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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the Avalanche's Canadian road swing

J.D. Killian Avatar
February 6, 2018

The Colorado Avalanche careened through their three-game Canadian road swing as their roller-coaster season continued to bring plenty of Good, Bad and Ugly for the week. Because of the nature of the road trip, TGBU will break with tradition, and cover the elephant in the room first.

THE UGLY

1. Nathan MacKinnon’s injury midway through the Vancouver Canucks game can only be described as a gut punch. Losing the player second in the league in scoring creates a vacuum no one player can fill. Even with missing the last two and a half games, MacKinnon sits in a third-place tie for NHL scoring. The team needs to step up – as a whole – and muddle through until his return. It’s not just ugly, it’s brutal. Everyone can be thankful, though, MacKinnon is out for weeks instead of the rest of the season.

2. As if losing MacKinnon wasn’t ugly enough, for a brief moment it looked like the Avalanche lost defenseman Nikita Zadorov as well when he left the ice in the first period of Jets game. Fortunately, he resumed play in the second period but played only limited minutes in the third. The Avalanche would be hard pressed to fill his void so those moments he was gone were so ugly they resembled last season’s bag over your head kind of ugly. Everyone say a little prayer Zadorov can come out and play his usual dominating style. He’s not easily replaced.

SILVER LINING

With all the injuries, the young players will get an opportunity for more ice time and for playing in crucial moments. Let’s see how the youngest team in the NHL can adapt to change and step up. Either way, the next few weeks will be laying a great foundation for the future.

THE BAD

1. The officiating crew at the Winnipeg Jets game have a lot of explaining to do. Did they really expect people to believe the NHL’s third-most penalized player (Jets’ Dustin Byfuglien) didn’t commit a single foul in the entire matchup against the Avalanche? There’s a replay of the high stick to Landeskog’s face in the waning moments of the contest that says otherwise (and the Captain made sure the referee was aware of his displeasure). And let’s not even mention the first period hit on Alexander Kerfoot with nary a puck in sight. But yeah, there’s no favoritism in officiating. Bleh.

2. The coaching staff may need to revisit the composition of the second power-play unit. The first group scored both power play goals this past week and even when they didn’t score, they kept the puck in the offensive zone. Whereas the second unit couldn’t sustain pressure on the opposing net and spent nearly as much time in their own zone. Having two effective power play units could really help the team down the stretch. These and other insightful statements of the obvious are all part of the quality product TGBU brings to you, kindly reader. You’re welcome.

3. Injuries could be the Avalanche’s biggest opponent as the season progresses. MacKinnon’s injury was a blow. But the concerns mount with no timetable for the return of Mark Barberio, Sven Andrighetto and Vladislav Kamenev. And that doesn’t include those guys playing through injuries or missing parts of games. Varlamov played well in his return but one wants to proceed with caution so as not to re-aggravate the injury. Questions surround whether Mikko Rantanen will be able to suit up for tonight’s matchup. While the Avalanche is deeper than last year, they still have room for improvement. One only needs to look at how the daily nicks impact the roster to recognize though it’s not dire, it’s not optimal either. Moments like these make one wish for a cure-all. Or at least a good villain to blame. Where’s the Department of Player Safety when you need them?

4. Colorado continues to sit in last place for faceoff wins.  However, since the leader in faceoff winning percentages has six fewer regulation and overtime wins than the Avalanche, maybe that’s not so bad after all.

THOUGHT TO PONDER

Forward Matt Nieto was battling a minor injury and missed the game against the Vancouver Canucks. Normally, missing one player for a game would be something the team could overcome easily. But consider this. In that game, MacKinnon got injured as well, meaning both the first and second line was playing without their normal combinations. Yes, they were playing against a struggling Canucks team, but losing two key pieces to the top two lines can create substantial challenges. Going into the contest, one would have expected the Avalanche to come away with a win. But considering the injuries, it may behoove people to be grateful they came out of it with a point.

THE GOOD

1. The Colorado Avalanche earned three points out of six on their most recent road swing through Canada. Considering they lost Nathan MacKinnon to injury midway through the first game, and now sit only one point out of the final wild card spot with a game in hand, that’s pretty good. Remember when everyone was just hoping for respectability out of this season? Isn’t it great people can now be concerned about making a playoff spot? What a difference a year can make. Enjoy the ride, people. It’s been worse.

2. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier was named the NHL’s third star for the month of January. He racked up some impressive numbers during January – a .939 save percentage, a 2.10 goals against average, his 16th career shutout, a season-high 45 saves and a league-high eight wins for the month. Not bad, for a backup. Hahahahaha!  In all seriousness, congratulations, stick taps all around, and a huge ‘thank you’ to Bernier! Not only did he earn the recognition, he helped propel the team to contention for a playoff spot.

