While the Colorado Avalanche homestand has had more dips than highs, there are still lots of interesting tidbits happening on the ice as the youth movement continues its rollicking ride into December. Their early success may have raised expectations, but remember this season is not a merry-go-round year, where everything is smooth and predictable. Young players are still developing and there is a lot to learn in order to lay the foundation for sustainable success down the road. The roller coaster has ups and downs, but it’s way better than the horror house of mirrors from last year where the same mistakes were repeated game after game after game. Each matchup brings different teachable moments so sit back and enjoy the ride. They are still better than the Broncos.
1. Mo-vember is over! Fortunately, many of the dead muskrats occupying upper lips of both broadcasters and players have disappeared, and people may watch TV without fear they accidentally switched to an adult channel or Magnum, P.I. reruns. Whew. By the way, the 70’s called and they want their facial hair back.
2. The Colorado Avalanche beat the Winnipeg Jets in an overtime match which required alternate captain Nathan MacKinnon to scored twice in extra minutes to secure the win. Without captain Gabriel Landeskog. The Jets lead the Western Conference and have as many points as the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. This would not have happened last year.
3. The Avalanche finished the month of November with a .500 record over 12 games. During that time, they won three overtime games and lost two. Colorado has five more points than last year after 25 games. Is it spectacular? Not yet. But it is improvement. After last year, any and all improvement is good.
4. Don’t look now but special teams may actually be improving. In the past week, the Avalanche scored on three of 13 power play opportunities and only allowed their opponents one goal in 14 penalty kill situations. Colorado ranks 15th among all NHL teams on the man advantage and 19th when short-handed. They are moving into respectability on special teams, and that’s a fair climb from last year’s basement dwelling rankings. Maybe it’s time to send a hearty gift basket to power play coach Ray Bennett as a thank you. And a heartfelt apology for doubting. That may just be me.
5. Nathan MacKinnon and rookie Alexander Kerfoot both had three-point weeks with a goal and two assists apiece. Considering the Avalanche only tallied six goals all week, those points loom large. Kerfoot ranks 5th among rookie point leaders. MacKinnon ranks 7th in the league for assists and is in a 15th place for total scoring, tied with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Vladimir Tarasenko. Not bad, not bad at all.
6. Congratulations, stick taps, and hats off to alternate captain Erik Johnson who skated in his 600th NHL game against the Stars! He deserved a better game for his 600th, but Johnson continues to be an iron man on the team, battling Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty for most NHL shifts per game. Fortunately, some of the other defensemen stepped up this past week so Johnson’s ice time fell to a measly (sarcastic font needed here) 26:24 average minutes per game, putting him fifth among all NHL players. He also – surprise, surprise – leads the team in shots with 76, six more than his next highest teammate, Nathan MacKinnon. He also leads the team in blocked shots, but fortunately his numbers are nowhere near where they were two years ago, when blocked shots were an integral part of the team’s defense.
7. J.T. Compher is quietly earning a lot of respect, in some subtle areas. He led the team in ice time this past week and played over four more minutes than MacKinnon, averaging nearly 21 minutes per game. Compher and Soderberg were the only two forwards to earn significant time on both the power play and penalty kill this past week, picking up slack from the loss of Gabriel Landeskog, with Compher edging out Soderberg with nearly a full minute more of special teams play. Compher has won 50% of his face-offs, currently one of the few Avalanche players who can say that. Compher also ranks 5th among NHL players for more takeaways than giveaways.
8. Defenseman Anton Lindholm appears to be working his way up the depth chart since his return from injury. By his third game, he passed Sam Girard for ice time, partially due to his increased time on the penalty kill. Only Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadorov logged more short-handed minutes than Lindholm among defensemen.
9. For those wondering about Gabriel Bourque's usage, it’s worth delving deeper into his ice time. He logged significant minutes on the penalty kill. Bourque also led the team in hits against Stars, tied Zadorov in hits against the Devils, and manages to both block shots and get takeaways. It may not show up well in some fancy scoring statistics, but Bourque manages to add a physical forward presence the team has needed, especially with Landeskog out.
11. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov continues to improve his play, trailing only Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie in defensive ice time. He and Johnson currently anchor the lion’s share of short-handed ice time. He leads all Avalanche defensemen in goals with three. It’s not all roses, though. Zadorov made a mistake on a pass to Barrie which led to a goal. Yet coach Bednar said that he wasn’t going to talk to him about it as he knew he made a mistake and he will learn from it. Bednar sounded like he has started to trust Zadorov. Looks like the dog house is behind him. This can only be good for the team.
