Impact of Erik Johnson’s Injury on Avalanche’s Defense

One comes back, and two go out. That’s the story with the Colorado Avalanche’s blue line, as they are facing injury woes yet again. The most important time of the year is coming up, and they suffered a difficult blow with the Cale Makar injury, and then lost Erik Johnson to an injury deemed week-to-week. Sure, Josh Manson finally returned to the lineup, but it suddenly seems like their roster is decimated yet again.

Erik Johnson Colorado Avalanche
Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

With Johnson’s absence adding to the holes on the blue line, the Avalanche could still be at the center of some playoff questions, especially as the stretch run begins and the Avs are embroiled in a battle for a playoff spot in the Central Division.

Explore everything hockey with THW’s Hockeypedia pages.

The Hockey Writers HockeyPedia 800x120

The Avs’ Blue Line Picture

When Makar and then Johnson went down, things were starting to look pretty grim for the Avalanche. They were helped by the perfectly-timed return of Manson, who adds a big, physical presence to the back end. He takes some of the pressure to bring grit away from Kurtis MacDermid, who has served as their go-to fighter for the majority of the season. Like Johnson, Manson plays a responsible defensive game and can be relied on to block shots and finish his checks.

Related: Avalanche’s Bowen Byram a Welcome Return to Defensive Group

Latest News & Highlights

In his first game back, Manson saw just over 20 minutes of ice time and made a huge impact, but the Avalanche are clearly still missing Makar, who plays nearly half of every game. Instead, his usual defense partner, Devon Toews, took a bulk of the workload, playing 27:35 in that same contest, a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. Before his injury, Johnson ate roughly 16 minutes of ice time per game, on the third defensive pairing.

Now, with Makar out indefinitely and Johnson out for a few weeks, the blue line picture looks a little different. For a while, the Avalanche have been running with eleven forwards and seven defensemen, but that may change as the club sent Brad Hunt down to the Colorado Eagles (though granted, that could be to make room for Makar’s return). Nonetheless, at the time of writing, the defensive pairs were:

Samuel Girard – Devon Toews

Bowen Byram – Josh Manson

Andreas Englund – Kurtis MacDermid

When Johnson and Makar return, the club will likely return to the eleven-and-seven format, sending Englund back down to the Eagles. Or, they’ll opt to scratch MacDermid in games that don’t require that extra bit of grit.

Erik Johnson’s Impact

While the 34-year-old veteran is in the last year of his seven-year, $6 million deal (and questions surround whether or not he’ll retire), Johnson’s impact goes far beyond the stat sheet. He and captain Gabriel Landeskog are best friends and the longest-tenured Avalanche on the roster. Johnson, an alternate captain, was also around for the franchise’s worst years, including the last-in-the-league season, and he provides a stable, veteran presence on and off the ice that is difficult to replace.

David Pastrnak, Erik Johnson
Boston Bruins’s David Pastrnak and Colorado Avalanche’s Erik Johnson (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

While Johnson doesn’t log much ice time anymore, and his deal includes a modified no-movement clause, his dressing room impact is hard to miss. Of course, his absence also means the club will have to use Englund in his place, and they’ll have to go to the traditional 12 forwards and six defensemen model, one coach Jared Bednar seems to have strayed from for the majority of the season. It also means his solid back-end presence, which includes consistently blocking shots, could be hard to replace down the stretch. The club’s depth is once again being called upon to fill in for key injuries, and it could pose a problem as veterans continue to lose time in the lineup. If Makar and Johnson are out for long periods of time, the Avs could start to sweat a little.