samsonov, and while it has been a predictably injured start to the year for Murray, Samsonov had been off to a really good start (8 GP, 2.23GAA, .921 SV%), but even he is on the injury shelf right now. Just not ideal for a team who has been plagued by bad goaltending (or unfortunately-timed injuries) for a number of years with this current core. This is a team that you have to start to wonder if they will be forced to make another move in net if these injuries continue to linger, which would be a catastrophe for GM Kyle Dubas, who is in the last year of his deal.

Edmonton on the other hand, gave a five-year deal to Jack Campbell… and it has been a disaster so far. Look, I think Campbell is a fantastic person, he seems like a great guy, but I cannot believe how many people bought in FULLY on his great five-month stretch two seasons ago with the Maple Leafs. His entire career has said he’s a hard-working guy that is great in the room and can give you some quality starts here and there, but outside of one half-season, his ceiling has always been a good backup. The fact that a team desperate for any level of consistent goaltending and the ability to keep the puck out of their net gave such a huge commitment to a guy who has never shown he’s a sustainable #1 in this league is still a little mind-blowing. 

Once again, the Oilers are having to outscore their problems. 

5. World Cup of Hockey 

Don’t have much on this one, it’s super disappointing that once again we are seeing a potential best-on-best tournament canceled, or “postponed” I guess.

The league now says they’re hopeful for a 2024 return of the World Cup. We’ll see about that. 

——

The Avs are on a nice little run here since heading to Finland, but the injuries just won’t stop piling up. It seems every night right now they’re losing a guy for 4-6 weeks.

1. Shane Bowers

This one pains me to write about. Shane Bowers has busted his butt over the last few years to get to this point, he followed up a strong showing at training camp with a solid start to the season in the AHL and FINALLY earned a call-up and got into his first NHL game.

Less than two minutes of ice time later, Bowers took a really awkward fall in the corner and went straight to the locker room. He didn’t return to the game, and then it was announced that he will miss about six weeks. While I haven’t had this confirmed by the team, I’ve been told this is an elbow injury. It’s good that this isn’t related to his nagging shoulder injury from last year, but man… how can you not feel for this kid?

2. Injury updates

This bullet point is going to just be straight facts and updates on where all of Colorado’s guys are at as of today.

  • Gabe Landeskog has had a couple surgeries to clean up the surgery he had last season before the playoffs, he’s expected to be out until at least January.
  • Darren Helm had a similar “clean up” surgery last week and is officially on the road back. Looking like probably another six or so weeks.
  • Val Nichushkin had to have ankle surgery last week and was given a four-week timeline. This means we’re looking at about three more weeks of him on the shelf. 
  • Bowen Byram is still considered week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
  • Sam Girard has begun skating again, getting in some work on his own on Sunday, and Bednar said he is scheduled to be back on the ice again starting on Tuesday. 
  • Shane Bowers (as listed above) will miss about six weeks with an “upper-body” injury. 
  • Kurtis MacDermid left the game against Carolina after just two shifts and didn’t return. Jared Bednar said at morning skate on Monday that MacDermid will miss roughly 4-6 weeks. I saw him leaving the building with a pretty big brace on his knee and a healthy limp. 

3. Successful special teams

Colorado’s powerplay has seen continued success. They’ve solidified a place atop the league in first place with a 37% success rate having converted on 17 of 46 chances. In the absence of Val Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues has been promoted to the top unit with Nathan MacKinnon, Artturi Lehkonen, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. The second unit has been a blend of Alex Newhook, Martin Kaut, Devon Toews, Jacob MacDonald, and J.T. Compher.

The top unit has used the success of the powerplay to levy offense while they await reinforcement from 5-on-5 contributors: 12 of Rantanen’s 25 points have come about on the PP, and 10 of Makar’s 18 points have as well. Jared Bednar and Mikko Rantanen have described unpredictability as a strength of the powerplay.

On the other side of that coin is the improved penalty kill particularly after early-season struggles. They are climbing up from the bottom of the standings now at 28th with a 72% success rate. It was perfect in the November 12th Hurricanes’ game in five situations. They have more precisely struck a balance of aggression and smart positioning inside home plate with sticks and bodies where they need to be to tie up lanes. The word “aggressive” has been used by personnel to describe their process, and it has appeared they have been over-aggressive at times when it saw less success – leaving positions to engage skaters and inadvertently opening seams. The Avs appear more focused and dialed in.

They’ve scored three shorthanded goals, which is among the top of the league and points to part of the aggression that is also opportunistic in seeking breakaway chances. The combination of a lethal powerplay and recovering penalty kill has helped Colorado to win games through the special teams battle. While you’d like to see them generate more in 5-on-5 play, it has provided relief.

4. So, how about that 2C?

It’s hard to fairly judge a lot of this forward core right now given the mishmash of players/combos we’re seeing with all the injuries, but the second-line center role is no doubt one that we’re having to keep an extra close eye on, and will all season long. 

Alex Newhook is the guy that we’re really looking at to fill that spot internally. While Evan Rodrigues has really looked good the more and more he settles in, I think we’re seeing that he is better suited on the wing, and not having to be “the guy” on a line. 

Newhook has shown flashes, he’s shown nice little highlights of skill, speed, and playmaking, but the consistency continues to be an issue.

As of right now, I feel like the Avs will need to bring in some outside help to truly fill that role. I’m not giving up on Newhook, I truly believe that he is still Colorado’s long-term plan at 2C, but he’s still working through the development. Unfortunately, that development isn’t coming along as quickly as many had hoped. 

5. Finland

Just a quick note here on my trip, as we had to jump right back into things as soon as I got back. It was a really special experience, and seeing all of those Finnish fans up close was awesome. The atmosphere was fantastic, and you could just feel the energy and the passion from the first time we set foot in the arena for the open practice. 

We did the saunas, and they were incredible. I was so skeptical going in, the hype seemed like it was just a little too big for what I assumed was a pretty standard sauna. It was not a standard sauna. You sat in EXTREMELY hot saunas, and you then are supposed to go jump straight into a natural body of water that is typically nearby. 

The temperature inside the sauna can reach highs of 200+ degrees Fahrenheit, and the bodies of water we were jumping into were as cold as about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The whole experience was a literal shock to your system. I know that all sounds miserable, but the combination of the extreme temperatures makes for an indescribable sensation. 

Your whole body feels tingly and almost like your skin is burning… in a good way. I swear, you could literally feel your pores opening and closing. Despite getting out of 40-degree water, and out being near freezing outside, I felt like I could stand there all day. It was so cleansing, so refreshing. 

The wings were… really good. I’m not sure if I’m going to label them as the “best in the world” like the Finns were saying before the trip, but they were good. I enjoyed them.

It was truly a planes, trains, and automobiles type of trip. It was exhausting, it was hectic at times, and it was cold. Not as cold as I was expecting, but still not ideal. I’m so excited for the long-form feature that we have coming out on this whole trip, we captured so much great footage and had some great conversations, and I can’t wait to show everyone what we were able to get accomplished in Finland. 

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