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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly from the teeth-grinding Avalanche week

J.D. Killian Avatar
February 13, 2018

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly covers all the highs and lows from a Colorado Avalanche week that resembled a ride on a Wild Mouse more than a week of hockey. If the Avalanche repeat this week, they could drive all their fans to binge on Valentine’s Day chocolate. How will they fit fans in the seats at the Pepsi Center if the team continues to encourage stress eating? These and other crucial questions covered for you, dear reader.

THE GOOD

1. Despite a couple of ugly losses, the Avalanche managed to split their last four games, earning four points without Nathan MacKinnon and sit just two points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. If they continue to linger this close in the standings until MacKinnon returns, anything is possible. It’s the middle of February, people, and a team in the middle of a rebuilding year is contending for a playoff spot without their leading scorer. Is it pretty right now? No. But it’s a heck of a lot better than last year, and that is way more than good.

2. The Avalanche beat the San Jose Sharks at home 3-1, leaning on their rookies and some spectacular saves by goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who saved 38 of 39 shots. Forward Gabriel Bourque started the scoring with significant assist effort from rookies J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost. Jost went on to add the second tally with an assist from rookie defenseman Sam Girard and Compher notched the final goal to put the game away. For those scoring at home, rookies contributed to all three Avalanche goals. You want secondary scoring? You got secondary scoring. As well as a glimpse of the future. You are welcome for the reminder.

3. Forward Gabriel Bourque earned his pay this past week with three goals, including the game-winner against the Buffalo Sabres, proving he was deserving of wearing the other ‘A’ in Blake Comeau’s absence. He also scored Colorado’s first goals in both the Sharks game and the St. Louis Blues debacle. For a guy who only has seven points on the season, those three points in the last four games proved significant. Bourque has been one of those players who quietly goes about his business, consistently playing quality penalty kill minutes, willing to block a shot or make a hit, earning his spot as a responsible all around player. It’s good to see him score. Colorado needs more scoring.

4. Forward Colin Wilson showed why the Avalanche signed him last summer as he scored a goal and earned an assist against the Buffalo Sabres. The goal was his 100th in the NHL so stick taps all around. And maybe some Buffalo wild wings? Something about Buffalo unleashed his scoring potential and the Avalanche could definitely use more of that.

5. The Avalanche escaped Buffalo with a win and a valuable two points in an odd matchup that saw former Avalanche player Ryan O’Reilly score a goal and two assists and defenseman Nikita Zadorov was penalized for sitting on O’Reilly like a flattened pony. The win was crucial for Colorado. The image of Zadorov sitting on O’Reilly was priceless.

6. Rookie J.T. Compher stepped up to lead all the forwards in combined ice time this past week – averaging nearly 20 minutes per night. He logged more special team minutes than Carl Soderberg in every game but one. And he owns a higher face-off win percentage than either MacKinnon or Soderberg. Oh yeah, and he notched a goal and two assists the past week. The only thing missing was the death blow to the Sabres.

7. The Avalanche have gone 3-3-1 without Nathan MacKinnon (including the game he left in the middle) for a total of seven points. Be honest. How many people thought Colorado would get any wins without the Hart contender? Anyone? Bueller?

THE BAD

1. Injured forward Nathan MacKinnon still leads the team in goals, assists and total points. Considering he’s missed six games so far, one might have thought a teammate near him in any of those categories might have surpassed him. It’s great MacKinnon played so well. It’s a little disappointing, though, that the other players haven’t really put any pressure on his team records. The Avalanche could use the points.

2. Does it bear mentioning? Colorado’s power play on the road is dismal. In the past week, the Avalanche only scored once on 17 opportunities with a man advantage. That’s pretty bad. Let’s not forget their inability to score on a four-minute power play against Carolina after a hi-stick on Compher drew blood. On second thought, maybe it’s best to forget that after all. Next.

3. Road woes have seriously impacted Colorado’s special teams play. Their power play on the road sits dead last in the league. Colorado’s normally impressive penalty kill system sits at a disappointing 24th on the road. One would think the team with the third-best penalty killing unit in the NHL could find a way to improve their road skills to at least be mediocre. Maybe a quick home trip will help them rediscover their mojo. If not, maybe the Avalanche should ground the team until special teams play improve on the road. That would go over well – not.

4. The Avalanche rank 30th in average number of shots per game. It’s time for everyone to be ‘that’ guy and yell – “shoot the puck!”

