Avalanche Line Changes Key to Ending Losing Streak

It may feel deeper into the season than it is, but it’s only November. Let’s not panic. Not yet. Considering the Colorado Avalanche’s winning start, it’s understandable to freak out a bit after a five-game losing streak. Head coach Jared Bednar is doing everything he can to change up lines and find chemistry between the players he has on hand. Have these line changes worked or not? 

Where and When Did it Start? 

The 5-2 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 26 at the Pepsi Center started the Avalanche’s troubles, which continued when the Florida Panthers came to town. During their three-day break before facing the Panthers, the team announced that Gabriel Landeskog and Colin Wilson were out with lower-body injuries. They already had one top-liner out (Mikko Rantanen) and now another. Plus, losing a third-liner really throws a wrench into the machine. 

The starting forward lines against the Panthers were: 

  • 91 Nazem Kadri – 29 Nathan MacKinnon – 72 Joonas Donskoi
  • 95 Andre Burakovsky – 17 Tyson Jost – 37 J.T. Compher
  • 13 Valeri Nichushkin – 81 Vladislav Kamenev – 12 Jayson Megna
  • 83 Matt Nieto – 41 Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – 11 Matt Calvert
Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The defense pairings were Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson, Ian Cole matched up with Cale Makar and Nikita Zadorov paired up with Mark Barberio. Ryan Graves was subbed out for Barberio, the only change on defense from the previous competition.

The group played a strong game for the first two periods but lost their edge in the third. Even with MacKinnon, Compher and Donskoi playing heavy minutes, they couldn’t manage a win. With a 3-1 lead midway through the third, the Panthers scored two unanswered goals to tie it up and Jonathan Huberdeau (the Avs’ nemesis) won it in overtime.

Home Loss to the Stars

There was still plenty of hope going into the Dallas Stars game two nights later. MacKinnon centered Nieto and Donskoi, while Kadri led a line with Jost and Compher. Burakovsky played with Bellemare and Calvert. Nieto, Nichushkin and Megna remained together but moved to the fourth line. The only change on defense was swapping out Barberio for Graves.

Colorado Avalanche Ryan Graves Sven Andrighetto
Colorado Avalanche’s Ryan Graves and Sven Andrighetto celebrate. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

The Avalanche outshot the Stars by 10 and MacKinnon logged the most ice time, as expected. Kadri was right behind him in TOI and Donskoi was a power horse again. They even had two fewer penalties but could not beat backup goaltender Anton Khudobin. Kadri had a goal overturned after it was ruled the goal post had been dislodged when the goal was scored. “That was the turning point where we decided to start playing and from there on out we dominated the rest of the game,” Kadri told Rick Sadowski of NHL.com after the game. “Their goaltender made a few nice saves. It was a little too late.” The 2-1 final was a third straight loss for the team. 

Is It Time to Worry Yet?

The Avalanche were already at a disadvantage entering the contest versus the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 2, the night after the Stars loss. Changing it up a bit, Bednar started the game with Jost-MacKinnon-Compher on the top line. But the lines changed as play progressed and chemistry was lacking as well as other factors. “We can’t expect to start like that and end up with the result that we want,” Nieto told NHL.com correspondent Alan Robinson after the game. “We’re digging ourselves in a hole early and even if we come on, playing from behind like that is tough to do in this league.”

Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper did a solid job of keeping the puck out of the net. Again, the Avalanche out-shot their opponent but were still shut out 3-0, thus ending MacKinnon’s scoring streak and cooling his hot start to the season in the team’s fourth straight loss.

Away Loss to the Stars

Less than a minute into the rematch against the Stars at the American Airlines Arena, a breakdown in the Avalanche’s defense allowed the Stars to get on the board right away. Rather than regrouping and pushing forward, they fell apart. Missed passes and turnovers kept them contained to only one goal scored at the end of the first. “Right now, we are definitely not playing our best and we just can’t find a way to win,” Burakovsky told Josh Clark of NHL.com.

To change things up for the game against the Nashville Predators on Thursday, the Avalanche sent Megna back down and called up T.J. Tynan. In 10 games with the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles this season, Tynan has 2 goals and 12 points.

Although Bednar hadn’t made that decision before his press conference after practice yesterday, he did address many other issues. Unfortunately, one of the most important was that there is no new news on the three injured players and when they’ll be back. 

Lines will continue to change, and goaltenders Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz have been giving the club a chance. The struggle is on offense right now. The Avalanche have only scored seven goals in their last five games as opposed to the 20 goals scored in the five games prior to their losing streak. Hopefully, they can muster up some home ice advantage for their contests against the Predators and again versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night before hitting the road for almost two weeks.