21 games down, 61 to go for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avalanche currently sit at 15-6 on the year, but it does feel like a tale of three seasons. They had the red-hot start, then a big dip in the middle, and now, they’re back rolling again. Overall, they sit atop the Central Division, and you’ll likely find them jockeying with Dallas for that top spot all year long.
Time for a special edition of Plus/Minus, as we check in on where things stand at the quarter mark of the year for Colorado.
+ Penalty Kill
As of today (11/29), the penalty kill sits at 88%, which is good for fourth in the league. On top of killing a large percentage of the penalties they’ve taken (which has been a lot), they’re also scoring while down a man. They’re tied for second in the NHL with five shorthanded goals. As they’ve only given up 10 powerplay goals this year, that means the PK has a goal differential of just -5. That’s terrific at this stage in the season.
We see what goes into it for practice. We see the games. What don’t we see? I asked Logan O’Connor that.
“Behind the scenes, there’s a lot that goes into it,” he told me. “Nolan Pratt does a great job with the video breaking things down, keying in on things that we should focus on. The pre-scout’s always huge, and makes a big difference. I think it’s everyone taking pride in what you do.”
I’ll have a big story (+ content) on Miles Wood tomorrow, whose been a nice new addition to the penalty kill.
It’s not that the powerplay has been bad. As of right now, it currently sits at 18th in the NHL with a conversion rate of 19.8%, and has scored in eight straight games. However, when you look at the amount of talent on the top unit, it’s fair to expect it to be a bit better. And I anticipate it will get better.
Because Nathan MacKinnon has ZERO goals with the man advantage. All 27 shots he’s sent towards the net have been stop by the opposition’s goaltender. That won’t continue for much longer. I expect this to be a top 10 unit by the end of the season.
Is he 100%? Is he not 100%?
At this point, does it even matter?
Makar has been, without a doubt, the MVP of the Avalanche through the first quarter of the season. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen have been racking up points, but they haven’t really been the dominant forces you’d expect. Makar would argue he hasn’t fully been dominant either, but he’s been in on a large percentage of the team’s offense, more than any other player in the NHL. He’s on pace for well over 100 points, and if he keeps up this scoring pace, he won’t even need a full season to hit triple digits.
– 2C Still A Question
After the last week, you probably feel a little bit better about Ryan Johansen going forward as the 2C. He’s scored some big goals, and has looked a little quicker. It’s fair to still have some concerns, though. After all, through 21 games, he doesn’t have an assist at even strength, and if you look at the ice-time, he’s not really being used as the 2C. I still think it’s a legitimate question whether or not Johansen is the right guy at 2C to help them win another Stanley Cup, and something to watch the rest of the season.
+ Depth Scoring
The Avalanche are starting to get production from everyone up and down their lineup. During this hot stretch recently, the bottom six is chipping in, and then you have a guy like Jonathan Drouin starting to find his game. With Artturi Lehkonen going down with a pretty significant injury, the team could have been forced into a panic move for a forward, but there’s been no need to panic. The depth has picked up the slack and done their part.
+ The Bottom Six
How can you not feel good about the bottom six of this team right now? Since being put together, the line of Miles Wood, Ross Colton, and Logan O’Connor has been consistently great, and with O’Connor moving up in the lineup, the Avalanche needed someone to take his spot on the fourth line. Joel Kiviranta has come up from the Colorado Eagles and been a perfect fit in the system, earning the trust of the staff immediately. Heck, even Kurtis MacDermid scored a game-winning goal lately.
There’s lots to like about the bottom of Colorado’s lineup.
I put this as a question mark, simply because I don’t know. Alexandar Georgiev started the season on a roll, but he has slumped for a large portion of the year. Over the last week, he looks like he’s gotten his game together, and is back on the upswing, but the team can’t really afford him to have extended dips in his play like that again.
Ivan Prosvetov has performed well when given the opportunity, but there’s still some question marks around him. The Avalanche just haven’t seen enough to feel completely confident in his abilities. We’ll learn a lot more about him in the next month, as the schedule gets a little tighter.
+ Valeri Nichushkin
Nichushkin’s success since becoming a father might inspire some of his teammates to take the dive into parenthood. If it can help his game, what could it do for others?!?
Okay, maybe not.
Joking aside, Nichushkin has looked like a different player since his daughter was born. He’s taken over the role on the powerplay in front of the net, and has looked like prime Gabriel Landeskog in the process. Even beyond scoring the goals, it looks like he’s got his skating back, and he’s been a bit of a workhorse lately. The Avalanche use him in all situations because he’s so effective all over the ice.
A healthy Nichushkin completely changes the complexion of this team.
– Bowen Byram
It hasn’t been all bad for Byram. He’s been put in a tough spot a large chunk of the year, having to play his off-side, something he’s still figuring out. The penalties, however, are an issue. He currently leads the NHL with 15 minor penalties. While Byram has taken penalties in the past, it hasn’t been anywhere near this rate, so I don’t expect it to continue all season long, but it’s something that needs to be cleaned up. Beyond the penalties, they will need a bit more from him, especially without Sam Girard in the lineup.
– Extended Absences With Unclear Return Dates
The Avalanche will be without Sam Girard for a while, and there’s really no telling when he will return. He’s going to take all the time he needs, as he should, but that leaves a hole on the blueline. Caleb Jones has been fantastic filling in, but the Avalanche would obviously prefer to have Girard in the lineup.
Up front, Lehkonen is back around the team, and out of the neck brace, but he still appears to be a ways away. He’s a big part of the top six for this team, but there’s just a lot of unknowns around when he’ll be able to return to the Avalanche lineup.