Creating a schedule for the NHL is complicated, mathematical and circumstantial when considering an 82-game season. However, the back-to-back rollouts are daunting and brutal for any team. The Colorado Avalanche have already experienced two of these challenges in the month of October. They have two more in November and it’s something that can be detrimental to a team this early in the season. Now with injuries added into the equation, these next few weeks are going to be a battle for the Avalanche.
The Distant Past
The Avalanche won both games of their first back-to-back series against the Florida Panthers on Oct. 18 and then the Tampa Bay Lightning the following night. Keep in mind it’s only an hour plane ride from one city to the other, but it’s still grueling to play at least 120 minutes of hockey within 24 hours.
Although successful on their Florida trip, the less than 48-hour turnaround to face the St. Louis Blues most certainly was a factor in their first regulation loss of the season. Mikko Rantanen getting injured certainly didn’t help but it wasn’t the reason they lost.
“For us, it was more about us than about them. To be honest, it wouldn’t have mattered if they had their ‘A’ game or their ‘C’ game tonight. We just weren’t good enough and on a night like tonight, we’re not going to beat too many teams,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the game.
After returning to Colorado for a couple of practices and then jetting off play the Vegas Golden Knights (which was delayed on the tarmac), the Avalanche dominated the game against the Golden Knights with a 6-1 win on Oct. 25. They showed grit and determination after an almost four-day break. They out-skated, outshot and just generally outplayed their opponent and beat them in their own barn.
It was a different game against the Anaheim Ducks the following night. Back at home, the Avalanche looked gassed and worn down. Goaltender Pavel Francouz got lit up and his team just couldn’t get it done. Ducks forward Max Comtois told reporters following the win against the Avalanche, “We wanted to make our game simple. We knew they were on a back-to-back game, so we took over in the first period and after that we closed the game.”
It was apparent the team was not ready to play in their 5-2 loss on Oct. 26. Kudos to veteran Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller for shutting the door on their conference rivals, but the Avalanche really lost to themselves. They didn’t play at the level they have played thus far this season.
The Recent Past
Although Landeskog wasn’t injured in one particular incident, the turmoil of their schedule took a toll on his body. He is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury and Colin Wilson is day-to-day, but the Avalanche are confident they’ll continue to play hard and win games. Head coach Jared Bednar addressed the issues in his post-practice media report on Oct. 29:
This also isn’t the first time the team has been without two of their top-line players. Last season, both Landeskog and Rantanen missed games due to injury and here’s the breakdown of how they did without them:
Although Nathan MacKinnon extended his point streak to 12 games with a goal and an assist on Wednesday, Oct. 30, they let go of a 3-1 lead with six minutes left in the game to lose against the Panthers in overtime. Their first game missing both Rantanen and Landeskog, the Avalanche failed to cover Panthers star center Jonathan Huberdeau as he tied it up and scored the winner less than a minute into the OT period.
Along with calling up Jayson Megna from the Colorado Eagles to fill in, Bednar changed up the lines to accommodate the missing injured players. Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri were with MacKinnon and the shake-up proved successful, but the team’s chemistry and mindset got fumbled at the end of the game. Following the tough loss, Matt Nieto said, “Not our best. We are two goals ahead with six minutes [left], like I said, in a really good spot at home and that’s a game where we have to walk away with two points.”
The Near Future
Next up they face off against the Dallas Stars for the first time this season on Friday (Nov. 1) at the Pepsi Center. The Stars have struggled to start off the season with a 5-8-1 record and the Avalanche are looking to rebound from the last two losses at home. They hop on a plane to face the Arizona Coyotes the following night (Nov. 2). The Coyotes have been the dark horse in the Western Conference with a 7-4-1 record and only three points behind the Avalanche.
The Great White North Road Trip
The rest of November is definitely going to be a challenge with a week-and-a-half-long Canadian road trip ending in Minnesota (also known as Southern Canada). The weekday games are spread out with a day of rest in between but still tiring when playing away from home. The roughest may be the home-and-home games they play against the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of the month.
As long as no one else gets injured and the guys on the IR heal quickly, the Avalanche are still a solid team. General manager Joe Sakic’s increase in depth to this team is apparent. They are playing as a whole and producing from every line.
The Blues are looking at most of their season without their top sniper, Vladimir Tarasenko and the Penguins are anticipating the return of their superstar Evgeni Malkin. There are a number of other players on the IR around the league, so the Avalanche are not alone in their trials and tribulations with injuries. The question is: Can they barrel through the adversity and still come out on top not at 100%? Stay tuned.