When the Colorado Avalanche take the ice tomorrow night against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they will have a defensive core that has scored 33 of the 129 goals the team has scored this season.
Not surprisingly, Cale Makar has accounted for 14 of those goals. Followed by Devon Toews, Erik Johnson, and Bo Byram who each have five goals. Sam Girard has three and Jack Johnson has one.
The depth this Colorado Avalanche team has on defense is the difference-maker, I believe, in why this team is better than last year. Coach Jared Bednar is able to rotate players as things come up, such as injury, hot/cold players, and whatever else 2022 has to throw at this team. The top pairing of Makar and Toews is easily one of the best in the league. They both average 24 – 25 minutes on the ice while being able to contribute offensively. Right behind Makar and Toews are Erik Johnson and Byram, with Sam Girard also in their orbit. On several teams, Girard would be the best offensive defenseman on the roster.
Another key factor is the defensive guys aren’t taking penalties. They are playing smart hockey at avoiding the box. The seven defensemen as a whole, have taken 70 PIM, 26 of which are from Jack Johnson, who isn’t afraid of dropping the gloves and taking a fiver. Again, highlighting that top duo: Makar has taken three penalties and Toews has taken two thus far. With the penalty-kill struggling recently, it’s helpful that your top guys aren’t in the box when you need them out killing a penalty now and then.
Coach Bednar spoke after practice today about having Cale Makar on the penalty kill now.
“One thing I like about having those skilled guys on the penalty kill, is they understand exactly what the other team is trying to do because they are out there in similar situations for our team,” he said.
Right now, with how things are going, there doesn’t seem to be a weakness with this team. When the top line isn’t producing one night, the defensemen are jumping in and taking the shots.
A prime example of that was the Chicago game, when the defensemen accounted for three of the four goals. The offense wasn’t bad, it was just the shots from the point and the goal-of-the-year from a sure-fire Norris Trophy finalist that were going in. But that’s exactly what this team needs to make it far into the playoffs. Teams have to prepare for the defensive core just as much as they do as they offensive lines when it comes to a scoring threat.
The team has the perfect balance of youth and speed along with savvy veterans. Erik Johnson brings an element to this team that was missed last year, which was leadership on the back end. He may not score 30 goals like someone else on this team but he is so well respected in the locker room and on the ice. Teammates listen when he talks. While the Avs have the best defensive pair in Makar and Toews, they also have the best third pairing in Johnson and Johnson. Every night they just seem to be doing what is asked of them. They both have to experience and skill set to fill in if needed but the penalty kill and is right where they belong. Both have large bodies and aren’t scared to lay it out on the line to help the team.
“He brings a lot of energy to the team, he’s a great leader, he’s been around the league for a long time so you can learn a lot from him,” said Bowen Byram today after practice, about Erik Johnson. “The way he plays, he’s so steady, at both ends of the rink. Which is huge for us, having that veteran presence on a young back end.”
Speaking of stud defensemen, Byram got his first goal since returning from injury and I think it made everyone’s heart melt. It was good for him to play a solid game and get rewarded for it. Like Makar, the sky is the limit for Byram and he will be critical to this team’s success for the rest of the season and playoff time.
Luckily for all seven defensemen, if the injury bug happens to come around again, anyone and everyone are ready to jump in and help the team produce like they have all season long.