The Colorado Avalanche launched into the new season with all the energy of a wild roller coaster, full of chills, thrills, combined with moments of sheer panic offset by sheer joy. In a word, the first week of Avalanche hockey has been – fun. It’s been awhile since Avalanche fans got to watch fun hockey, but it looks promising. Of course, there’s already plenty to break down in this week’s Good, Bad and Ugly. But first, let’s cover the player movement carousel.
PLAYER MOVEMENT – PART TWO
The Avalanche made a number of last-minute moves to reach their 23 player roster limit, some more surprising than others. Last Tuesday, Oct. 3, the Avalanche sent the following players down to San Antonio – defensemen Duncan Siemens, David Warsofsky, Anton Lindholm and forward Gabriel Bourque. Goaltender Joe Cannata ended up with the Colorado Eagles, the Avalanche’s ECHL affiliate. Left wing A. J. Greer and defenseman Sergei Boikov were placed on injured reserve. In a surprise move, the Avalanche claimed former Dallas Stars defenseman Patrik Nemeth from the waiver wire.
Prior to the Avalanche’s first game on Thursday, Oct. 5, news broke that forward Joe Colborne was placed on waivers (he cleared and is now playing for the San Antonio Rampage), and that defenseman Nikita Zadorov and center Carl Soderberg would be scratched for the season opener, opening a spot for newly acquired defenseman Patrik Nemeth to play on the opening night roster.
On October 6, defenseman Anton Lindholm was recalled from San Antonio.
There will be plenty of commentary on the player movement in the following Good, Bad and Ugly sections, but suffice it to say, all the last-minute changes raised red flags. Big flaming red flags.
1. The Colorado Avalanche have not allowed a single even-strength goal against. That’s worth repeating. Over three games, the Avalanche have kept their opponents shut out at even strength. Who saw that one coming? No one.
2. Colorado goaltending proved outstanding over the three games. Semyon Varlamov not only rediscovered his prior impressive form, he’s returned with a fire. Over his two starts, he ranks third among NHL goaltenders in save percentage (.971) and goals-against average (1.00). While Jonathan Bernier has only a .897 save percentage, it’s important to remember all four goals came on the special teams when they were having a disastrous day. Bernier made highlight reel saves, repeatedly, and is the primary reason the team wasn’t buried by the New Jersey Devils. Both goaltenders played sharp, responsible games, and showed flashes of brilliance.
3. The Avalanche won two of three road games for their opening week, earning four points. That’s already 8.3% of last season’s total points. Woohoo!
4. Defenseman Erik Johnson logged an average of 26:14 minutes in ice time over three games, leading the team in time on ice. In addition to becoming the team’s iron man, he also drew praises from head coach Jared Bednar in all three post-game press conferences, no mean feat. Johnson deserves credit for stepping into his leadership role on defense, earning a much deserved (and overdue) ‘A’ on his jersey, and leading by example. It’s about time the team had that kind of defensive leader. Stick taps all around.
5. Hats off to the pro scouts who thought defenseman Patrik Nemeth would be a good addition to the team. It looked like a bad move, but Nemeth has proven to be a quality addition, logging the third most minutes among the defensive corps, fifth overall, and played responsible hockey. One example of his quality play – during the Boston Bruins matchup, he got knocked down in the Avalanche’s corner, had a Bruin all over him, kept the puck and eventually passed it out of harm’s way. A far cry from last year, when it would have likely ended up in their own crease.
6. 14 different Avalanche players have earned a point over the three-game road stretch. Only two NHL teams have a more diverse scoring group – the Chicago Blackhawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs – and both of those teams scored twice as many goals as Colorado. A healthy offense requires scoring from the entire lineup and the Avalanche are off to a good start. On a team featuring five rookies on the roster, that’s pretty good company to be challenging. The youth movement looks good so far.
7. There were rumors Carl Soderberg was not happy about being a healthy scratch for the season opener. Maybe Bednar knew what he was doing. Soderberg played in the two subsequent games and notched the lone goal against the New Jersey Devils and an assist against the Bruins. Two points in two games. Considering he only tallied 14 points all of last year, one has to wonder, perhaps the Avalanche need more of angry Soderberg. Perhaps he should be called the Dread Pirate Carl.
