Avalanche Face Biggest Foe – Injuries

The Colorado Avalanche rolled to a hot start as the hockey season began. Even when the lines were working on timing issues with the new players, the team found ways to win. Then, their true enemy entered the scene – the injury bug. Since it first appeared, each game has become a battle between winning and the cost of the mounting injuries.

Gabriel Landeskog, Drew Doughty
Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog is just one of the team’s players on injured reserve. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Currently, the Avalanche have six starters injured, five of whom are on injured reserve. That’s more one-third of the squad. Let’s breakdown what the team is facing.

The Hobbled Forward Corps

The forward corps suffered the greatest number of injuries. Arguably the biggest hits to the team are the loss of two members of Avalanche’s dominant top line – Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. But they aren’t the only forwards dealing with health issues. They fall into one of two camps.

Out of the Lineup – Rantanen, Landeskog, Wilson

  • Landeskog, the team captain and a key part in keeping the team running smoothly, is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. He was put on Injured Reserve (IR) at the end of October. There is no timeline for his return.
  • Rantanen caught an edge as he hit a rough patch of ice and fell awkwardly while playing against the St. Louis Blues. He left in the middle of the game on Oct. 21 and has been on IR ever since, listed as week-to-week. However, Rantanen began skating this past week and may return sooner rather than later.
  • Colin Wilson, who has battled some unspecified lower-body injury, has missed eight games, not playing since Oct. 26. He is listed as day-to-day but coach Jared Bednar has stated he has no timeline for his return either.
Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are left to cheer from the sidelines as they heal. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Playing but in Questionable Health – Bellemare, Kadri, Jost, MacKinnon

  • Pierre-Edouard Bellemare suited up against the Edmonton Oilers after leaving the Columbus Blue Jackets game on Nov. 9 midway through the second period. Nick Foligno made an open-ice hit on Bellemare, hitting Avs forward’s head with his elbow. Bellemare missed the rest of the game and the following matchup while dealing with concussion symptoms. Foligno earned a three-game suspension for the hit. Bellemare travelled with the team and returned to play against the Oilers. But one has to wonder how healthy he really is.
  • Both Tyson Jost and Nazem Kadri appeared to need medical attention in the waning moments of the Jets game. Jost had his head pushed into the ice, injuring his nose and blood oozed onto the ice. Kadri appeared to catch an edge and limped off. Both played in the following contest against the Oilers.
  • Nathan MacKinnon missed the entire third period of the Nov. 7 game against the Nashville Predators, allegedly for precautionary reasons. He also missed the subsequent practices. He’s skated in the subsequent games.
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare Colorado Avalanche
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare underwent concussion protocol.(Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

The injuries forced the Avalanche to play Valeri Nichushkin and Vladislav Kamenev, both healthy scratches earlier in the season. The two have proven to be solid additions. The team also called up T.J. Tynan and Jason Megna from the Colorado Eagles. Megna has played in five games and Tynan has appeared in four.

Defensemen Proving Tough

The blueliners have not suffered the same number of casualties. But missing even one of the starters has created some issues on defense.

Out of the Lineup – Nikita Zadorov

Nikita Zadorov took a puck to the face in the Nashville contest. He underwent surgery on Friday, Nov. 8, to repair his jaw, requiring two plates and screws. Amazingly, he joined the team a week later and could return against the Canucks after missing only three games. That’s Russian tough.

Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov
Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov refuses to miss much time after surgery. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Questionable – Ian Cole

Ian Cole, who had offseason surgery on both hips, returned to the lineup two months earlier than the most optimistic predictions. However, he missed the Nashville matchup and has decreased ice time on the road trip. It could be precautionary but one wonders whether he’s truly ready for the daily grind.

The Avalanche recalled Kevin Connauton to help fill out the defensive corps and he suited up in the Oilers game.

Goaltenders in Next-Up Mode

The forwards have the most injured, but the damage to the goaltenders may be the most concerning.

Out of the Lineup – Grubauer and Francouz

  • Starting goaltender Philipp Grubauer aggravated a lower-body injury when he played against the Dallas Stars and hasn’t suited up in a contest since. He is on IR and listed as day-to-day. However, he did start to participate in practice and is travelling with the team on the road trip.
  • Winnipeg Jets alternate captain Mark Scheifele ran into goaltender Pavel Francouz 31 seconds into their game. Francouz laid motionless on the ice for several minutes before being helped off the rink. He is undergoing concussion protocol and is listed as day-to-day.

The injuries to both the starting and backup goaltender forced the Avalanche to call up rookie Adam Werner. Werner entered the Jets game less than a minute into the contest, making his NHL debut. He backstopped the team to an impressive 40-shot shutout. The arena’s emergency goaltender served as his backup.

The Avalanche then recalled Antoine Bibeau from the Eagles. He relieved a weary Werner midway through the Oilers contest. The Avalanche’s defensive effort let both goaltenders down in that game, allowing four goals on six short-handed situations and getting pinned in their own zone for large stretches.

Future Forecast

While Zadorov’s return is imminent, the rest of the players anticipated returns are up in the air. Hockey is known for its next-man-up mentality, but the Avalanche are taking it to extremes.

Despite the injuries, though, the team has found ways to battle through and earn some wins. Learning they can win without some of their stars has to give the players confidence. It’s also opening opportunities for other players to step up and prove they can do more. Who expected Joonas Donskoi and Matt Calvert to be good linemates for MacKinnon?

Having said that, there’s no doubt the Avalanche would prefer to have their injured return sooner rather than later. No one wants their locker room to look like a ghost town.