The Colorado Avalanche are in a dog fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They play in the best division in hockey and the superior conference. Simply put, the Colorado Avalanche have to bring their best efforts every single night if they wish to put themselves in a playoff position. Naturally, this means that the best players on the Avalanche need to bring their best games on a nightly basis and that is something that hasn’t been happening. Perhaps the biggest culprit this season has been the team’s captain, Gabriel Landeskog.
A Season of Struggles
The Avalanche, as a team, have had a very uneven start with a few players seeing their production coming and going, so Landeskog is hardly alone on that front. Where Landeskog does seem to be sticking out in comparison to other struggles is the type of game he is playing. Nathan MacKinnon is having issues scoring goals, but he is a factor every night. The same could be said for Matt Duchene with his early season struggles, as he was still creating chances for himself and his teammates on a nightly basis. The same cannot be said for Gabriel Landeskog.
Quietly, Landeskog has put up some okay numbers, with 10 goals and 22 assists in 42 games, but there is a lot more than points that should be a part of Landeskog’s game that aren’t showing up right now. I when I previewed Gabriel Landeskog’s season, I noted the two hallmarks of his game that always seem to coincide with him playing well. One is that he shoots from everywhere. That was one of the most notable things from his rookie season, was that he never saw a shot that he didn’t like. The other notable part of his game that always coincides with a surge in his game is when he begins to punish people physically. He is a power forward and has had that part of his game ever since his teenage game and it always seems to get him more mentally involved in the game when he is dishing out punishment and playing in the dirty areas. A quick look at Landeskog’s goals from last season demonstrate his effectiveness in the dirty areas of the ice; take note of how many times he is being taken down in front of the net or driving towards the net while scoring a goal.
When Landeskog is struggling, there are a couple other things we see, as well. Landeskog will frequently try to be too perfect when he has the puck on his stick. He is a decent stick-handler, but he will try too much and will turn the puck over a lot as a result. He will also begin to get a bit reckless and take bad penalties, and not even the excusable kinds. I can usually live with penalties that result from being aggressive/trying to make a play. Taking roughing penalties from a slightly mistimed big hit, even goalie interference calls from driving to the net, are all the type I don’t really have a problem with. The ones that Landeskog starts to take are the lazy stick penalties. Just looking back through December, these are exactly the type of penalties he’s been taking. Landeskog has taken 10 penalties since December began: two holding, three tripping, two hooking, one high stick, cross-check and goalie interference. Many of these are penalties that are avoided if you’re just disciplined and/or just keep your feet moving.
Landeskog Must Be Consistent
Sadly, the only real consistency that we seem to be getting out of Landeskog is his inconsistency. The last few seasons we have seen prolonged stretches of time with this kind of vacuum from him that is always greeted with the same thing, “Landy isn’t 100%.” This excuse is just that, an excuse. If we’re going to demand trades of Matt Duchene when he has a scoring drought, or mock Cody McLeod’s “leadership” anytime he takes a penalty, then I think it’s equally fair to expect a certain amount of accountability go to Landeskog’s inability to bring his “A” game on a consistent basis.
Unfortunately, this is the second time this season I’ve had to write something about Landeskog needing to play better. It doesn’t speak well for him, especially as the team’s captain. I’m not suggesting that Landeskog should have his captaincy removed, far from it, but I do think that it’s fair to at least pose the question as to whether or not it is too much for him. Your captain, especially in today’s NHL, is not just looked at as a guy who is good in the locker room; he is one of, if not the best players on the team and more is expected of him as a result of it. Whether or not that is fair, that is simply the reality of the NHL today. We just don’t see guys like Kelly Buchberger, who was far more famous for his penalties than his scorings, named captain anymore.
Whether or not Landeskog scores on a nightly basis is not the point, obviously that would be wonderful from one of the team’s top players but that’s not everything. The point is that right now he’s not making much of an impact, anywhere. He needs to get back to the hallmarks of his game, be that powerful player that makes people take notice of when he is on the ice. Play that powerful game where he imposes his will on others and where people always must account for him wherever he is; because when that is happening, the Colorado Avalanche are hard to stop.