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The Colorado Avalanche hit a few speed bumps this past week as the playoffs slipped farther away. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly breaks it all down and – surprise, surprise – it’s not all doom and gloom. Let’s get the ugliest of the ugly out of the way first.
THE UGLY – Spoiler alert – it’s all injury related.
1. Defenseman and Alternate Captain Erik Johnson left the ice in obvious pain early into the third period against the Edmonton Oilers. While the Avalanche have yet to announce the specific injury, Johnson went from being “out indefinitely” to the Injured Reserve list in the space of a day. It just doesn’t get uglier than that. It’s hard to come up with a LESS expendable player than Johnson. Just as Nathan MacKinnon provides the pop to the offense, Johnson is the engine the defense spins around. No one player can take his place and it’s questionable whether even a committee of players can come close to filling the gap left by his absence. At least the Avalanche will have the chance to test out their defensive pipeline. It is a development year after all. Sigh.
2. Before Johnson went down, rookie defenseman Anton Lindholm suffered an upper-body injury at the end of the second period. The Avalanche played most of the third period with only four defensemen. Yeah, it was against the Oilers and Edmonton looks to miss the playoffs, but they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl who provide substantial scoring threats. So, yeah, ugly.
3. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier continues to languish under concussion protocols after a hit to the head midway through the Winnipeg Jets matchup. The hit was hard enough to knock off his helmet yet he wasn’t immediately pulled from the ice and no goaltender interference was called. Despite all the noise the NHL makes about protecting their players from head trauma, this is just one more example of how it’s all just lip service. It’s the kind of ugly that leads to lawsuits.
1. Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien took a cheap shot on Gabriel Bourque and when A.J. Greer took exception to the hit, Byfuglien and Greer ended up in a scrum which resulted to the two of them wrestling on the ice. The linesmen pinned down Greer while Byfuglien continued to punch Greer’s head down on the ice. Why that’s not suspension worthy, who knows. Apparently, Canadian teams don’t need to follow the rule book. It’s as good a guess as any at this point.
2. The Avalanche’s power play has scored only one goal in 27 chances in the past two weeks. One. That’s so bad it’s anemic. Here’s the rub. If the Avalanche play the fast, skilled hockey they want, they will draw calls. When Colorado scores on power plays, teams back off the physical play because it costs them. If the Avalanche can’t convert on the man advantage, teams will step up the physical play. Maybe the trainers should add an iron supplement to Colorado’s nutritional regimen in hopes of feeding the power play. Otherwise, there may be more injuries ahead.
3. The Avalanche lost two of three games this past week and fell to five points out of the final Wild Card spot. While not a death blow in itself, the injury to Johnson puts the team’s playoff hopes on life support. In an odd hockey turn of luck, the Avalanche are only six points behind the St. Louis Blues with two games in hand. How good would it be if the Avalanche could not only make the playoffs but knock out the Minnesota Wild to do so? Could they be that lucky? The team is certainly due for some good news.
4. The Avalanche loss to the Edmonton Oilers snapped their 10-game home winning streak. The 10 straight home wins tied the franchise record and was the second-longest streak in the NHL this year. There are 24 games left in the Avalanche season. Maybe they could start another win streak, perhaps beginning with some road games? Stranger things have happened.
1. Forward and Alternate Captain Nathan MacKinnon returned to the ice against the Edmonton Oilers and barely seemed to miss a step. He played for over 22 minutes, including over three minutes of power play time, and tied Blake Comeau for most forward shots on net. While he didn’t score, Nate the Great returning to the ice near top form is really, really good. The team is going to need him down the stretch.
2. Guess who scored the most goals while MacKinnon was recovering? Forward Gabriel Bourque, who racked up three goals and an assist during the eight games MacKinnon missed. For a guy averaging only a little over 12 minutes a night during that period, he made the most of his opportunities. Other veteran scoring leaders during MacKinnon’s absence were Mikko Rantanen (1 goal, 3 assists) and Captain Gabriel Landeskog (4 assists) while Tyson Barrie earned three points off one goal and two assists.
3. The veterans weren’t the only ones to fill the gap from MacKinnon’s absence. Rookie forward J.T. Compher racked up four points over those eight games (2 goals, 2 assists). Tyson Jost earned three points (2 goals, 1 assist) and Alexander Kerfoot tallied two goals. They gave the veterans a run for their money. Look out people, the future is nearer than you think.
