It has been a roller coaster week watching the Colorado Avalanche continue to battle for a playoff roster spot. Let’s review some of the highlights (and lowlights) with this week’s edition of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
1. The Colorado Avalanche continue to battle through injuries to stay relevant in the postseason discussions and currently occupy the final wild card spot. Their scoring consistently puts them near the top in the NHL. The Avs currently occupy fourth place in scoring, tied with the Boston Bruins, netting 131 goals so far this season. They also boast the best record against other Central Division teams as they own a 10-3-1 record against their division rivals.
2. The Avalanche called up defensemen Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov from the San Antonio Rampage, their AHL affiliate. Both 20 year olds represent the anticipated future for the defense of Colorado. With the injury to starting defenseman Erik Johnson and veteran defenseman Brad Stuart’s lingering back issues, the organization finally seized the opportunity to size up the value of their prospects.
3. And they played well! Bigras and Zadorov, both defenseman, played for the club the day after being called up from the Rampage and have skated in three games in five days. Chris Bigras, 20, entered on the third line with Zach Redmond and has averaged over 12 minutes of playing time per game. He also earned his first NHL point with an assist on Chris Wagner’s goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Zadorov, also 20, returned from his AHL stint to log over 17 minutes of ice time per game skating on the first line defensive pairing with veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin. Both young defenders are bringing quality effort to help the Avs press for a playoff berth.
4. Fourth line wing Jack Skille’s hustle has proven he was worthy of moving past his PTO signing and has earned his contract spot. He has been one of the more consistent offensive sparks in the past week.
5. Watching forward Andreas Martinsen knock down two New Jersey Devils behind their own net with one hit was a thing of beauty. In case you missed it, check out the video. Martinsen also ranks 24th among all NHL rookies in points. Considering he has only played 31 games in the big leagues this season, he deserves a little recognition.
6. Calvin Pickard showed why next year’s goaltender positions are in flux. He played well enough in his two games to inspire both Reto Berra and Semyon Varlamov to improve their own level play. He owns a .922 save percentage, tied with Berra and ahead of Varlamov. No wonder the front office projects big things for him.
7. Forward Matt Duchene notched his 22nd goal and currently ranks 17th in the NHL for points. Only Alexander Ovechkin has scored as many goals since the first of November.
8. This may have gotten lost in the frustration of the Avalanche’s recent struggles, but against the New Jersey Devils – a team fighting for their own playoff hopes – Colorado allowed only five shots on goal the entire first period.
9. When it came to killing penalties, the Avalanche brought out their “A” game this past week. They shut out down their opponents in twelve penalty kill situations, not allowing a single goal. They currently rank 15th among all NHL teams with an 80.5% success rate on the penalty kill. And despite going one for nine over the same time period, the team ranks seventh in the league on the power play. Special teams continue to improve.
10. Veteran Jarome Iginla now maintains sole possession of the 18th spot for career goals scored after recording his 602nd goal against the Winnipeg Jets off a sweet pass from forward Carl Soderberg and heads up play by fellow forward Alex Tanguay.
11. The Avalanche went into the game against the Winnipeg Jets leading all NHL teams in blocked shots with 781 shots blocked, over sixty more than the next closest team, the Calgary Flames. Francois Beauchemin leads all NHL defenseman with 143 blocked shots. If Colorado’s defensive scheme requires blocked shots to be effective, then the players appear to be answering the call.
12. Both defenseman Tyson Barrie and Francois Beauchemin deserve kudos. Barrie has accumulated thirty points this season so far, placing him 10th among other NHL defenseman while Beauchemin ranks 26th with 22 points.
1. The Avalanche remain at the 50 contract limit. When they hit their contract cap a couple of weeks ago, there was speculation about whether a trade was in the works. Maybe the front office moved precipitously. Maybe a trade fell through. But either way, their lives became more difficult as any move now requires them to work around the cap.
2. The crazy bounce goal that moved the Columbus Blue Jackets into a win over the Colorado with only a minute and seven seconds left in the game was just bad luck. While the Avs started slowly, they definitely improved in the second period and should have come out with at least one point.
3. Colorado could have used a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Watching them lose without scoring a goal hurt. They need to figure out a way to win against the Eastern Conference teams as they have a number of them yet on their schedule and the loss temporarily knocked them out of a wild card spot.
1. Can someone please buy forward Nathan MacKinnon a goal? He has done everything right but get the puck in the net. If he hits one more post, could he get a “courtesy” goal so he remembers what it feels like to score?
2. Playing without Erik Johnson seriously hamstrings the Avalanche. The other teams appear to have adjusted for his absence and are capitalizing on the holes in Colorado’s defensive scheme. Hopefully this kind of ugly won’t last too much longer.
3. The Winnipeg Jets managed to do something unseen this season; they managed to send Martinsen flying. The size of the Jets helped. But some of those hits were brutal. And ugly.
WHAT TO WATCH
1. Keep an eye on how Coach Patrick Roy uses newcomers Bigras and Zadorov. The two 20 year olds have an opportunity to earn a more lasting spot on the roster and watching how the coach positions them may give a clue as to their future with the team. If Johnson comes back, which defenseman (men?) will stay and which will go?
2. Many are keeping their fingers crossed for Erik Johnson to return from injury sooner rather than later. Could this be the week?
3. The Avalanche face an interesting schedule as they continue to battle to move up the playoff rankings. They face Buffalo – and former team members Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn – Wednesday night, which should provoke some sparks. Then Colorado plays division foes the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. Both games offer the potential for a four point swing in the standings. The road doesn’t get easier but the Avs are developing some much needed grit to go with their resilience.