The Colorado Avalanche started the season with a four-game homestand, setting the pace for five straight wins through Monday, Oct. 14. They became the last team to remain undefeated in regulation, a rare treat for the Avalanche. With such a hot start, there’s a lot to cover in breaking down the good, bad, and ugly.
*One caveat. In the fast-paced world of the NHL, one game ends and another one is ready to start. All of the statistics used are accurate as of Tuesday morning, Oct. 15.
The Good – Wins, Scoring, Goaltending
1. Five straight wins to launch the season is good. Five straight wins with the fifth toughest opening schedule is amazing, especially considering the team has yet to play a full 60 minutes of quality hockey. Some of the Avalanche’s players and lines have yet to establish their rhythm but most have shown enough flashes of brilliance to outweigh the questionable moments. Nothing to complain about here, stick taps all around.
2. After much preseason hand-wringing about the team’s goaltending, some critics need to eat their words. Goaltender Philipp Grubauer is tied with the Buffalo Sabres’ Carter Hutton for most wins to date. They are also the only two undefeated netminders who’ve played in four games.
For a player who wanted the chance to prove he could be a starter, Grubauer has stepped up. He ranks ninth in shots faced as well as in saves though he missed a game. Time to show the man some respect.
Backup net minder Pavel Francouz also deserves kudos. The 29-year-old NHL “rookie” proved he was ready for the big leagues when he backstopped the Avalanche to a .944 save percentage (SV%) in his lone outing, placing him seventh among goaltenders, as did his 1.90 goals-against average.
It looks like the Avalanche know what they’re doing with their goaltenders after all. People may forward their apologies to the front office and the players to the Pepsi Center. Gift baskets may be in order.
3. Winger Mikko Rantanen is on a mission to prove he’s worthy of his new contract. His four goals and five assists lead the Avalanche in points and ranks 8th in NHL scoring. He’s also tied for 10th in NHL goals. Not bad for a player who missed the preseason. Shh, don’t tell the team owners, they want that preseason revenue.
4. Fifteen different Avalanche players earned points in their first five contests. Nine players tallied two or more points. Depth scoring has improved, taking the load off the top line.
The offseason acquisitions have made a huge impact on the improved scoring ability of the other forward lines.
- Andre Burakovsky notched five points (two goals, three assists).
- Nazem Kadri earned four points (two goals, two assists).
- Joonas Donskoi added three points of his own (two goals, one assist).
- Fourth line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare contributed two goals.
- Even late addition Valeri Nichushkin had an assist.
For those keeping track, that’s eight goals and seven assists from the new guys. Someone needs to get the Avalanche’s front office a beer, or a gift basket.
The forwards are not alone. The defensemen have been instrumental in chipping in on the scoring as well.
- Rookie sensation Cale Makar has six assists over the course of the five games, tied with Gabriel Landeskog for 3rd on the team in points.
- Samuel Girard added two assists.
- Ryan Graves and Nikita Zadorov contributed a goal and an assist apiece.
- Even Erik Johnson scored a goal.
The defense combined for 13 points over the season’s start. Not bad. Not bad at all.
5. The top line of Rantanen-Nathan MacKinnon-Landeskog has racked up 23 points while fighting to find their groove. Whether Rantanen’s delayed start impacted the line’s chemistry or they are trying too hard, the trio has had moments when they are out of sync. Even so, they accounted for eight goals and 15 assists.
MacKinnon is averaging 3.6 shots per game and has eight points. Landeskog has two goals, four assists and is tied for second on the team in shots (with Rantanen). When your top line isn’t clicking but is still producing, life is good. What will happen when they find their groove? The NHL may not be ready for the answer, but everyone else is.
6. Makar has earned at least a point in each of his five NHL regular season games. Only one other defenseman earned a point in more games in his NHL debut – Marek Zidlicky – who managed a point in his first six games.
Zidlicky was 26 years old when he accomplished that feat, after spending an extended time playing in Finland due to a contract dispute with the New York Rangers. Makar is only 20 years old and is fresh off college ice and dorm food. It’s early, but Makar could live up to the hype, people. Is it too early to prepare for the parade?
7. Colorado’s power play has succeeded in scoring 6 in 22 chances, good for seventh in the league and they have scored on the man advantage in every game. Considering the preseason power outage, that’s pretty impressive. Maybe the first power play unit should give the second unit some energy drinks. They could use a little boost.
8. Welcome back iron man Ian Cole! After surgery on both hips in the offseason with a projected return sometime in December, Cole returned to the ice in the team’s fifth game against the Washington Capitals. He must be a freak of nature to come back two months early, or he’s secretly the Hulk, healing himself when he transforms. Either way, it’s great to see the veteran return to the blue line.
9. Landeskog surpassed Matt Duchene in franchise goals scored, reaching the 179 mark on a goal against the Boston Bruins and taking over seventh place. That milestone raises a question, is Landeskog a better player than Duchene?
Consider this, Landeskog reached the 179-goal mark in five fewer games than it took Duchene to reach 178 goals. Duchene had 250 assists over his Avalanche career while Landeskog has 243. The biggest difference comes with face-offs as Duchene won 52.8% with Colorado while Landeskog’s average is a mere 50.1%. Without taking anything away from Duchene, Landeskog is underrated by many, as few would consider their Colorado careers comparable.
When one adds in the role of captain, especially during some very lean years, Landeskog has proven himself to be the more valuable Avalanche player. Character counts. All hail the captain!
