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Five Thoughts With Five Days Left in the Avalanche Regular Season



Rantanen All-Star avalanche

It’s been a long season, Colorado Avalanche fans, but we’ve almost made it. A week from today, the NHL playoffs will begin, and there’s no better time than the first round of the postseason. Multiple games every night, sometimes going into the early morning with long overtimes. I’m biased, but the mountain timezone is the best for sports, because the games will start at 5 PM and go through the night.

For the Avalanche, they have three games left. It would have only been two, but that water main break in Nashville in November has messed with the schedule a bit.

With all that said, the regular season ends for the Avalanche (and the NHL) on Friday. Some final thoughts before we hit the playoffs.

MacKinnon and Rantanen Approaching Sakic and Forsberg?

Nathan MacKinnon was named the first star of the week on Monday after picking up 10 points in four games last week. It was really 10 points in three games, because he was held off the scoresheet against Los Angeles.

The season he is currently having will go down as one of the best in Avalanche history. If we’re just looking at points-per-game, he’ll sit at the top for anyone whose played a full season.

On the flip side, you have Mikko Rantanen, who hit 50 goals and 100 points last week as well. The two of them are the first duo in Avalanche history to hit 100 points in the same season since Sakic and Forsberg in 95/96. So at what point do we start putting them in the same category as those two?

With MacKinnon, this is now year six of him being an elite player in the league. He’s got one Stanley Cup under his belt, and a lot of people feel he should have gotten a Hart Trophy as well (Taylor Hall stole one from him, in my opinion). I, personally, am nearing the point of putting him in the same category with the two best forwards in Avalanche history. This is not some short burst of dominance. We’re over half a decade into this, and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon. And we’re not just talking regular season dominance. His playoff numbers are up there with the best of all-time.

I’d be interested in hearing what others think. It’s a touchy subject comparing a current player to Hall of Famers.

With Rantanen, he’s a step below all three of them for me, but is the best winger to ever play for the Avalanche. A few more 40-50 goal seasons may change my mind on whether or not he belongs with the other three.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t ever take guys like this for granted. The Avalanche were lucky to have the likes of Sakic and Forsberg for years, and they’ve hit the jackpot again.

Should Their Be Concern Over Makar?

Cale Makar did not play on the road trip at all due to a new lower-body injury. Should there be concern over this?

I don’t think so.

My feeling all along was that this was just a situation where the Avalanche are trying to make sure he’s healthy for the playoffs, or as healthy as he can be. He had the lower-body injury a few weeks back, then came back. He left the Dallas game for a little bit and returned, but missed a few practices. Do the Avalanche want home-ice advantage in the playoffs? Absolutely, but if Makar is hurt, none of that will really matter. You can beat the San Jose’s and Anaheim’s of the world without him, but a seven game series against a good team? That’s a lot tougher.

It’s more important that he gets healthy.

The Playoff Blueline

I’m not sure there’s any player who takes more heat from fans than Sam Girard. I get people commenting to me all the time that he needs to be benched in the playoffs.

I give that about a .000001% chance of happening, assuming the defense is healthy. Do people really want to see a MacDermid or Hunt in that spot?

Is Girard prone to getting beat in front of the net? Absolutely. And he’s been prone to the big mistake in general the last few years. But he’s a massive part of the teams transition game, and the coaching staff has a ton of trust in him. He’s having a career year offensively, and most of that production has come in 2023. I struggle to find any scenario where he is scratched in the playoffs for something that isn’t related to an injury.

The greater concern is the health of Josh Manson. I have no concerns on Lehkonen returning for (or before) the playoffs, but Manson? I’m not so sure right now. Jack Johnson has been pretty strong, but this defense with Manson is about as balanced as it can possibly be. You have a righty and a lefty on each pairing, and you can pair a big, physical defenseman with more of a puck-mover on the second and third pair. Without Manson, that can’t happen. That’s something to monitor in the last week.

Road Confidence

The Avalanche lost one game on the road on their way to the Stanley Cup last year, and right now, only Boston has more road wins than them. This team just knows how to play away from Ball Arena, and that’s deadly come playoff time.

The Avalanche 100% want home-ice in the playoffs because that’s what every team wants. There are benefits to it. You get to control the matchups, and in the playoffs especially, the crowd is buzzing. You can feed off that.

But their ability to play away from their home rink has to be terrifying for opposing teams. The Avalanche have a better record on the road than any Western Conference team does at home. That’s a weapon.

The Deadline Pickups

It’s clear the Avalanche are still trying to figure out where the fit is for Lars Eller. A little concerning heading into the final week of the season.

I don’t think it has really worked between Logan O’Connor and Andrew Cogliano, but if Darren Helm isn’t going to make it back, will they keep forcing it? The last two games of the trip, he played with Newhook and Meyers, and I liked him more there, but I don’t expect that to stick, especially with Lehkonen returning. Bednar has said repeatedly they think he has more offense to give, but his production in Colorado has been slightly worse than it was in Washington this season. Eller still provides value even if he’s not scoring, but the trade was made for him to be the third-line center. He’s been a good playoff performer in the past, so maybe he picks it up when the games matter more.

Jack Johnson has provided exactly what they expected, so that one has turned out to be a win. I still think they needed to add one more defenseman for depth.

Matt Nieto has been up and down, but he’s a trusted player for the staff and will help with their willingness to play the fourth line in the postseason. He was acquired for nothing, so that helps. I should have a Merkley film room coming soon. He’s a frustrating player to watch, to put it mildly.

Denis Malgin has been, without a doubt, the biggest surprise in the second half of 2023. They got him for essentially nothing, and with the goal production of Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor drying up, he’s been crucial to the teams success. A big win for the pro scouts, and maybe the best trade MacFarland made this year. Who saw that coming?

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