3. Speaking of stick taps, it’s time to send some respect Blake Comeau’s way. The winger scored the Avalanche’s 5,000th goal against the Edmonton Oilers while Colorado was short-handed. Comeau has racked up three short-handed goals this season which puts him in a tie for second place in the NHL. Comeau has earned every cent on his contract this year as he has become an ‘everyman’ on the team, eating up large amounts of penalty kill time, pitching in on hits and blocks, as well as logging significant ice time. Whatever the team needs, he seems to find a way to step up and fill the gap. His 22 points for the season already surpass last season’s totals. While trade rumors swirl, until the Avalanche develop a better option, he’s a critical to piece of the Carl Soderberg-Matt Nieto line combination and they can ill afford to lose him while injuries continue to prey on the team. Unless, of course, Edmonton offers an even trade for Connor McDavid. Then, by all means, trade away. Yeah, not counting on it.

4. Rookie forward J.T. Compher scored the game-winning overtime goal against the Edmonton Oilers as well as the opening score against the Vancouver Canucks. He’s the only rookie to score two short-handed goals, he’s tied for first place for rookies with two overtime goals, and sits in a third-place tie for rookies with game-winning goals. Compher also is giving big Carl Soderberg a run for his money for special teams play. Guess it’s a good thing the Buffalo Sabres didn’t need him after all. Maybe they should get a ‘thank you’ gift basket.

5. When mentioning Buffalo, one shouldn’t overlook expressing appreciation for defenseman Nikita Zadorov. He not only opened the scoring against Edmonton, skating through all five Oilers to tally a goal, he did it unassisted. Prior to the Winnipeg Jets contest, Zadorov logged 34 hits in six games, kicking his physical play up a notch, earning his spot as the number two defenseman. He ranks fourth among all defensemen in hits per game. Hopefully, his injury against the Jets slowed him down for only the one matchup as the Avalanche need him, especially without MacKinnon. Maybe the Colorado faithful should send the Sabres double gift baskets? Or would that be pouring salt on a wound?

6. Add a ‘Huzzah!’ for rookie defenseman Sam Girard who notched his first goal in an Avalanche uniform against Edmonton. Girard’s game continues to develop and his work on the first power play unit has become a thing of beauty. He plays smart, fast and cagey. And if one more announcer dwells on his size instead of his playing ability, maybe said announcer should field the pre-game warm-up shots, without pads.

7. Hey! Coach Bednar won another coaching challenge. The officials waived off an Oilers’ goal as one of their players pushed Bernier’s glove (with the puck in it) over the line. The first review verified the puck crossed the line. Then, Bednar challenged and they ruled the puck crossed the line, it was forced across by a stick so constituted goaltender interference. It’s good Bednar hadn’t challenged an earlier call so he could challenge the ruling. But a question for the NHL reviewing people to consider – why should it take TWO separate reviews to call that play? The right call was made – eventually – but the process is not a good look for the NHL. That may have been said before.

8. Captain Gabriel Landeskog led by example the past week scoring two goals and notching two assists. Mikko Rantanen earned three points on the week, all from assists. Tyson Barrie earned two assists for his first week back while Girard earned two points on a goal and an assist and Compher earned two goals. Look at that – rookie scoring helps create wins. And it’s sooo good.

9. Colorado’s penalty kill sits in third place despite giving up two goals on nine short-handed situations this past week while the Avalanche power play converted on two of six man-advantage opportunities, moving up to 13th place. It’s still hard to fathom special teams as a strength for Colorado. Has anyone verified this isn’t an alternate reality?

PLAYER MOVEMENT

Injuries continue to move the player carousel along. MacKinnon is out with an upper-body injury listed as day-to-day although predictions are he will be out 2-4 weeks. Semyon Varlamov returned to play his first game against Winnipeg and Tyson Barrie returned against Vancouver. Mikko Rantanen missed yesterday’s practice and is a game-time decision tonight for an unspecified injury. Mark Barberio, Sven Andrightetto and Vladislav Kamenev are out indefinitely. A.J. Greer was recalled and he and Andrei Mironov are skating with the Avalanche in practices while Andrew Hammond and David Warsofsky returned to their respective AHL clubs. And the carousel continues to turn. Or spin. Hoping not to get motion sick at these speeds.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. The Avalanche return for a quick home game tonight at 7 p.m. at the Pepsi Can as it hosts the San Jose Sharks.

2. Colorado will embark on a three-game road swing visiting the always hospitable St. Louis Blues (cough, cough) Thursday for a 6 p.m. MST start, then onto the Carolina Hurricanes for a 6 p.m. puck drop before finishing off with the second half of their back to back on Sunday with a 5 p.m. MST start against the dreaded Buffalo Sabres. It may be best to hold off on the Buffalo gift baskets until after the matchup. Don’t want to give them anything to put on their bulletin board, yet.

3. The NHL will be showing the movie “Mystery, Alaska” Wednesday night at 6 p.m.  in case you want some inspiration from a sneaky good hockey movie. The Avalanche have something in common with the Mystery club – both are playing for respect.

4. The trade deadline looms a little less than three weeks away. Who knows what – if anything – the Avalanche will do but the drama continues on ‘As the Skates Burn’. Tune in to BSN for regularly scheduled updates.

In case you missed it, everyone’s favorite rodent Punxsutawney Phil did indeed see his shadow, forecasting six more weeks of the Avalanche finding different ways to win, over and over again, until they earn a playoff spot. I have it on good authority that Phil is a dedicated Colorado Avalanche fan. If he’s not, he should be.

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