12. The Avalanche prospects are developing and gaining some significant media attention. TSN is projecting Avalanche defensive prospects Cale Makar and Connor Timmins to be locks for Team Canada’s World Juniors Team. Time to thank the scouts and maybe send them a gift basket.
13. For a brief shining moment, the Avalanche iced the smarty-pants boy band line when they put Tyson Jost, J.T.Compher and Alexander Kerfoot together. The college-educated roomies looked not only dangerous on the ice, but also vaguely reminiscent of boy bands like One Direction, or at least that's what my daughter says.
1. Avalanche players have struggled to effectively pass to each other for the past couple of weeks. They seem to be fighting the puck, wrestling with weird bounces, and missing each other by mere inches. Maybe they need to practice passing with eggs, Mighty Ducks style.
2. The passing issues may have led to the slump in shots generated by the Avalanche, which may have led to the recent scoring slump. Six goals over three games will likely make winning more of a challenge, especially since the goaltenders still seem to be finding their groove. Semyon Varlamov has climbed up to 35th place in goals against average while Jonathan Bernier is 38th, but both seem to have good games and then bad ones (see Bernier’s effort against the Dallas Stars). Hopefully, they continue to improve. For all the noise about the young defenseman and mistakes, they only faced an average of 27.3 shots over the last week, which is a huge improvement from the start of the season. A little work on rebound control should go a long way to helping improve the goaltenders’ statistics.
3. Colorado continues to sit dead last in face-off wins, even though they managed to win over 40% of them this past week. They have improved, but still lots of room to improve. Or not. Everyone learned last year that face-off dominance was helpful, but not necessarily related to wins. Let's just win the game, and then the face-off stuff won't matter.
1. The third period invisible penalty assessed to Mark Barberio which led to the New Jersey Devils winning goal was ugly. Referees should NOT be deciding outcomes of games, but apparently, the NHL prefers to control not only the play on the ice, but the outcomes as well. Congratulations, Big Brother Bettman. Soon the NHL will be making lists of which teams fans should root for or against. In case the NHL didn’t learn the lesson from George Orwell’s classic 1984, no matter how many times someone claims 2+2=5, there will always be people who see through the charade. If officiating continues to move in this direction, things will not end well.
2. Umm…the goaltending in the Dallas game, was, uh, not stellar. Ugly may be too kind a word, even. Bernier left the match with a .556 save percentage, having stopped only five of nine shots. Varlamov did better, allowing only two goals on 16 shots for a .889 save rate. But all in all, allowing seven goals in a game where the shots were roughly even is ugly. Maybe it’s best to issue a mulligan to the goalies, along with a stern suggestion this doesn’t happen again and move on. Even good players can have bad days, even stinky awful bad days. Remember Patrick Roy? One stinky day of play sent him to Colorado, for which every Avalanche fan is eternally grateful.
3. Why did MacKinnon have to score a second time in overtime against the Winnipeg Jets? Yes, Tyson Barrie was offsides, but he was tripped by a Jets player, who used his stick to pull out his legs. How can you rule a player offsides on a play where a penalty should have been called? Those officials need to walk the plank!
4. The Avalanche went 1-2 without Captain Gabriel Landeskog, on home ice, which is just ugly. While there were rumors Landeskog was considered a possible trade option over the summer, general manager Joe Sakic needs to throw that option out the window. If the last three games are any indication, Landeskog’s value to the team is priceless.
Center Dominic Toninato returned to the San Antonio Rampage, Rocco Grimaldi was called up, Colin Wilson looks to return to the lineup and defenseman Duncan Siemens will likely play in tonight’s matchup as Mark Barberio and Gabriel Bourque will be healthy scratches.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The Avalanche will take on the Buffalo Sabres at the Pepsi Center tonight at 7 pm MST before going on a four-game road swing.
2. Colorado will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning Thursday, Dec. 7 at 5:30 MST before heading for a 5:00 pm MST Saturday, Dec. 9 matchup against the Florida Panthers. The Avalanche will finish their road trip with back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Monday, Dec. 11, at 5 pm MST) and the Washington Capitals (Tuesday, Dec. 12 also at 5 pm MST). Yes, they lost a bet with the NHL schedulers. It’s the only explanation for another merciless week of competition and travel. On the bright side, there’s not a four or five-day break in there between games.
3. Coach Bednar continues to spin the player wheel, mixing defensive pairings and forward lines in order to find the right chemistry. Keep an eye on player usage and new players coming into the mix.
4. With Russia barred from the Olympics, there’s lots to be decided about which players will be able to participate and how other countries put together their teams. Also, there will likely be drama. It’s Russia. What else can one expect?
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