Avalanche at The Halfway Point: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Colorado Avalanche hit the halfway point of their season with their complete destruction of the Ottawa Senators.
Unfortunately, the rest of the season has not gone as smoothly.
The Avalanche currently sit six points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. They do have games in hand, including four on the Edmonton Oilers, but points haven’t come easy of late for the team. They also sit seven points back of the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division.
Needless to say, there’s work to be done in the second half of the season.
Let’s take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the first half of the season.
The Dominance of Mikko Rantanen
The fact that Mikko Rantanen did not get selected for the All-Star game is a travesty.
Yes, Cale Makar is a superstar, but one player has carried the Avalanche through the first 41 games, and that’s been Rantanen.
With 29 on the season, he’s responsible for 23.77% of the teams goals. He’s played center and wing, and is now carrying his own line to spread out the offense. When Nathan MacKinnon was out of the lineup, he was the only forward other teams really had to game-plan for, and they still couldn’t stop him.
He shouldn’t just be at the All-Star game, but in the Hart Trophy conversation around the league.
He’s absolutely the MVP of the Avalanche.
Goaltending for the Avalanche is always a point of discussion, especially after the decisions they made in the summer.
Instead of re-signing Darcy Kuemper, they went out and targeted Alexandar Georgiev. The Bulgarian net minder had fallen out of favor in New York, and wanted a fresh start.
He’s gotten that in Colorado.
His numbers have taken a dip of late, but Georgiev has been a solid addition in Colorado, and has adjusted quickly under Jussi Parkkila’s tutelage. Pavel Francouz, when healthy, has been his usual steady self.
Both goalies sit in the top 10 at even strength save percentage for goalies that have played over 400 minutes.
Goaltending has not been the issue.
The Avalanche waited out the free agent market this summer, and found a gem in early September.
Rodrigues has come in and been an immediate fit, picking up 21 points in 30 games, and on pace for his best season in the NHL. The 29 year old has fit in on every line he’s been put on, playing both wing and center and playing in all situations.
Of late, he’s found chemistry with Nathan MacKinnon, and the two look like they’ve played together for years. That chemistry has allowed the Avalanche to move Rantanen down to the second line, spreading things out a bit more.
Rodrigues has been perfect in Colorado, and now the question is: Will they be able to re-sign him?
Cale Makar leads the NHL in time on ice per game by over a minute. Devon Toews sits fifth.
Mikko Rantanen leads all forwards in time on ice per game. MacKinnon sits third, and Lehkonen fifth.
The injuries (which we will get too) to guys like Gabriel Landeksog, Bowen Byram, Josh Manson, and Valeri Nichushkin have led to the Avalanche relying on their big guns a ton.
The mental fatigue has started to show of late, and the concern is the physical fatigue appearing later in the year. Coming off a grueling postseason run, will these players hold up for the playoff push? We’ll find out.
The Penalty Kill
There’s plenty of season left to turn it around, but the penalty kill, which was not great last year, has taken a step back this season.
The PK currently sits 21st in the NHL with a 75.6% success rate. That’s 4.1% below where it was last regular season, and 4.8% below what they did in the playoffs.
The Avalanche are one of the best defensive teams in the NHL at even strength, having allowed only 68 goals, good for third in the NHL. The penalty kill is where teams are getting back into games, and that’s something that will have to get cleaned up in the second half.
It’s not just the injuries that are frustrating, because injuries are going to happen in a game like hockey, especially lingering things after a long playoff run.
It’s the timelines and setbacks that make it all the more frustrating.
Landeskog missing the start of the season shouldn’t have surprised anyone. He was toughing it out in the playoffs, and that doesn’t just recover overnight. But he ended up needing a procedure on his knee that was supposed to take him out another 12 weeks. Those 12 weeks came and went, and now he’s still not close, not skating, and not with the team.
Nichushkin had surgery himself after the playoffs, missed most of camp, but was ready for the start of the year. That didn’t last long, and he left the lineup soon after. When he came back in December, he didn’t look the same, and once again shut things down. He’s skating once again, but until he’s in the lineup for an extended period of time, no one will know if he’s going to make it through the year.
Darren Helm is another guy who had summer surgery, skated through camp, and then needed another surgery. He worked his way back into the lineup, and after just five games, is out again with the same injury he was dealing with before.
Both Bowen Byram and Josh Manson have been out much longer than anticipated, and while they are skating, are apparently “not close”. Then you have other guys who have missed time like MacKinnon, Rodrigues, and Lehkonen.
It’s been a tough year with the injuries, but the injury issues have been compounded because…
No Production From Call-Ups/Waiver Pickups
Every team suffers injuries, and every team has to use call-ups.
The Colorado Avalanche have gotten little to no production from their call-ups, and that is killing the team. Depth has clearly been an issue, putting all the pressure on the stars of the team to carry the squad.
The forwards the Avalanche have called up have only chipped in with four points. FOUR. Three of those belong to Martin Kaut, with the other belonging to Ben Meyers. The other ten forwards they have used have chipped in zero points. Nothing. Nada.
Andreas Englund and Brad Hunt have actually been pretty solid on the backend, and Hunt has chipped in some points of late, but it’s the forwards that are hurting the team.
On top of the call-ups struggling, the team picked up Dryden Hunt off waivers and got no production from him. He was traded for Denis Malgin, who looked solid, but was injured before he could really do anything.
Compounding all of this is Logan O’Connor being in the middle of a massive slump, having not scored a goal since the start of November.
If this team had gotten just a little bit of production from some of the extras they’ve had to use, they would be in a much better position than they currently are.