4. The Avalanche managed to split the eight games without MacKinnon, winning four and losing four. Which seems not bad, not spectacular. Consider this. Colorado earned those wins with three rookie centers. They also lost Blake Comeau for three games, Mikko Rantanen for a game, Matt Nieto was so banged up he was questionable enough they called up a player from the Rampage while both goaltenders battled injuries. Whew. Folks, that’s resilience. It’s something this organization definitely needs – and the rookies delivered. Now if only they brought pizza, too.
5. Colorado’s rookie class has accounted for 91 points this season, fourth-best in the NHL. Between improved draft classes and timely signings, the Avalanche are developing some promising depth. More, please!
6. While not a huge leap, the Avalanche managed to improve on face-offs from last week, winning more than forty percent of them in two of three games. Yeah, it says something when that’s an improvement. Still, it really is a positive change.
7. The Avalanche have drawn the second most penalties of any NHL team. If they could improve their power play’s effectiveness from 22nd in the NHL, they should be able to bury their opponents.
8. Colorado continues to play well on the penalty kill with the fourth-best in the NHL. It also might help if they weren’t ninth in the number of penalties they have committed. While the penalty kill continues to be effective, it’s probably best not to have to prove it game in and game out. Yeah, yeah, back to my corner.
9. The Avalanche have come a long way from last year. Colorado sits at 66 points with 24 games remaining and own a 31-23-4 record. Step into the way back machine to this time last year. After 58 games last year, the Avalanche had 35 points and a 16-39-3 record. Noted players on defense no longer with the team – Cody Goloubef, Patrick Wiercioch, Francois Beauchemin, Fedor Tyutin. Of those, only Beauchemin remains in the NHL. Forwards who played in the 58th game but are no longer with the team – Jarome Iginla, John Mitchell, Joe Colborne, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Andreas Martinsen – none of whom are in the NHL this year. In fact, Iginla had hip surgery four months ago. Regroup, and look how far this team has come. There is a lot to be excited about, even with the unfortunate injuries.
10. Goaltender Semyon Varlamov seems to be re-discovering his groove as he put up some impressive save numbers in both of his starts, stopping 36 of 39 shots for a .923 save rate against Edmonton and shutting out the Montreal Canadiens in the Avalanche’s 3,000 game, as he stopped all 44 shots on goal. He could be a difference maker for this team if he can continue to play well.
1. Forward Rocco Grimaldi was up for two days before returning to the Rampage while winger A.J. Greer followed him to make room for MacKinnon’s return. Goaltender Andrew Hammond was recalled after Bernier’s injury. And defensemen Andrei Mironov and David Warsofsky were called up from San Antonio following Johnson’s and Lindholm’s injuries.
2. Vladislav Kamenev has started skating with the San Antonio Rampage although he has yet to be activated from Injured Reserve. For those who may have forgotten, he was the promising forward whose arm was broken on a vicious hit after only four minutes of play with Colorado.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. Trade rumors are cranked to 11. With the deadline fast approaching (Monday, February 26, 2018, 1 pm MST), trades are breaking out left and right. Will the Avalanche jump into the fray? Or, with the recent injuries, will they stand pat and look to the offseason market? As always, BSN will keep you abreast of all the news worth knowing.
2. Keep an eye out to see how Coach Bednar will adapt to the holes on defense. Will he rely on aging veterans or will he offer the young guys more ice time? Will he work out a combination of both? It will be interesting to see if they acquire someone off waivers or roll with the hand they have. Will they try to sign Cale Makar or Connor Timmins? The next couple of weeks will reveal the depth of Colorado’s commitment to developing their own youth.
3. Colorado takes it’s show on the road again for yet another Canadian road swing. Tonight, the Avalanche take on the Vancouver Canucks with a late start – 8 pm MST.
4. Thursday night, the Avalanche have chance to exact some revenge on the Edmonton Oilers as they face-off for a 7 pm MST puck drop. Maybe Colorado can figure out a way to contain McDavid this time. Here’s hoping.
5. Colorado finishes off their northern road trip with a 2 pm MST matinee against the Calgary Flames. If the Avalanche can figure out a way to get some wins on this road swing and get a little luck, they will remain in contention for the postseason. It’s gut check time.