(Due to technical issues at the site, Tuesday's article couldn't be posted until today and does not reflect any information from the Nashville game. Likewise, all statistical information is based on numbers as of Tuesday morning.)
The rollicking roller coaster ride with the Colorado Avalanche continued into the second full week of NHL hockey, chock full of thrills, chills and gut-wrenching moments. Between injuries, controversial officiating, and mostly on again but sometimes off again play of the youth, the Avalanche proved to be worthy of some notice.
1. The Colorado Avalanche went 2-1 in the past week, showcasing a tenacity missing from last year’s crew and proving resilient in the face of adversity. This team is a lot more fun to watch, except when they’re not, like in the first two periods in Dallas. But even then, the Avalanche came out in the third and proved a tough team to put away. They are making opponents work for every point. Who could ask for more?
2. Congratulations to defenseman Nikita Zadorov who netted his first goal for Colorado in the Friday night matchup against the Anaheim Ducks! He’s earned a stick tap, or two.
3. Don’t look now but Colorado’s youth movement has pushed the Avalanche to 14th in NHL scoring, averaging 3.17 goals per game. That’s a huge improvement from last year’s last-place ranking when they averaged a meager 2.01 goals per game. They also rank sixth in shots on goal, averaging 31.5 shots per game.
4. Despite all the hand-wringing over the Avalanche’s defense, the team currently ranks third in fewest average goals allowed at 2.17. Last year? Colorado allowed the highest average goals per game, at 3.37. Also, Patrik Nemeth is tied for third-best plus/minus for defensemen at a +7 (no one on the team is in negative numbers). But let the national media keep singing the same old song about how the team hasn’t changed from last season. They obviously aren’t paying attention.
5. Colorado currently resides tied for the second spot in the Central Division, only one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks. They have also won four of their first five games for only the fourth time in their history. The Avalanche are embracing the role of the underdog and running with it. Any idea where to get an Underdog jersey? There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!
6. Goaltending continues to be one of the team’s strong suits. Semyon Varlamov is fourth in save percentage (.944) and ninth in average goals against (1.76) while Jonathan Bernier is 13th in average goals against (2.52) and 21st in save percentage (.912).
7. Defenseman Erik Johnson continues to earn his ‘A’. He is fourth among all NHL players in highest ice time, averaging 26:28 minutes per game. He’s also tied for fourth place among defensemen in plus/minus with a plus 6. That’s a plus, people. Two weeks in a row. Some people may need smelling salts.
8. Forwards Matt Duchene and Sven Andrighetto lead the team in goals and points, with three goals and three assists apiece for six points, averaging a point per game. Nail Yakupov comes in a close second with three goals and two assists for five points, tied with Tyson Barrie’s five points off of two goals and three assists.
9. Overall, the team continues to get scoring from all over the roster, with 14 players getting a point in the last three games. In the first two weeks, 16 different players have notched a mark on the score sheet. More, please!
10. Special teams continue to evolve. While the power play improved, moving up to 22nd in the league, the penalty kill saw the most dramatic upgrade from last week, moving from successfully killing only 64.3% of their penalties the first week to only allowing two scores on 12 opportunities for an 83.3% success rate this past week. Is there room for progress? Yes. Are they improving? Yes. When was the last time anyone could say Colorado’s special teams were getting better? Do memories go back that far?
11. J.T. Compher leads all rookies with face-off wins, winning 30 of the 58 he’s taken so far, putting him at a 51.7% success rate. He’s also taken the second highest number of face-offs of all rookies. Of all Avalanche players, only Matt Duchene has a higher win rate on face-offs (for players with 10 or more chances), and only Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon have taken more face-offs than Compher. Pretty impressive start for a guy who isn’t getting a lot of attention – yet.
12. While Colorado’s cumulative face-off wins only crept up to 45.3% for the season, the team actually won 50.4% of their face-offs this past week, a dramatic increase over last week’s dismal 38.4%. Throw out the rearview mirror people! Last year is toast.
13. The Avalanche lead the league with five empty-net goals out of six matchups. Keep it up! Empty net goals mean other teams are trying to catch up to Colorado at the end of the game. So, more, please!
