The Colorado Avalanche have been hurt by the injury bug this season, but there is good news on this front. Gabriel Landeskog is now practicing and skating with the team, a huge step in the right direction of his return. So with Landeskog’s return becoming a much more realistic possibility, now one has to think about what to do with the lineup once he returns.
What’s the issue?
He’s the captain and one of the best players on the team, why wouldn’t you put him back on the top line? In any ordinary situation, I would completely agree with that set up, but Jamie McGinn has absolutely caught fire since joining the top line with Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau. If this line continues to play at the level it is currently playing, even Landeskog coming back to the lineup might not be a good enough reason to break up this line.
So what are the options that the Avalanche should explore.
Reset the Lines
Put things back to the way they started off at the beginning of the season. Put Landeskog back on the top line with Duchene and Parenteau, move McGinn back onto Paul Stastny’s line. The players are still familiar with each other and the transition should be painless.
This is probably going to be the most likely action, especially if Duchene and McGinn cool off. Joe Sacco has become rather notorious for juggling lines at the first sign of any type of struggle, so it’s hard for Avalanche fans to get too attached to any line no matter how well it’s playing. All Sacco needs is the slightest inclination to change the line, and a slight cold streak would give Sacco that.
If Duchene’s line continues to play at its current high level, then we might see Landeskog moved onto Paul Stastny’s left wing. This raises another dilemma, however. Which of the two players currently on this line moves down; David Jones or Aaron Palushaj.
Thinking as a coach might, the first inclination would be to move down Aaron Palushaj. Despite the fact that Palushaj has greatly outplayed Jones since joining the Avalanche squad, as a coach my first instinct would be to put the line together with the players that are the most familiar with one another. It might also help Jones to get his game started to have a player like Landeskog on his line as teams will be more likely to pay him more attention, opening more ice for Jones.
As I mentioned above, Palushaj has outplayed Jones greatly since joining the Avalanche and, as a coach, you can’t ignore that. Palushaj has brought something to this line that wasn’t there, energy. Adding Landeskog to this line could make a lot of sense. His positional game is fantastic, and Palushaj has shown the ability to move the puck into an open area, and Landeskog has the ability to fight through checkers to get himself open. This combination could lead to a lot of goals that didn’t look like they were possible at first.
Plus, Paul Stastny needs a strong power forward to help his game. He saw great success while playing with Chris Stewart, when David Jones remembers that he has that capability Stastny’s game usually gets better as well. Landeskog brings a consistency to his game that neither of those players has.
David Jones has had a horrible season thus far and, despite scoring the dramatic overtime goal versus the St. Louis Blues, would probably benefit from spending some time in Joe Sacco’s doghouse so that he can remember what it’s like to work hard on the ice. With his play this season, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Avalanche decided to buy him out after the season.
There are a lot of line combinations that the Avalanche can experiment with once Landeskog does finally return, and these will largely be determined by how well Matt Duchene’s line continues to play and if David Jones is able to pick it up.