In the same Bruins game, MacKinnon surpassed Duchene’s assists record. Nate the Great now ranks 10th in franchise history. Apparently, Boston was good for this season’s leaders. Huzzah!
10. The Avalanche have also set a couple of team records already: It’s the first time the team has started the season scoring in each of their first nine consecutive periods; it’s also the first time the Avs have scored three or more goals in their first five games.
The Avalanche are averaging 4.4 goals per game, second only to the Nashville Predators. Their fast play hasn’t hurt them much defensively either, as the team boasts the eighth stingiest defense in the NHL, allowing an average of 2.4 goals per matchup. They also continue to tweak their lineup. The future looks bright.
The Bad – Injury, Demotion and Chemistry
1.The Avalanche’s top line of Rantanen-MacKinnon-Landeskog has continued last season’s tradition of logging nearly as much ice time as the team’s top two defenders, in spite of running three other scoring forward lines. Not sure that rolling out the top line for more than 20 minutes a night is a good idea long term.
The point of having scoring depth is to spread the load and take some pressure off that line, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. On the other hand, maybe playing the top three more often affords them the chance to rediscover their chemistry. Still, logging that many minutes over a full season doesn’t seem wise. In fact, it seems kind of – bad.
2. Forward J.T. Compher has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury and was finally put on injured reserve to make room for Cole’s return. There’s been almost no information on his injury which was originally described as day-to-day. Compher has a knack for scoring important goals so the team misses him. The silver lining? Tyson Jost looks amazing at center. Maybe Compher should play on Jost’s wing? It’s a nice problem to have – so much talent competing for slots.
3. Rookie defenseman Conor Timmins initially made the team, a “unanimous” choice according to head coach Jared Bednar. After two games, however, he was sent down to the Colorado Eagles, the team’s AHL affiliate. Timmins didn’t look bad in his two games but he did occasionally get behind the action. Also, playing only 10 minutes a night on the blue line after missing nearly a year and a half may not be the best idea for his development. Sending him to the Eagles is best for his long-term career but the optics of sending him down after two games is not ideal.
4. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov continues to get penalized for being the biggest man on the ice. Quit assessing him a two-minute minor when an opposing player runs into him and falls down. It isn’t a penalty if hitting Zadorov is like running into a brick wall.
Likewise, Zadorov shouldn’t have been assessed a penalty for fighting when Milan Lucic kept hammering him. It’s early in the season, so there may be some officiating rust, but this better stop.
Arizona Coyotes defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson broke his leg blocking a rocket of a shot from the Avalanche’s Erik Johnson and will miss three months. No one likes seeing an injury, but knowing Johnson can get that kind of force on a puck puts to rest any lingering concerns about his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Heal quickly Hjalmarsson.
The Ugly – There Can Be Only One
There is only one truly ugly issue regarding the Avalanche. Why the heck can’t an NHL team find a way to broadcast its games so fans can watch them play? Who is the genius who decided it was a good idea to add the exceptionally long disclaimer to the feeds they can find? Really? Inquiring minds want to know.
Am I crazy or did Altitude ask fans to complain to their service providers for not renewing their contract? Altitude can ask Avalanche fans for support in their contract negotiations, but will Altitude threaten those same fans when they try to find a way around the failures of those negotiations? It may be time to fire someone at Altitude because that’s – ugly. More accurately, tone deaf.
It’s 2019. The NHL streams their games. Yet, they won’t allow Avalanche fans access to those games if they live in the blackout areas. Thanks for nothing, NHL.
The service providers aren’t off the hook either. They are forcing customers to look for alternatives to their outdated models. It used to be, local sports were aired on local channels for free. This kind of jockeying for power will not only alienate viewers but will also inspire some enterprising innovator to design an alternative model, and create competition.
Fans are the ones who are hurt by this now, but if the blackout continues, both Altitude and the service providers will be hurt in the long run.
In the words of the immortal William Shakespeare, “A pox on both your houses.”
Rant over. Onto cheerier topics (sort of).
What to Watch – Or, More Accurately – What to Listen To
The Avalanche will be taking on the mighty Pittsburgh Penguins Wednesday night at 5 pm MST. It’s on NBCSN so you might actually get to watch it. Wonders never cease.
This match sets up Nate the Great against his friend/competitor/mentor Sidney Crosby. It could be an exciting event, as long as Crosby doesn’t channel his inner Madagascar penguin and sail the crew to the Antarctic. Wait, then the Avalanche would win by default. Never mind. Get in touch with your inner Skipper, Crosby!
On Friday, the Avalanche will visit the Florida Panthers for a 5:00 pm MST matchup on the first night of a back-to-back. Hopefully, the team won’t get distracted by all the sun, beaches and swimsuits.
On Saturday, Colorado heads to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning for another 5:00 pm MST contest on the second leg of their back-to-back. Ditto on avoiding the distractions. This has not been the team’s strong suit.
The Avalanche then travel to St. Louis to face the Stanley Cup Champion Blues. This time it’s a 6:00 pm MST start which some viewers may get to watch on ESPN+.
For those who get to watch all the games, the Rocky Mountain region is as happy for you as they can be. Regardless, there should be plenty to cover in next week’s edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly as the Avalanche try to roll through their road trip continuing their winning ways. Until then, keep your powder dry and your heads up!
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.