1. The game against the Anaheim Ducks actually proved to be the LEAST penalized game of Colorado’s last three matchups. Yep, you read that correctly. The 10 penalties assessed in one of the more physical games of the new season was the least penalized of the week. 12 were assessed against the Dallas Stars and the Boston home opener saw 13 infractions allotted to both teams. That’s a lot of penalties. Bad.
2. Nathan MacKinnon failed to score a single goal since the start of the regular season even though he’s notched four assists. The Avalanche need MacKinnon to kick it up a notch. Granted, he suffered a pretty concerning eye injury against the Ducks (more on that later) which kept him out of the final two periods of the Ducks contest. But MacKinnon, like the Avalanche team as a whole, has a lot to prove this year. While he’s elevated his two-way play and has four assists, a player of his caliber needs to actually be getting the puck in the net.
3. The injury bug looks like the Avalanche’s biggest opponent right now and that’s bad. Tyson Jost crashed into the boards against the Bruins and limped off the ice, missing the next two games. Nathan MacKinnon took a stick to the eye in the first period of the Ducks matchup, scaring everyone. Mikko Rantanen and Sven Andrighetto also were injured in that game but returned to the ice later in the contest. Andrighetto may have also suffered a lingering injury as he missed part of Saturday’s game against the Dallas Stars.
Finally, Patrik Nemeth reportedly flew back to Denver to treat a shoulder injury he incurred against the Stars and is out indefinitely (Ed. note:He's now returned!). Five players injured, six games played. The Avalanche are fortunate to have some of these players back on the ice but are they really healthy? It’s hockey, so it’s unlikely the public will ever know. However, it’s obvious the team could use some Icy Hot, bandages, and a case of Aspirin. Or two. Or three. Hopefully, the injury bug has left the building.
1. It’s time to ramp up the gift baskets for the officiating crew again this year. Why did the Duck’s Derek Grant receive NO penalty for the high stick under MacKinnon’s visor? Someone mentioned there was no intent but penalties aren’t assessed on intent. They are assessed on infractions. The NHL made a big deal about cutting down on sticks to the head. So how could that not have gotten a call?
Also, where was the suspension for McQuaid’s hit on Tyson Jost? How about the two goals waived off in the Ducks game? The inconsistency on how the rules applied undermine all the lip service the NHL is giving to player safety and the professionalism of the sport. The NHL needs to consistently enforce the rulebook, regardless of team or player, or they risk heading down the slippery slope that leads to the spectacle of WWE. That would be taking “ugly” to a new level. Until then, perhaps gift baskets with gift cards to optometrists?
2. For a brief moment at the end of the second period in the game against the Ducks, it looked like the Avalanche were going to be missing their entire forward first line of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Andrighetto due to injury. Ugly because of the injuries and ugly because of the remaining three forward lines would have needed to pick up the missing ice time. Colorado came very close to testing the limits of coach Bednar’s preseason conditioning program. As it is, the team finished the contest battered and bruised, but with the victory.
3. Zadorov stepped up and delivered two good kinds of ugly this past week. First, when he dropped the gloves with Boston Bruin Adam McQuaid after McQuaid’s cheap hit on Tyson Jost (which sent Jost sliding into the boards feet first and left him trying to crawl off the ice). The second, against the Anaheim Ducks, occurred when he neatly sidestepped a check from an oncoming Duck sending fellow Duck Derek Grant cartwheeling – Grant - of the slash to MacKinnon’s eye - Grant. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Zadorov finished his smart play by scoring an empty net goal on the Ducks to finish them off as time wound down. Zadorov continues to evolve into the kind of defenseman other teams want to avoid. He’s the kind of ‘ugly’ the Avalanche need.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. Colorado returns home Thursday, Oct. 19th to host the St. Louis Blues at 7 pm MT.
2. After the Blues game, the Avalanche will have a much needed four-day break between contests. Keep an eye on injury updates and player movement as the team monitors how players are recovering from all the bumps and bruises.
3. Rumors surround whether the Avalanche may be adding to their analytics staff and/or changing some of their front office. How much actually happens remains to be seen but BSN will continue to cover all the breaking Avalanche news as it happens.