The Colorado Avalanche probably don’t feel all that lucky these days, even if the stats say otherwise. Atop the NHL in terms of PDO, which effectively measures luck by combining save and shooting percentages, the Avs are now without star Mikko Rantanen, who’s been ruled week-to-week.
The impact of losing Rantanen will be felt throughout the lineup, but there’s good reason to be hopeful. After all, the Avalanche have been through this before. Late last season, captain Gabriel Landeskog was also out of the lineup for weeks. In that time, all the Avs did was go 6-2-1 en route to securing a wild-card spot.
For a few games, Rantanen even joined him on the injury list. Without the Finn, the Avs ended the regular season a just-as-impressive 4-1-3. How will they be able to do it again? A combination of factors, really. Here are the top three:
Easy Schedule for Avalanche
Admittedly, it’s hard to determine which teams are destined for the basement so early in the season… small sample sizes and all. However, looking at the upcoming schedule from a conservative perspective, it’s fair to assume the Avalanche won’t be one of them by further padding their lead at the top of the Western Conference, even without Rantanen.
Assuming Rantanen is gone for a month, which he shouldn’t be according to head coach Jared Bednar, the Avs are poised to ride it out safely. Granted they play more road than home games (eight vs. seven), but, heading into Monday night action, eight of the match-ups are against teams out of their respective playoff races.
The Avs also only play two sets of back-to-backs in November. More to the point, one of them is a home and home against the Chicago Blackhawks, who are still struggling to find their way back into playoff contention after missing them the last few seasons.
None of the games are against teams with more points than the Avalanche in the standings, which admittedly is hard considering they lead the West with an 8-2-1 record, but the point stands: Each of the games they’ll play with Rantanen out, however long that is, is very winnable.
Grubauer’s Actually Good
As previously mentioned, one half of PDO is save percentage, which is goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s domain. There should be no doubt any longer, though. Grubauer, who came to the Avalanche as a backup, is a legitimate No. 1. In fact, he may be elite based on the roll he’s on, dating back to last season.
Grubauer is 6-1-1 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .920 save percentage this season. He was a decent 18-9-5 last season, splitting time with Semyon Varlamov, but his cumulative .917 save percentage was admittedly propped up by a late-season run during which he went 9-2-2 with a .956 save percentage.
Obviously, Grubauer cannot be expected to keep up that level of play. However, there comes a point when it no longer can be considered a roll, but consistently great play. He may not win the Vezina Trophy with a .920 save percentage, but that’s all the more reason to believe he can stay at that level. In fact, there’s every reason to believe that’s the new normal for the 28-year-old, who’s clearly hitting his stride during his peak years.
Remember MacKinnon and Landeskog?
If it weren’t just Rantanen on injured reserve, there may be legitimate cause for concern. As it stands, all concern should be directed Rantanen’s way for an easy and full recovery, because the Avs have proven they have the firepower up front to score.
Granted, it’s unlikely several specific players stay hot. There’s no way in hell Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (33.3%), Joonas Donskoi (23.5%) or Matt Calvert (16.7%) continue to put the puck in the net at the rate they have been. The highest rate with which either of the three has finished a complete season was Donskoi’s 12.2% last season with the San Jose Sharks.
However, for every Donskoi lighting it up, there’s a Colin Wilson who’s yet to touch the twine at all. Or relative unknowns like Tyson Jost (19%) or Andre Burakovsky (18.2%), each of whom may be on the verge of break-out seasons and living up to their statuses as high draft picks. That’s not even getting into how leading-scorer Nathan MacKinnon continues to put up points at will and Landeskog is healthy this time around.
This is far from a one-man show. Hell, if there’s one thing the games played without Landeskog and/ or Rantanen late last season should have taught the Avs, it’s this: They aren’t so much as a one-line team, either. After easily eliminating the Western Conference-winning Calgary Flames in Round 1 last spring, they’re arguably not even a wild-card team. They’re the ones leading the West right now instead, and it’s for good reason. Too many to count, really.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.