It’s American Thanksgiving and the Colorado Avalanche enter the season with a lot to be thankful for. This week’s Avalanche Weekly breaks down the good, bad, and ugly for the past week while entering into the spirit of the season. Loosen your belts and refill your cups, it’s time for feasting.
The Good – Roasted Turkey with All the Trimmings
Few benefited more from the loss of Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen more than Nathan MacKinnon. Stay with me here. The high-scoring center learned to play with Joonas Donskoi and Matt Calvert as his linemates and not only found ways to score, he found ways to excel. When Calvert went down, he learned to work with Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky. It’s an amazing single-player transformation. Consider the following:
- He’s sixth in total points.
- He’s sixth in average points per game.
- He’s second in shots on goal.
- He’s fifth in O-zone possession.
- He’s sixth for power plays goals scored.
- The Avalanche have the fourth-best power-play unit.
Those are all NHL rankings, not team rankings. That’s something special.
MacKinnon has racked up all those points while he played over half his games without his two top linemates. And MacKinnon’s gain is the Avalanche’s gain. Despite losing 62-man games to injury over 23 contests, they are still in the playoff hunt. Oh yeah, he was also named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week last week. That’s the kind of thankful that happens when gazing at a perfectly roasted bird, chock full of stuffing.
But wait, there’s more.
Rookie defenseman Cale Makar is blowing people’s skates off. Take a look at his numbers:
- Second in points among all defensemen.
- Second in points per game among defensemen.
- First in rookie scoring.
- First in rookie points per game.
- Tied for first in rookie game-winning goals.
- *All of the above are NHL rankings.
- Second on the Avalanche in scoring.
Many places are considering him a lock for the Calder Trophy, an award for the player considered most “proficient” in his rookie season. Of course, it’s too early to tell, but he’s been able to do some unbelievable things. He has left veteran NHL players strewn on the ice trying to keep up with him. He and MacKinnon are developing some real chemistry. And one commentator described him as “like MacKinnon only on defense”.
It’s a plethora of riches and a lot to be thankful for. The Avalanche may not have won the lottery draw the year they selected him, but Makar is making the case Colorado won the draft anyway. That’s homemade mashed potatoes slathered in gravy kind of good.
And yet, just like a good Thanksgiving meal, there’s more.
Anyone ever heard of Andre Burakovsky? He’s the former Washington Capitals player Joe Sakic picked up over the summer. For whatever reason, though he had skills, he wasn’t thriving in Washington. But their loss has been the Avalanche’s gain. Burakovsky seems to have rediscovered his scoring prowess. He leads the team in game-winning goals, is second for goals scored and third in total points. He’s averaging nearly .91 points per game. And the best part, he seems to be getting better as the season goes on. Who knows his ceiling?
Burakovsky could very well keep a spot on the top line with MacKinnon once the other guys return, which could only make the second line more dangerous. Or, the Avalanche second line could be considered more like a 1b line once Landeskog and Rantanen return. Again, it’s a plethora of riches. Maybe he’s the sweet potatoes baked with brown sugar, or the stuffing covered in gravy. Can’t go wrong with either option.
The Bad – The Giblets
In any good holiday meal, there’s always a couple of items that just miss the mark or only work in helping something else taste good.
While Erik Johnson continued to play after the Alex Kerfoot hit, he missed the following practice and showed up in a no-contact sweater this week. He leads the team in ice time and penalty kill time while holding down the blue line, losing him for any extended period of time could be really bad.
Fortunately, practicing in a no-contact jersey likely means he could return shortly. So it’s more of a giblets in the gravy thing. You don’t want to actually eat the giblets but it may be good experience gravy to see what the blueliners can do without him. And hey, maybe Calle Rose will finally get some NHL ice time in an Avalanche uniform. That would be a solid green bean casserole kind of move.
The Ugly – The Fruit Cake No One Ordered
Kerfoot’s hit on Johnson, sending him flying headfirst into the boards, tops the list of this past week’s ugly. It’s worse than fruit cake. The hit was bad but that it came from Kerfoot, a former teammate, and a generally clean player, made it worse.
Maybe there’s more wrong in Toronto than former coach Mike Babcock. Kerfoot made a couple of questionable moves that were highly out of character based on how he played in Colorado. The hit was bad, the source – Kerfoot – made it worse, and the injury to Johnson made it truly ugly. And disappointing. Kerfoot actually received a two-game suspension. That’s definitely like the fruit cake you didn’t order showing up anyway. Yuck.
The Best – All the Pie
The best news for the Avalanche after facing a round-robin of injuries? The gradual return of key players with others lurking in the wings.
Both goaltenders – Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz – returned this past week, which is like having two great pies for dessert – pumpkin AND pecan. Then Tyson Jost suited up, which is definitely whipped cream on top of the pie.
Just like Christmas tends to overshadow Thanksgiving, the players nearing playing status overshadow the ones already back. Two big presents beckon on the other side of the roasted turkey. Rantanen skated in a regular jersey at practice and could return as early as the upcoming weekend. In a bonus gift, equally grand, Landeskog suddenly appeared in a no-contact sweater. He’s returned to skate before regular practice two days in a row. It’s a Thanksgiving miracle!
The Avalanche never released a timeline for Landeskog’s return and some feared the worst – that he may be out for the season. However, seeing him on the ice puts those fears to bed. While he may not be back for a while yet, he could return before Christmas. That’s like finding THE deal on Black Friday.
It’s time for the Avalanche to give thanks for all the healing before crushing their opponents. It’s all in the spirit of giving thanks, really it is. As is climbing back to the top of the Central Division and the Western Conference standings. Maybe this is part of Bednar’s master plan for total NHL domination. They have all been lulled into a false sense of complacency, setting the stage for the Avalanche to come roaring back, with all their starters taking over. It’s the season of miracles, might as well go big. Mwuhaha!
Okay, maybe I’ve had a little too much egg nog.
What’s Ahead – Leftovers
Maybe anything isn’t possible when it comes to the Avalanche getting a fair shake in scheduling, though. Not only do they play Wednesday, but on Friday they hit the road to take on the Chicago Blackhawks at 2 pm MST, the first of their back-to-back matchup.
Part two takes place at the Pepsi Center at 7 pm MST Saturday night.
In typical NHL style, the three games in four days over the holiday will then be followed by three consecutive days without a game. While the contests should be interesting, the scheduling sits firmly in the camp of dried up leftovers without any gravy.
Not to worry, though, Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and next week the team will see another back-to-back! Okay, maybe that’s not ideal. But at least the Avalanche will start to see a more regular schedule in December. However, all the odd days off may have spread out the injury recovery time over fewer games. Either way, more excitement is nigh!
Until then, eat well, hug your loved ones, and spend time making merry! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
J.D. has followed the Colorado Avalanche since the days of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Blessed to cover the team for nearly 5 seasons, 3 of those at other venues, J.D. enjoys working with the Hockey Writers. Proud parent of three humans and two dogs, you can follow all the escapades @JDKpirate.