The 2023-24 version of the Colorado Avalanche are a confusing bunch.
On Sunday night, they officially lost the lead in the Central Division for the first time in a little while, as the Winnipeg Jets moved into first place with a win over the Anaheim Ducks. The Central is now getting even tighter at the top, with the top five teams all within six points of each other.
If you watch the Avalanche one week, you might catch them in the middle of a hot streak where they’re running right through teams. A week later, they might look like a completely different team, and not in a good way. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what this team is.
Over in Finland, Artturi Lehkonen’s father, Ismo Lehkonen, gave his opinion on what he’s seen so far from the Avalanche.
For what it’s worth, he’s very qualified to speak on the matter. He played professional hockey in Finland for several years, and after his playing career was over, he moved into coaching, where he coached for nearly three decades.
The translations are never perfect, so I don’t want to include direct quotes, but just his general thoughts, because it’s a very interesting perspective.
Lehkonen believes the current team lacks an identity at the moment. They strive to play like the Stanley Cup team, but the execution isn’t there. One other thing he thinks they’re lacking, which hasn’t been an issue in previous years, is speed.
Lehkonen mentioned that the team is struggling with that, and when things don’t work, they get a little confused about why they can’t play the type of hockey they’ve come accustomed to playing in recent years.
On the subject of some of the new additions, he said that there still adjustments to be made, and the coaching staff is struggling with how to balance the lines. When it came to Ryan Johansen, Lehkonen said he is still a good choice to be second line center, and trusts him. He noted that his best hockey came when he was flanked by Artturi Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin early in the year, and those are the types of players he needs to play with. Right now, that’s obviously can’t happen with no Lehkonen around.
When it came to Mikko Rantanen, he stated that he didn’t have a very good summer, perhaps needing a mental break from hockey. Rantanen was one of only four players to play all 82 games last year for the Avalanche, as well as the seven game playoff run, and quite frankly, he carried the team on his back a good chunk of the year. After the long playoff run the year before, needing a break makes sense to me. It’s been a tough go of late for him, though.
As for what he thinks the team should do next, it’s pretty simple – focus on defense. Start trying to win low-scoring games to get things back on track, something the team did a little bit of last season to turn things around. He also notes that as far as he knows, there is a clear plan from management to strengthen the team. The salary cap might make that difficult, though.
One player they can’t replace is Gabriel Landeskog, who they really miss. Lehkonen notes that the absence of the Captain is very visible, as he’s the type of player that everyone follows. Landeskog returned to Denver this week, but isn’t expected back during the regular season.
Anyways, those are some of Ismo Lehkonen’s thoughts. Again, you can read it here with the help of a translator. I thought it was an interesting perspective to pass along.