8. Newly acquired forward Nail Yakupov looks like the value add to the team. With two goals and an assist, he leads the team in goals (2) and is tied with Matt Duchene for points (3). In fact, the Yakupov-Duchene-Alexander Kerfoot line leads the team in combined points with seven, followed by the Sven Andrighetto–Nathan MacKinnon–Mikko Rantanen line with six.
9. Again, plus/minus is not the most reliable statistic, however, it’s worth noting that two Avalanche defenseman – Johnson and Nemeth – have a +5 rating, and no one on the team is below a zero. For a team that had players in the negative 20’s and 30’s, it’s one more indicator the team may be improving.
10. Colorado currently ranks 10th among NHL teams in goals scored per game with an average of 3.0 and are tied for fourth-fewest goals allowed per game at a 2.0. It’s refreshing to be on the plus side of those numbers. It’s been awhile.
1. The game against the New Jersey Devils looked like the team needed some coffee, or chocolate covered espresso beans or something. They gave up four goals on special teams, three when the Avalanche were on the penalty kill and one on the power play. The team played abysmally with the man advantage in the third period, looking at least a player short. They weren’t just bad, they were stinky bad. The good news? The team worked on their special teams the next day and actually spent nearly a full two minutes in the offensive zone in their lone power play situation against the Bruins. The improvement was remarkable. Someone earned a gift basket, the good kind, with unhealthy snacks and alcohol.
2. Forward Matt Nieto managed to get three penalties in the season opener. He ended up benched for the following two games. While the officiating has been uneven so far, Nieto earned his calls. For a fast guy, he ended up out of position and forced to use his stick, getting him in trouble with slashing calls and putting the team in a hole. While the Avalanche pulled out the win, they are definitely going to need Nieto to step up. Good for Bednar for benching him, bad on Nieto for earning it.
1. The officiating is off to a rough start. The Avalanche rank eighth among all teams for penalties. Which wouldn’t be a problem IF the team earned all of them and their opponents didn’t. However, one only needs to look at the penalty assessed Erik Johnson on the Devils’ Kyle Palmieri hit to see the discrepancy. Palmieri was actually the player who initiated contact with his knee, Johnson turned his knee in to avoid a collision and led with his shoulder. No linesman raised an arm or whistled until after they saw Palmieri leave the ice limping. So Johnson served a penalty because of an injury? When did that rule get added? It sure wasn’t around when Duchene was cartwheeled last year. It may be time to start a fundraise for gift baskets for the officials if this first week is any indicator. Ugly.
2. Bednar scratched defenseman Nikita Zadorov for the season opener. For a guy who was a key piece of the Ryan O’Reilly trade, and a contender for one of the better defenders, it looked bad. Having newcomer Andrei Mironov – who can hardly speak any English – start instead, looked worse. Fortunately, Nikita Zadorov played in the following two games. Unfortunately for Mironov, he’s been the scratch. The silver lining? Zadorov played well and currently ranks sixth on the team in ice time and earned an assist. Only the team may know what happened there but while it was ugly, if the goal was to motivate Zadorov, it seemed to have worked.
3. The Colorado Avalanche, who last year led the league in faceoff wins, are now dead last, winning only 38.4% of their faceoffs. It’s not just ugly, it’s monster movie ugly. It’s Godzilla vs. Mothra ugly and the Avalanche are Japan. But since the team is winning, and they stunk last year, maybe it’s more of a Godzilla and Godzuki ugly, where the Avalanche are riding the monster to victory? Maybe? It’s worth considering.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. The Colorado Avalanche host their home opener Wednesday night at the Pepsi
Center at 7:30 pm MST facing off opposite the Boston Bruins, again.
2. The Avalanche will continue their home stand Friday night at 7 pm MST at the can against the Anaheim Ducks.
3. Colorado takes it act on the road against the Dallas Stars for a Saturday 6 pm MST game.
4. Today, in a surprise to no one, the Colorado Eagles and the Colorado Avalanche announced the Eagles will be joining the AHL next year as the Avalanche affiliate.
5. The defensive pairings have been shuffling throughout the last three games. Will Bednar settle on final pairings? Watch the next three tilts to find out, as the fun continues with the Avalanche carousel of players on ‘As the Skates Burn’.
Stay tuned for more roller coaster fun as the Avalanche propel themselves into the new season!