It is far too soon to throw the Colorado Avalanche’s 2021-22 season out, but they’re already as bad as their worst stretch of futility last season.
Colorado dropped its third straight game on Thursday, falling 4-1 to the Florida Panthers. The Avalanche never lost more than three in a row last season. They have also given up 15 goals over the last three games, which is more than they allowed in any three-game stretch in 2020-21.
Here are three takeaways from Thursday night’s loss:
Top Line Reunites, But It Wasn’t Great
For the first time this season, the star-studded trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen got to take the ice together. They were able to deliver early – as Rantanen scored Colorado’s lone goal late in the first – but were pretty much non-existent for the entire game.
They were on the ice for the bulk of Colorado’s futile power-play minutes and combined to manage just four shots on goal between the three of them. MacKinnon assisted on Rantanen’s tally but was held without a shot on goal. To put in perspective how rare that is, it’s just the second time he’s failed to put a puck on net since Oct. 13, 2017. It only happened once last season, it’s only the 19th time it has happened in his 575 career games.
For Colorado to go anywhere, it needs that line to deliver. Despite Rantanen’s goal, the line looked a little disjointed for the bulk of the night. MacKinnon, in particular, didn’t look like the speedy star all over the ice that made him a finalist for the Hart Trophy just a year ago.
MacKinnon missed the first two games of Colorado’s season as he was out with COVID, and Landeskog missed the last two games serving a suspension for a cheap shot on Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks in the season opener.
Power Play Disappears Again
One of the strengths of the Avalanche last season was their power play. They appear to have left that success in the rear-view mirror early in the 2021-22 campaign. Colorado continued to struggle mightily with the man advantage, going 0-for-3 on Thursday, putting the Avs at 1-for-14 on the season.
Colorado ranked eighth in the league on the power play last season, converting 22.7 percent of its chances. They haven’t looked anywhere near that form this season. The Avalanche didn’t have a shot on goal on any of their three power-play attempts on Thursday.
The lone power-play goal for the Avalanche came in Tuesday’s 6-3 drubbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals. That goal came late in the third period of that game. Colorado trailed 5-2 before Rantanen notched his first of the year to trim the lead to two goals with a little more than three minutes left. Alexander Ovechkin slammed the door with an empty-netter 45 seconds later.
The power-play was a huge factor in the success of the Avalanche last season. Their 47 power-play goals were second only to the Edmonton Oilers (48). Colorado’s 207 power-play chances led the league – and by a mile. It was 17 more than the next closest team, which was the Florida Panthers.
Defensive Struggles Continue
The Avalanche had a Norris Trophy finalist in Cale Makar last season and had big expectations for the defensive unit with Erik Johnson and Bo Byram healthy again. But things haven’t panned out as they have hoped, especially after adding the likes of Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson to help bolster depth. Having Devon Toews out with an injury hasn’t helped, either.
The blue liners look lost through the early stages of this season, as the Avalanche have allowed 15 goals over their last three games – all losses. The most goals allowed over a three-game stretch was 14 last season – coming in three consecutive road losses from April 24-28 in a pair of games against the St. Louis Blues and one against Vegas Golden Knights.
Colorado has allowed 34 or more shots on goal in three of this season’s four games. In 56 regular-season games last season, the Avalanche allowed 34 or more shots only five times. It was the defense that not only helped Makar get into the Norris Trophy conversation but also helped Philipp Grubauer lead the NHL in shutouts while becoming a Vezina Trophy finalist a season ago, too.
Things don’t get any easier for the Avalanche. Colorado takes on the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday before hosting Vegas – the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season – on October 26.
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.