Avalanche Defensemen Set Tone Down the Stretch

The Colorado Avalanche has had the best record in the Western Conference for the last two seasons. After a dismal and injury-riddled start to the 2022-23 campaign, the Avs are making a desperate push for the No. 1 seed in the West once again. Colorado will need some help, as it sits five points out of the top spot in the West with eight games to go.

However, the Avalanche defensemen are leading the charge in the team’s defense of its regular-season crown. Only the Minnesota Wild have allowed fewer goals than the Avalanche in the Western Conference this season, but it’s the offense the Colorado blueliners have brought to the table that has helped in this recent surge.

Avs Recent Push Starts at the Back

It wasn’t that long ago that the Avalanche looked like they could be left out of the postseason. That would be a major disappointment to the team that won the Stanley Cup last season and the Presidents’ Trophy the season before. The team has roared to life, going 10-3 since March 7. Over those last 13 games, Colorado defensemen have accounted for 14 goals and 34 assists. Cale Makar has led the way, racking up four goals and 16 assists over that span.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar. Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Colorado is no stranger to getting points from their defensemen. The Avalanche blueliners racked up 64 goals and 174 assists last season – the most by any defensive corps in the NHL in both categories. Makar notoriously led the way on both fronts, piling up 28 goals and 58 assists on the way to winning the Norris Trophy. Over this recent stretch, the goals have been coming early. Colorado’s defensemen have been setting the tone, scoring the first or second goal of the game in nine of the 13 contests.

Related: Avalanche’s Cale Makar Making Strong Case for Hall of Fame

The boost in offense has also helped Colorado shore up some defensive troubles. March started with a whimper when the Avs gave up seven goals in back-to-back games to start the month. However, they have allowed two goals or less nine times over the last 13 contests – which also includes a pair of shutouts and a six-game winning streak. It’s the performance of the defense that has righted the ship as Colorado gears up for this last run into the postseason.

Battling Through Injuries

Injuries have hampered every part of the Avalanche roster this season, and the defensemen have dealt with their fair share of trouble on that front. Blue line staples Makar, Erik Johnson, Josh Manson and Bowen Byram have all missed at least 15 games this season due to injury. Byram has played in less than half of Colorado’s games this season, but he has been an integral part to the team’s recent success.

Bowen Byram Colorado Avalanche
Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Byram has been mostly known for missing games due to concussion issues, but he has accounted for three goals and an assist over the past three games while notching a goal in each of the team’s last three contests. The surge gives him 10 goals on the campaign, which doubles his career high of five set last season. Samuel Girard has also had a bit of an offensive resurgence, as his 33 points this season are just one behind his career high of 34 set back in 2019-20.

Related: Avalanche’s Byram Showing His Potential

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With Manson expected to be back sometime in the near future, the Avalanche’s defensive unit looks like it might be coming out of the woods from an injury standpoint. The timing with this recent boost in performance and Colorado getting healthy is no coincidence, and could really make the Avalanche a dangerous team once the postseason starts.

Contributions Coming From Everyone

The high-scoring output from the defensemen isn’t just one or two guys. Avalanche fans have gotten used to Makar loading up on points during his NHL career, and Devon Toews has had some fine offensive seasons since coming to Colorado from the New York Islanders in a 2020 trade. But the Avs are getting offensive output from every pairing, including some unlikely sources.

Devon Toews Colorado Avalanche
Devon Toews, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

For example, Kurtis MacDermid scored a goal during this stretch – just the ninth of his six-year NHL career. MacDermid went almost a full year (360 days to be exact) between goals. Jack Johnson also scored a goal on March 27, his first since he tallied the first goal of the 2021-22 season for the Avs all the way back on Oct. 13, 2021. In all, six different defensemen have scored goals over the past 13 games.

The Avalanche may have been overlooked for much of the season since they spent the bulk of it in the middle of the standings while dealing with injuries. They don’t have everyone back yet, but the mentality from their Stanley Cup-winning campaign a season ago seems to have returned. Front-line stars Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are having spectacular seasons, but the Avs are going to need the group effort to continue if Gabriel Landeskog doesn’t return this season. If recent results are any indication, the defensemen might be the catalyst to give the Avalanche another deep playoff run.

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