After a second pause due to COVID-19 protocol, the Colorado Avalanche returned to the ice on Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues. The first pause in their season was in early February. They missed four games from Feb. 5-14. At that point, several players had been injured and would have missed those games anyway, so having that break was somewhat beneficial.
Since the start of the season in January, the Avalanche have proven themselves as solid Stanley Cup contenders and have continuously fought the Vegas Golden Knights for the West Division lead. Head coach Jared Bednar has had to play 14 different defensemen this season.
The franchise record is 16 defensemen played in the 2010-11 season. Sam Girard and Cale Makar, both defensemen, have the fourth and fifth most points this season with 31 each. Makar missed 10 games with an upper-body injury and is still comparable to Girard. Philipp Grubauer has even had two assists. Yes, the goalie.
What Needs to Happen in These Next 3 Games in Order for Them to Stay Where They Are?
The defensemen cannot give less than 100% every night. There were a few games where Ryan Graves, Cale Makar, and Sam Girard played less than their level of capability. They made a habit of turning the puck over and taking unnecessary penalties. Devon Toews has never done anything wrong. Ever. Just keep it up.
Feb. 14 was Colorado’s first game back after their initial pause. They fell to Vegas 1-0 with a shutout for Marc-Andre Fleury. Everyone in maroon looked like they would have rather been anywhere else. The second game was a 3-2 win for Colorado. The third game back was at Lake Tahoe. Despite the eight-hour intermission, they won 3-2.
Feb. 16 was a 3-2 win over Vegas. There were seven penalties served during that match-up, only two of which were called against Colorado.
The forward lines need to come in guns-a-blazing. Every so often Gabe Landeskog and Andre Burakovsky get into a slump where they don’t really get a lot done in front of the net. If they plan on continuing to lead their team to the top, that can’t happen anymore. That will be hard on Thursday as Mikko Rantanen is still on protocol and will not be traveling to St. Louis with the team. The third line with Jonas Donskoi, Tyson Jost, and Val Nichushkin has been on fire recently.
On March 31, Jonas Donskoi had a four-point game. He tallied three of those in the first period. All goals. Jost and Nichushkin each had an assist. Tyson doesn’t have a lot of points so far but he creates opportunities. He’s playing the best hockey of his Avalanche career.
Obviously, with Philipp Grubauer, Jonas Donskoi, and Mikko Rantanen all staying in Colorado, head coach Jared Bednar will have to juggle a few lines simply to fill the gaps. Younger, less seasoned players like Dan Renouf and Jacob MacDonald should be stepping up in all the same ways they have previously. MacDonald sacrificed a whole tooth in the name of hockey.
In the Net
Jonas Johansson and Devan Dubnyk are the latest additions to the Avalanche roster. Johansson came from the Buffalo Sabres in mid-March and Dubnyk was picked up from the San Jose Sharks during the trade deadline on April 12. This is Johansson’s first real season in the NHL. He played a few games here and there in Buffalo but not anything worth raving about. Dubnyk has spent the majority of his career bouncing between teams. He has an .890 save percentage in 18 games this season. His one game since joining Colorado was a 4-3 win over the Blues.
With Grubauer still on the protocol list, Johansson and Dubnyk have a chance to prove their worth on the Avalanche roster. Johansson is still fresh and young and new and…inexperienced. Dubnyk has been passed around so many teams, he needs to prove he’s worth Bednar’s time.
The future is bright for 2019 fourth-overall pick, Bowen Byram. However, he hasn’t played in a game since March 25 and he only has two points in his first 19 games. He does have 23 penalty minutes though. Does that count for anything?
Bowen has been sidelined due to an undisclosed upper-body injury. He’s been in and out of the lineup for most of the season. When he’s in, he’s creating chances and…picking fights with guys twice his size. There was some speculation that he might be joining the team in St. Louis but that has since been debunked.
The next two games need to go swimmingly for Colorado. They’ve been quite impressive this season minus a few rough patches here and there. Strong defense for a full 60 minutes is what will make it or break it. The forward lines will struggle at first, no doubt, but that cannot be their kryptonite.