It’s been hard for John Mitchell this season, surely. For him it must have seemed like he’s been watching more than playing this year. He came into the season injured and after returning to the Avalanche lineup he injured his leg. After missing the last seven games for the Avalanche, Mitchell finally returned to the lineup during last night’s game in Buffalo. What a difference he made.
John Mitchell isn’t a superstar. He’s never going to score 50 goals or 100 points in a season, but his contribution is more subtle than that. He provides balance. There is something impressive about the way John Mitchell can make Colorado’s lineup seem more dangerous. He played with Jerome Iginla and Alex Tanguay in last night’s 5-1 win, and that line combined for 8 points.
Patrick Roy raised some eyebrows early Saturday when he announced some interesting line combinations. Nathan MacKinnon was taken out of the center position and put on Matt Duchene’s wing with Maxime Talbot on the other side. Ryan O’Reilly was also put into a new position, his old one, as a center. He played with Gabriel Landeskog and Daniel Briere. After a few low scoring affairs Colorado hit Buffalo with 5 goals as a result. Colorado looked good throughout the game and seemed to be in pretty good control of the game.
Mitchell’s return to the lineup allowed Roy to spread out his talent, so to speak. That’s one of the center’s best qualities. He almost at times acts like the glue that holds the Avalanche lineup together. He defensive game also lets his linemates push into the attack with a little more recklessness as well, as he’s so good at cleaning up in the neutral zone and defensive zone. The evidence for that is the 3 point nights from both Iginla and Tanguay. Mitchell’s line also finished a combined +3.
Tanguay’s first goal last night was a beautiful shot into the top corner, but it started with John Mitchell taking the puck of a Sabre in his own end. The defense to offense transition is very important to Colorado. John Mitchell is really quite good at getting those attacks started. He’s a strong checker and he’s able to win the puck well. The other lines for Colorado also benefit from his inclusion if for no other reason than to provide depth.
Adding another center to the lineup also means that Roy can use a player like MacKinnon on the wing. At 19 MacKinnon probably has a future as a NHL center but right now he looks more comfortable on the wing, free to learn the defensive responsibilities of a center in the NHL at a more relaxed pace. Playing with Duchene, MacKinnon looked strong. At times against Buffalo the two speedy forwards were able to hold onto the puck for long stretches of time in the offensive zone.
Colorado have a lot of work to do to turn this season around. They’re sitting at the bottom of the western conference with time left dwindling. This might not be a playoff team, but now that the Avalanche are getting healthy and some depth is returning to the lineup they should start to be more competitive. John Mitchell is a key to this. He’s not a superstar that is going to light up the scoreboard every night, but what he does he does well. He’s prone to some selfishness at times, and will hold onto the puck for far too long at times, but his contribution to the Colorado Avalanche makes he much more valuable on the ice than in the press box. All he needs to do now is stay healthy.