Avalanche Weekly: Next Man Up

The Colorado Avalanche continue to battle the injury bug as they took their technicolor show on the road this past week. Heading off on a five-game, 11-day road swing, the team faced a fair amount of adversity as the scrappy crew fought their way through the first part of the trip. They managed to dig deep as the “next man up” motto applied to every position. While they didn’t strike gold, it was a crazy week, chock full of drama.

The Good – MacKinnon, Makar and More

1. Star center Nathan MacKinnon was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week after racking up four goals and three assists for the week. He ranked sixth in the NHL for points and average points per game so far this season. And his overtime game-winner against the Vancouver Canucks 29 seconds into the extra frame was a thing of beauty. He channeled all his anger and frustration with Matt Calvert’s injury into scoring in overtime. So everyone learned to not make MacKinnon angry. They won’t like him when he’s angry. Except for Avalanche fans. They’ll love him.

Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon is learning to channel his anger, and like the Hulk, rip opponents apart with his scoring prowess.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Nate the Great has also racked up 99 shots in 20 games, good enough for the second-highest in the NHL and double the shots of his nearest teammate, Nazem Kadri. Not bad for a guy missing both his usual linemates. But then again, he is called Nate the Great for a reason.

2. Rookie defenseman Cale Makar continued to amass more accolades.

  • His 22 points in 20 games lead all rookies for points.
  • Leads the team in assists with 17.
  • Set an Avalanche rookie record with four assists in one game against the Canucks.
  • Became the fourth NHL defenseman ever to score 20 or more points in their first 20 career games.
  • Earned the most points ever for an Avalanche defenseman in the team’s first 20 games.
  • Earned the most points of any Avalanche player in their first 20 games.

Not bad for a rookie.

3. The Avalanche won two of three contests on the Canadian road swing. Wins are always good news. When accounting for the number of injured starters playing, it’s amazing news. Colorado has historically struggled on the Canadian road trips. So far, the players suffered, but the team found ways to succeed. All for one and one for all. Maybe they should be called Avalanche-ateers? Musk-alanche? That may need some tweaking.

4. Colorado relied on their third and fourth goaltenders Adam Werner and Antoine Bibeau to backstop the team in the past week. When Mark Scheifele ran into starter Pavel Francouz 31 seconds into the Winnipeg Jets game, things looked dire. But the Avalanche depth has improved even in goaltending. Who knew?

Werner, in his NHL debut, managed a 40-shot shutout. His impressive performance earned him praise. His 40 saves were the most of any Avalanche goaltender in their NHL debut. He became one of only four franchise netminders to win their NHL debut. Yet, he came into the contest with only 13 games played on North American ice, courtesy of the AHL. This is his first season with the Colorado Eagles. All hail the rookie!

Adam Werner Colorado Avalanche
Goaltender Adam Werner made a stellar shutout NHL debut. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Bibeau came into the Edmonton Oilers game in relief, after Werner struggled to shut down Connor McDavid (like everyone else in the league). After a steady showing, the netminder started against the Canucks, helping the team to a 5-4 overtime win. He played only one game with the Eagles this season because he was injured. Bibeau had two previous NHL games on his resume prior to his Avalanche debut. Finding treasure in hidden places has a way of paying off.

The Avalanche went FOUR deep in their goaltending pool and still managed to win two out of three games. That’s remarkable.

5. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov, recovering from a broken jaw, returned to play against the Canucks. He had surgery only a week earlier. With the two plates holding his jaw together and his tough play, maybe it’s time to call him Iron Man. Tony Stark has nothing on Zadorov.

6. In case you missed it, defenseman Ryan Graves leads the team in blocked shots with 42, tied for 17th in the NHL. Erik Johnson has 40, good for second on the team and 21st in the NHL. Nice to see the blueliners spread the fun around. With their injury luck, though, maybe these two should be put in bubble wrap.

7. Defenseman Erik Johnson earned his 200th point in an Avalanche uniform against the Oilers. He became the sixth Avalanche blueliner to reach that landmark. Johnson, a stalwart on the blue line, is playing in his 10th season with Colorado. He is the longest-tenured player on the team. Stick taps and cake with ice cream all around! Oh, and #WonTheTrade.

Colorado Avalanche Erik Johnson
Erik Johnson, the longest tenured current Avalanche player. (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

8. Coach Jared Bednar will be entering the ECHL Hall of Fame. He spent 15 years with the league in roles as a player, an assistant coach, and finally a head coach. He won three Kelly Cups – two as a player and one as a head coach. He is one of only two coaches to win both an ECHL and an AHL championship. Now all he needs is a Stanley Cup. And some healing potions for his players in order to get there.

9. The offseason pickups made substantial contributions this past week. Andre Burakovsky tallied three goals and an assist while both Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi earned a goal and two assists each. Even banged up Pierre-Edouard Bellemare potted a goal. That’s six goals and five assists for a total of 11 points from the new guys this past week. Is it too early to nominate Joe Sakic for general manager of the year? Vote early, vote often.

