Avalanche: Three Things We Learned From the Last Week
Times are, once again, good for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche went a perfect 4-0 on the week, and did most of it without their number one defenseman in Cale Makar. They went from being a few points out of a playoff spot to now being one point away from catching the Minnesota Wild in the division.
Here are a few things we learned in the past week.
Valeri Nichushkin’s Value to the Team
We kind of already had an idea on how important Nichushkin is, but it became fairly obvious this last week.
With Nichushkin in the lineup, the Avalanche are a very different team. He adds something at both ends of the ice that simply cannot be replaced. He’s an incredible back checker, a solid penalty killer, chips in a lot offensively, and makes life difficult for opposing goaltenders. When Nichushkin is on the ice, the puck is more likely to be in the offensive zone than not.
The thing is, he still doesn’t look like himself. The burst isn’t quite there yet. At one point against Seattle, he tried to cut wide and get to the net, but couldn’t quite get all the way around. Hopefully that part comes, but just having him out there changes the dynamic of the team.
With the big man playing, the Avalanche are 14-3-2, including eight straight wins.
Kind of a valuable guy to have a round.
Mental Resets Work
Starter Alexandar Georgiev got three games off to rest himself after starting 12 straight games.
The break wasn’t just meant to give him a break physically, but to let him reset mentally. And it appears to have worked.
In his two games this week, he stopped 62 of the 64 shots he faced on his way to winning both of those matchups. He had to be better against Calgary, who pushed real hard in the second and third period, but he was up to the task. Pavel Francouz started in the other two victories, showing that Darryl Sutter might be on to something.
As he’s proven time and time again, Jared Bednar knows what buttons to push with his players. The rest with Georgiev worked.
The Powerplay Has It’s Mojo Back
The return of Nichushkin meant the Avalanche, at least for one game, had the top powerplay unit they started the season with together again. Makar’s injury complicated that later in the week, but the unit kept rolling.
In the four victories, the powerplay scored five goals, and capitalized on 45% of their opportunities. The two man advantages against the Vancouver more or less won them the games. Without Makar, they went with a five forward unit when up by two men, and it worked both times.
The powerplay went through a real rough patch after Christmas, but seems to have come out of their funk right when the team really needed it. Even the second unit got in on the action with a nice goal against Detroit. I can’t remember the last time the second unit scored before the Compher goal last Monday.
The powerplay kept the team afloat in October, and once Makar comes back, should be a unit that makes other teams pay for their mistakes.