There has been a lot of talk about breakthrough players for the Colorado Avalanche this season, and who they need to help them get over the hump.
While it’s fun to try and predict who is going to be the next big thing, the Avalanche need one of their breakout stars from last season to continue his stellar play. Defenseman Samuel Girard was a smash hit last season, easily having the best campaign of his career. If the Avalanche want to achieve their dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup again, they’re going to need Girard to play at that high level through the regular season and the playoffs – something he didn’t do a year ago.
Girard’s 2020-21 campaign saw him tally a career-high for goals with five. His 27 assists were just three short of his career-best, and his 32 points were two shy of his personal record. His top career marks in assists and points were set the season before when he appeared in 70 games in 2019-20. Girard played in just 48 games during the last campaign’s shortened schedule.
Girard Needs Consistency
Girard was a reliable, stabilizing force in the back for Colorado most of the season – and that was something the Avalanche drastically needed. Veteran defenseman Erik Johnson was lost early in the season, and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar missed a chunk of time due to injuries. Makar also missed a dozen games scattered throughout the calendar due to injuries, making Girard’s play even more vital.
The offensive-minded Makar got off to a slow start, as well, notching just one goal in the first 16 games. Girard had a pair of goals during that starting stretch, but – more importantly – stayed neck and neck with the 2020 Calder Trophy winner in the assist column. Makar racked up 14 helpers through those first 16 games, while Girard tallied 11. His solid start enabled the Avalanche to keep up their gaudy scoring numbers while Makar seemed to get his skates under him in the early going.
With just 17 goals in 273 career games, no one is going to lean on Girard for offensive output. However, his 32 points last season tied him with Nazem Kadri for sixth-most on the team. While that might be more of an indictment of Kadri’s diminishing skills, finishing sixth in scoring on the team that led the NHL in goals was no small task for the diminutive defenseman.
Girard’s offensive numbers might not jump off the page, but his consistency was incredible in the offensive end. His longest streak without a point was five games – a spell in April against playoff teams in the St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights. It wasn’t until almost half of the schedule had been played (the 23rd and 24th games of the season) until he had back-to-back games without a point.
Girard Can’t Fade Away
As consistent as he was in the regular season on the offensive end, the playoffs were another story. Girard managed five assists in the postseason, but all of those came in the first six games of the playoffs – and two of those helpers came in the four-game whitewash of the Blues in the first round. Two more came in the Game 2 overtime win against the Golden Knights.
But how much of Girard’s struggles at the end of the postseason were his fault, and how much can be attributed to the Golden Knights? He wasn’t the only Avs player struggling to score in the second round. After winning the first two games against Vegas behind 10 goals, Colorado managed just eight goals over the next four games. Vegas won in six games, and the Avalanche failed to advance past the second round for the third consecutive season.
But part of this is on Girard’s shoulders since he came off a bit of a fizzle at the end of the regular season. That five-game stretch without a point was snapped in the game before the regular-season finale. That wasn’t the tempo he wanted to close out his great season with, and he’ll probably be the first to tell you that. It was still a wonderful season for him, and maybe the next step he takes is following through all the way to the postseason. Again, he’s not the offensive go-to guy on the blue line like Makar or even Devon Toews, but imagine how difficult the Avalanche would be to match up with if Girard took yet another step to become that player.
Coming to Denver in the deal that sent Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators, Girard is entering his fourth full season with the Avalanche, and seemed to take a big step last season. It will be important for Colorado to find out if that’s the trend for the 23-year-old defenseman, or if last year was just a blip on the radar. Because if the Avs are going to get rid of that second-round monkey on their back, guys like him are going to have to maintain the level of play they achieved last year, if not more.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.