Avalanche’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2023

Last season was a dream for the Colorado Avalanche, who rocked through the postseason on the way to a third Stanley Cup in franchise history. This season is off to more of a pedestrian start, and the Avalanche have some work to do if they’re going to threaten as repeat champions.

Here’s a look at three New Year’s Resolutions for the Avs to improve early in 2023.

Avalanche Need to Get Healthy

Despite riding the wave of their first Stanley Cup championship in 21 years and signing superstar Nathan MacKinnon to a long-term deal, the 2022-23 campaign started with a whimper. Captain Gabriel Landeskog has yet to play after knee surgery before the season, and more than a dozen players followed him onto the injured reserve list through the first third of the season. That list included MacKinnon, who should be back in the lineup sometime in January.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Getting healthier is easier said than done because it’s the only thing that is outside of their control. Injuries have been the main storyline this season so far, in large part because it has affected every part of the roster. Goaltender Pavel Francouz most recently joined the injury parade, and Colorado has already used 36 different players this season.

Related: The Avalanche’s Slow Start to 2022-23, By the Numbers

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Landeskog and MacKinnon should both return early in the new year, and that should help soften the blow after Valeri Nichushkin went back on the shelf after re-injuring his surgically repaired ankle on Dec. 23. There is a lesson to be learned here. Sitting in the eighth playoff spot, Colorado can’t afford any repeat injuries. The depth has been enough to keep them in the playoff hunt, but the Avalanche are walking a thin line. Not rushing anyone back will be imperative to getting the chance to defend their title this postseason.

Penalty Kill Must Get Better

The power play has been awesome despite missing some key pieces. The Avalanche are fifth in the NHL with the man advantage, converting on 27.3 percent of their chances. That’s a tick ahead of last season when they finished seventh in the league at 24 percent. However, the penalty kill has been dismal. They rank 22nd in the league at 76.4 percent. This has to be the main focus as they enter the next phase of the season.

Colorado Avalanche Jared Bednar
Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Part of this is due to the strained depth caused by the injuries, but bad penalty killing is a recipe for an early playoff exit. Sitting in eighth, there is no guarantee of a playoff berth. The defense has been solid through the first 33 games, as the Avalanche have allowed the third-fewest goals in the league. That means they are giving themselves a chance 5-on-5, and the power play has been rock solid, too. Getting healthier will help these numbers, but as Nichushkin showed, health is no guarantee.

The silver lining here is that the Avs don’t spend that much time on the penalty kill – only six teams have spent less time down a man this season. Tightening the screws on the penalty kill will go a long way in helping the Avalanche perform better in close games; they are 2-5 in one-goal games this season, and more close games will come as the playoff race tightens up. Improving the penalty kill will be imperative to getting Colorado back in the postseason.

Avs Should Lean on Rantanen

Mikko Rantanen has been Colorado’s driving offensive force while the revolving door of injuries has been spinning. He is one of just six players to suit up for all 33 games and leads the team in scoring with 43 points. His 24 goals also have him easily on pace for a third consecutive 30-goal campaign. This could be a career year for Rantanen. The 26-year-old forward had a career-best 36 goals and tied a career-high in assists with 56 last season. He’s on pace to not only break those highs but also break the century mark in points.

Mikko Rantanen Colorado Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

His play has been stellar, to say the least. Rantanen has not had consecutive games without a point since the middle of November and has a goal in five of his last six games. He also had a hat trick on Dec. 12, providing all of Colorado’s offense in a 3-2 overtime road victory against the St. Louis Blues. His 20 even-strength goals lead the NHL, and he’s been doing all of this despite playing with nine different line combinations so far.

Rantanen has been Colorado’s leading scorer in the past two seasons, and it looks like he’ll take that mantle again. He’s averaging 22:55 of ice time per contest, and that heavy load needs to continue. They’ve got a star on their hands, and when he is reunited with familiar linemates MacKinnon and Landeskog, the sky could be the limit for Rantanen the rest of the way.

Related: Avalanche’s Rantanen Emerging Into Superstar

We’re all looking to better ourselves in the new year, and like the rest of us, the Avalanche have just a few minor tweaks to take care of to get back to the best version of themselves. With heavy thanks to Rantanen, the team is still in good shape. Teams don’t win Stanley Cups without some depth, and their depth has helped keep them afloat during some shaky stretches earlier this season. They still have 49 games left to play, and the roster should start to look a lot more like the one that rolled to the best record in the Western Conference last season.