Bad – Next Man Up

1. The Avalanche continue to take the “Next Man Up” idea to new heights – or, more accurately, new depths. They have played without five to seven starters, depending on the game. Over their first 20 games this season, they have lost 48-man games to injury. Currently, the team is playing without Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Colin Wilson, Tyson Jost, and Calvert. Which is ugly. However, to paraphrase LEGO Batman, finding ways to win kind of makes it better.

2. Francouz was run over by Scheifele at the beginning of the Jets matchup and there’s so much bad, it’s ugly. Seeing him sprawled out on the ice was bad. Seeing him not moving was scary. When he was finally helped up, it was obvious he was going to miss some time. Losing the team’s backup goaltender after the starting netminder was already on injured reserve – that’s horror movie kind of ugly. Fortunately, Francouz appeared well enough to start practicing a few days later and both the third and fourth goaltending call-ups played good enough to get a couple wins, so the whole situation was just bad, not ugly.

Phil Kessel Pavel Francouz
Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz was knocked out of the game by Mark Scheifele. (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

3. The team needs to find ways to stay out of the penalty box. They logged 35 minutes in penalty time over three games. That’s nearly 12 minutes in the box per game. Graves alone accounted for 10 minutes over the three contests. Not good, Bob. Especially when the penalty kill is hurting.

4. Plucky forward Tyson Jost joined the ranks of the wounded. One has to wonder if the locker room looks more like a triage center at this rate. Maybe the team should just rent their own emergency room crew. It might be more efficient.

Ugly – Injuries and the Penalty Kill

1. The referees need to read the rule book. When Calvert collapsed to the ice after getting hit in the head with a puck, none of the officials blew a whistle. He was bleeding, he tried to get up, couldn’t, and laid prone on the ice in the middle of the royal road. Still no whistle. Even the Canucks player – Elias Pettersson – was waving for help.

Matt Calvert lay bleeding on the ice while the officials refused to blow the whistle.

Despite what many said, the rulebook allows both referees and linesmen to blow the whistle in case of a serious injury. In this case, they didn’t. To make matters worse, there’s no way to ask the officials what they were thinking. As for the NHL, the only sound from the has been crickets. No accountability for a league that keeps talking about guarding players’ safety and particularly protecting players from head hits. If a puck to the head isn’t worthy of concern, then one has to wonder what does. These are the moments one wishes for a lightning bolt. Just once. Ahhh, to be a superhero.

2. Part two of the above. When people were discussing Calvert’s injury and whether play should continue, some actually argued that winning the game was more important than getting Calvert medical attention. Really? A player is bleeding from his head on the ice. Saving a person’s life is WAY more important than winning a game. That this is even a discussion is beyond ugly. That’s Dark Sith Lord kind of stuff. Be better.

3. On a lighter note – marginally – the team’s penalty kill fell off a cliff this past week. They allowed six goals in 14 short-handed situations, meaning their opponents scored 42.8% of the time when on the man advantage. Someone might want to look into fixing that.

4. The Avalanche are starting a disturbing trend of consistently getting outshot in games. Over the last three contests, the team took 81 shots while their foes lobbed the puck 100 times at the net. Colorado has allowed the fifth-most shots in the NHL. That’s a tough way to win.

Eagles Fly to the Rescue

The Avalanche player carousel continues to spin as the injury bug persists, creating havoc. A number of Eagles have been recalled to fill in the gaps and solidify the roster.

Goaltenders Werner and Bibeau stepped in for a game-and-a-half apiece. Forward Jayson Megna skated in six matchups. T.J. Tynan has played in five contests. Forward Logan O’Connor has been called up, sent down, then recalled enough times to make his head spin. And defenseman Kevin Connauton made an appearance against the Oilers.

Patrick Russell, Kevin Connauton
Kevin Connauton fills in on the blue line while Nikita Zadorov recovers. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan)

For those scoring at home, that’s six Eagles players contributing – in the past week. They deserve hazard duty pay. Or at least some hot chocolate. The Canadian road swing is a cold duty.

What to Watch

Two more road games are on the docket for the week before the Avalanche return home from their second-longest road trip of the season.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the Avalanche take on the Calgary Flames in a rematch of last season’s first-round playoff matchup. The Avalanche won the first matchup between the teams this season and look to douse the Flames again.

The Avalanche will head to Minnesota on Thursday to take care of business against the Wild. Don’t expect a warm welcome as the rivalry seems more contentious each time they face-off against each other. But it’s time to bring up all the mild and state of hockey jokes. One needs to be primed and ready for game day.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will head to Colorado in the first contest between the teams this season. The matchup will feature players from the big trade facing their old teams. Will Tyson Barrie return to his scoring ways? Will Kadri score the dagger against his former team? Will Zadorov show Barrie how a defenseman lays hits? There should be plenty of fireworks.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Nazem Kadri and the Avalanche will face-off against his former team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

It’s been a wild week and the fun looks to continue as the adventures in healing continue. Which players will be the next to return to the starting lineup? Which players will be the next man up? These and other burning questions will be answered in next week’s edition of Whose in Net? Until then, keep the chocolate hot and the blankets warm.