THE UGLY

1. Injuries continue to plague the team. As if it wasn’t bad enough Colorado had to replace the anchor of their top line, forward Blake Comeau suffered a lower-body injury in the loss to the St. Louis Blues and left the game early. Listed as day-to-day, he was unable to play in the last two games.

2. Is anyone else starting to feel like the ‘day-to-day’ nomenclature used by the Avalanche is code for sending the player to the Twilight Zone? Will they ever be seen again? If so, will they resemble their former selves or return as some kind of alien robot ready to take on the world? Both Sven Andrightetto and Mark Barberio were listed as day-to-day before ending up on Injured Reserve. Nathan MacKinnon was considered day-to-day as well before it became two to four weeks. And now Comeau is day-to-day. Maybe people could start a pool for the expected return of players listed day-to-day. Someone could have cleaned up on Andrighetto as he hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve.

3. The Colorado loss to the St. Louis Blues was just ugly. Bourque scored – unassisted – to even the score and later, Blake Comeau got injured. The highlight of the game was Zadorov laying a hit on former Avalanche center Paul Stastny. Everything else, well, it was bad enough the first time. As a kindness to the readers, let’s take a tip from Elsa and ‘Let it go’.

4. The Avalanche managed to pull out a really ugly win against Buffalo on the road against a team they shouldn’t have struggled with. At one point Colorado was up on Buffalo 5-2 but allowed the Sabres to get back in the game, finishing the contest with a 5-4 win. It was an odd game, where players seemed to be brilliant and then, not so much, frequently within the same shift. Credit the Avalanche for finding a way to win an important contest in an ugly fashion, a game they used to let slip away. Let’s hope they learn from the experience so they aren’t doomed to repeat it. And people aren’t doomed to watch a repeat. Please.

THOUGHTS TO PONDER

1. Lost in the shuffle – defenseman Nikita Zadorov played for less than 13 minutes against the Carolina Hurricanes. The last time he played so few minutes was December 7, 2017, in a road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Whether he was injured during the Carolina game when tripped in the second period or Zadorov ended up in the doghouse is unclear at this time. The decreased ice time stands in stark contrast to a player who had been consistently around 20 minutes a night. While he played more against Buffalo, he still only ranked fourth among Colorado defensemen for ice time. Even in his few minutes against the Hurricanes, he launched six hits. It’s tough to imagine the team shorting his ice time if he was completely healthy.

2. A.J. Greer and Dominic Toninato continue to play very limited minutes. They still manage to get shots, blocks, and hits, though, which can’t be easy in a mere six minutes a night for Greer and 7-10 for Toninato. A couple other players should follow their example and endeavor to make the most of limited ice time.

OLYMPIC UPDATE

1. Former Avalanche ice girl Mirai Nagasu proved capable of more than just cleaning the ice during games. She landed a triple axel, the first American to do so in Olympic competition and helped Team USA win the bronze medal in the group figure skating competition. She wasn’t selected for the 2014 Olympics and used her disappointment to double down on her effort to make the Olympics this year. She showed the heart of a champion. Kudos and stick taps!

2. Olympic hockey has started with the women’s teams and the men’s will start on Wednesday. Keep an eye out for the feel-good story of former Avalanche Wojtek Wolski. Wolski broke his neck in two places in October of 2016 while playing in the KHL and will be playing for Team Canada in the Olympics. His recovery is nothing short of a miracle. Is it getting dusty in here or is that just me?

These are the kinds of stories that make the Olympics so inspiring.

WHAT TO WATCH

1. The Colorado Avalanche will host the Valentine’s matchup against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night at 7 pm MST at the Pepsi can. Look for Mark Rycroft to wear an appropriately celebratory suit. It should be a thing of beauty.

2. The Avalanche hit the road (hopefully, they don’t break it) for a 6 pm MST matchup in Winnipeg against the dreaded Jets on Friday night.

3. Colorado will return home for a 1 pm MST matinee as they host the Edmonton Oilers. Hopefully, there will be some mention of Colorado in all the Canadian coverage of the game, but don’t count on it.

4. The trade deadline looms on the horizon less than two weeks away. Trades and rumors of trades will start to flood the media. Keep your eyes and ears tuned to BSN boys and girls as their gritty reporters will endeavor to bring you all the latest and greatest Avalanche news.

Until next week, buckle in and enjoy the rollicking ride as the Avalanche continue to roll towards the future. Only 27 Avalanche games remain. Onward and upward!

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