Avalanche Weekly Roundup

Welcome to the first installment of the Colorado Avalanche Weekly Roundup, where you can read about the highlights and lowlights from the past week paired with a fair dose of commentary. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy!

The Colorado Avalanche launched into the season with some exciting play, winning their first two games at home before earning a split on the road. So what stood out?

Offense – MacKinnon & Rantanen Lead in Scoring

1) The Avalanche scored 17 goals in four games. The only Western Conference team with more goals? The Chicago Blackhawks. (no really!)  The Avalanche actually rank fourth in the NHL. So, scoring doesn’t look to be a problem, unless they are playing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2) If anyone wondered if Nathan MacKinnon would be able to repeat his Hart finalist performance, he’s off to a great start. MacKinnon’s 23 shots on goal places him second in the league. He has scored five goals and picked up an assist in the first four games.

Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon
Nathan MacKinnon aims to improve on his hot start.(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

MacKinnon joined John Mitchell as only the second player in Avalanche history to score a goal in each of the first four games. If MacKinnon scores in the next contest, he will tie the record for goals in consecutive games to start a season set by Mats Sundin. While MacKinnon leads the Avalanche in goals scored, he does not lead the team in points.

I got more to give…I think I can dominate more.

Those words should strike terror in the heart of upcoming opponents. And glee for the Avalanche faithful. He’s not called ‘Nate the Great’ for nothing.

3) Mikko Rantanen leads the Avalanche with seven points off one goal and six assists. It’s not really a surprise, but Rantanen also sits atop the team in assists. He tied his personal career record with three assists against the Buffalo Sabres. Rantanen sits in a 14thplace tie for average points per game at 1.75. Nice way to start the season.

While the statistics are fun, watching Rantanen moving the puck up the ice and dishing a perfect pass to MacKinnon is a thing of beauty. Sometimes a picture says it best.

4) The Avalanche entered the season knowing they were going to need to improve their secondary scoring. Look no further than Carl Soderberg, the big center who has racked up three goals and two assists for five total points. Not satisfied? Then consider Alexander Kerfoot who notched a goal and four assists for five points. Still not satisfied? Check out J.T. Compher and his three points off two goals and an assist.

5) Oh yeah, don’t forget Colin Wilson. Last year’s invisible man entered this season finally healthy and he has racked up three goals already. Invisible no more. For those scoring at home, all four lines have notched goals. In fact, the Avalanche rank fifth for goals scored. It’s a good feeling. Now let’s hope it lasts.

6) For those a little skeptical about the scoring, keep this in mind – 14 Avalanche players have notched a point. Assuming the goaltender isn’t likely to get a point, only three players with appearances in all four games remain without a point, two of whom are defensemen. It’s a good way to start the season.

7) The forwards’ performance hasn’t been all rosy though. The 5-2 loss to Columbus was uninspiring and left newly acquired goaltender Philipp Grubauer out to dry in his Avalanche debut. Only during the second period did the team flash signs of life before the regressing. Giving up three goals in the third frame after battling to come back and tie the contest in the second period was an unpleasant surprise. Let’s not see that again.

8) Faceoffs continue to be an area of challenge – the Avalanche rank 27th among all NHL teams. Compher is the only player who has consistently won more than 50% of the draws, owning a 56.1% success rate. While it isn’t always critical to win faceoffs, one would hope the Avalanche can improve their performance, especially in their own zone.

Defense – Erik Johnson & Samuel Girard Excel

1) You want proof it’s a new season? Both Erik Johnson and Samuel Girard lead the league in plus/minus with a plus-five each. They are tied with 12 other players, but it’s early in the season and it’s just one more sign the team is continuing to progress.

2) Lest one thinks that’s the only improvement, Johnson ranks second on the team in shots and fifth in points from four assists. Last year, Johnson played 14 games to reach four points. How does one account for the change?

Meet Samuel Girard.

Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard
Sameul Girard joins Erik Johnson on the top defensive pairing. (Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson and Girard started playing together in the preseason as an experiment. Apparently, the experiment worked as the two appear to have developed some chemistry. Girard also seems to have benefited from the pairing as he has earned three assists himself. The Avalanche have a top defensive pairing that works. While it’s too early in the season to get overly confident, it’s certainly promising.

