We are truly in the stretch run of the NHL season, and the Colorado Avalanche are climbing the standings, once again. With each passing day, we get closer and closer to the most wonderful time of the year.
No, not Christmas.
Playoff hockey time.
The Avalanche have only 14 games remaining until the start of the playoffs. This season, in particular, has felt long. Coming off a Stanley Cup playoff run, it’s been tough to get up for 82 regular season games. I think the Avalanche have felt that way too. But ever since they lost to Chicago back in January, they’ve been on a roll, winning 20 of 28 games. The team isn’t perfect, and they still have some pretty big injuries they’re dealing with, but they’re as dangerous as any team in the Western Conference.
With that said, here are five thoughts I have about the Avalanche heading down the stretch into their final regular season games.
Is Denis Malgin for Real?
From November to January, the Avalanche were desperate for somebody, anybody, to score in the bottom six. I liked what I saw from Malgin after he was acquired, but nothing was going in for him. Then, he got hurt.
He returned late in January, and it was more of the same. Solid play with the puck, created some chances, but nothing was finding the net.
Then, something clicked, and he’s been chipping in consistently for a month now on the scoresheet. It’s not like he’s doing much differently, it’s just that the puck has started going in. Not all soft goals, either. We’re talking some real nice goals.
Now, he’s not perfect. He has his warts defensively, and tends to hold onto the puck a little too long, but he’s got a lot of skill. He’s fantastic at gaining the zone with possession, and in his 29 games, the Avalanche are controlling 56% of the shot attempts with him on the ice. That’s higher than any other forward on the team.
Is he a top six player? No. But he’s a restricted free agent this summer, and only making $750,000. The Avalanche might have found a cheap player they can keep around to fill out the roster next year, and one who could realistically chip in come playoff time. Who saw that coming when the trade was made back in December?
Managing Alexandar Georgiev’s Workload
Georgiev has truly been a revelation this year. I think even his biggest supporters might not have seen this coming. Not only has he been very consistent all year long, but he’s done it with a bigger workload than most people expected, including the team.
The Avalanche planned on Georgiev being their starter when they traded for him, but they also planned on Pavel Francouz being there to lighten the workload for him. That has barely been the case since Christmas. Georgiev has already started 50 games, and with 14 games remaining, there’s a realistic chance he hits the 60 game mark. Coming into the season with a career high of 34 games played, that’s a big jump. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but you don’t want to run him into the ground before the playoffs start.
Now, the good news is that Pavel Francouz has finally started skating again. The last time he started skating after returning from injury, it took about two weeks for him to get back to playing games. If that’s the case again, it’ll give the Avalanche a chance to give Georgiev some much needed nights off heading into the playoffs, because he’ll be starting every game from that point on, unless something unexpected happens.
For the most part, the Avalanche have done a good job of winning the games they’re supposed to of late. Dating back to the Jan. 26 loss to Anaheim, they’ve beaten all nine non-playoff teams they’ve faced. And down the stretch, they’re going to see a lot of bad teams.
In the next 9 days, they’ll play Arizona twice, Chicago, and Anaheim. In April, they play San Jose twice, Anaheim again, and close out the season against Nashville. Why do people think there’s a realistic shot at them winning the Central Division? Look no further than their easy schedule.
…Except for Three Games
There are, however, three big games I’ve got circled on the schedule down the stretch.
March 29 – Minnesota at home
April 1 – Dallas at home
April 8 – Los Angeles on the road
Why these three games? Well, the Wild and Dallas are two teams they could realistic play a month from now when round one starts. They’ve had no issues with the Wild this year, winning both meetings, but it’s still an important game on the schedule for the standings. With Dallas, the Avalanche won the first two meetings before getting stomped a few weeks back in Dallas. Like the Wild game, it’s another game that could impact the standings in a huge way.
And why the Kings? I may be in the minority on this, but the Kings team, if they get goaltending, scares me in the playoffs. They can lock it down with guys like Kopitar and Danault patrolling the middle of the ice, but they’ve gotten terrible goaltending all year long. I’m not convinced Korpisalo is that guy, but he’s been playing well for them so far. And the Avalanche have lost both meetings to the Kings this year. The April 8th game is sandwiched between playing the other two awful California teams, so they’ll have get up for that one.
Gabriel Landeskog Watch Intensifies
With less than a month until the playoffs start, Landeskog watch is only going to get more intense. Obviously, there are other important injuries that we don’t know much about (Josh Manson), but Landeskog’s situation will be the one everyone has their eye on.
As of this Monday, it will have been one month since he started skating again in Denver. He’s made progress, but he still doesn’t look like a guy who will be stepping into the lineup anytime soon.
From what I’ve heard, the Avalanche, as of this moment, are not expecting Landeskog to be in the lineup for game one of the playoffs. Now, nothing has been ruled out, and no final decisions have been made, but things would have to really progress for him to get there. And it’s not impossible for him to make that progress either, because this whole situation has not gone the way anyone has expected it to.
I think when the Avalanche say they really don’t know, they mean it. The original prognosis from his October procedure was 12 weeks. He didn’t even return to Denver until a full month after those 12 weeks had already passed. Heck, in January, Pierre Lebrun said the Avalanche were hoping to have Landeskog back by mid-March. Clearly, that didn’t happen. That’s why they’ve pretty much given up on timelines.
If he returns, that’s great, but as of right now, they aren’t expecting it for game one of the postseason. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen or that he won’t return at all this year, but this is a guy who hasn’t played this season. All expectations have to be thrown out the window at this point. They just have to see the progress on the ice and with the rehab. Clearly they want Landeskog back, but can they depend on it? I don’t see how they could with how everything has gone.