3) The Avalanche rank as the seventh-stingiest team in the NHL, allowing an average of 2.25 goals against over four matchups. Last year, they finished the season in a tie for 14th place with an average of 2.88 goals allowed per contest. For a season that has started with a huge amount of scoring, having a defense that actually is preventing over a half a goal per game more than last year is pretty impressive. But don’t tell anyone. Let the fact the Avalanche have improved their defensive corps come as a surprise. Colorado could use a few more easy wins.

4) So far, the defense has racked up 10 assists, more than a third of the team’s total assists. The defense pushing the play out of their own zone and feeding the forwards is exactly what’s needed for Coach Bednar’s system to succeed. And it’s a far cry from two years ago when the highest scoring defenseman ranked 10th on the team in scoring, with 18 points for the entire season.

Goaltending – Semyon Varlamov Shines

1) Everyone wondered how Semyon Varlamov would handle the pressure after the Avalanche picked up Grubauer. In his three starts, Varlamov has proved impressive, despite allowing a soft goal against the Sabres. He boasts a 1.33 goals-against average and a .955% save rate. His three wins place him in a three-way tie atop the NHL goaltenders. Varlamov’s GAA places him in fifth place while his SV% places him sixth. His performance answers the question. Varlamov came to play, and he came to win. Look out world.

Semyon Varlamov
Semyon Varlamov thriving under the competition. Photo: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sport

2) While Varlamov’s performance is easy to evaluate, Grubauer’s is not. He only played one game, the first road game of the season, against the Blue Jackets. And the team was flat, to say the least. He frequently looked like the lone stopper in a pinball game as he faced multiple shots with virtually no help. Avalanche stars stood around or moved out of position, looking lost in front of him. Grubauer saved 30 of 34 shots on net for a meager .882 save percentage. But, he made a couple of spectacular plays. The jury is out on Grubauer until the rest of the team makes a reasonable attempt at playing defense in front of him. Hopefully, that won’t take too long.

Other Fun Stuff – Like Power Plays & Penalty Kills

1) The Avalanche scored five power play goals in 15 opportunities. Their 33% success rate places them sixth in the NHL. What’s really exciting, though, is their second power-play unit is just as exciting as their first. And that has been a long time coming.

2) The Avalanche have, unfortunately, had the chance to practice their penalty killing, The rank seventh in penalties taken with 19. The good news? Of those 19 shorthanded situations, the Avalanche only surrendered one goal. Their penalty kill puts them atop of the league for with a 94.7% success rate. Pretty impressive.

3) Jared Bednar is the first Avalanche coach to win his three season-opening contests. May the streak continue!

4) Soderberg earned his 200th career point this past week. It’s a milestone worth celebrating. Maybe some ice cream with the kids?

5) Ian Cole is a good addition. He’s logging a lot of ice time, plays a solid defensive game, positions himself well to shut down the attack, and is lifting some of the load from Johnson. What more could anyone want? Oh yeah, and his grabbing the opponents jersey to yank their chain is a wonderful throwback to old-time hockey.

6) If anyone wondered how tough the captain is – Gabriel Landeskog appeared in a boot at the final Colorado Rockies playoff game yet skated over 17 minutes in the Blue Jackets game two days later.

7) Rookie Sheldon Dries made his NHL debut on opening night against the Minnesota Wild. Congratulations! He played in three games and spent four minutes in the penalty box. He was reassigned to the Colorado Eagles after the Avalanche’s road trip.

8) The Avalanche called up Vladislav Kamenev from the Eagles after the second NHL game of the season. He went on the team’s first road trip and played seven minutes against the Sabres.

While it’s hard to argue with the team winning three of four contests to start the season, diehard fans will consider the opening night win against the Wild as the highlight of the young season. The Avalanche may concur, as they won in front of a sellout crowd where the Minnesota fans were outnumbered 10-1. It’s an auspicious way to start the season. Go find some rose-colored glasses and get ready for a thrill-packed ride. The Avalanche play an exciting brand of hockey. If they can keep up their fast-paced play, the sky is the limit.