Going into last season, the biggest issue facing the Colorado Avalanche was a lack of depth on the blue line. After a few waiver moves and an incredibly impressive trade, Joe Sakic was able to fill that need to the point the the blueline is a strength of this season’s team.
Now a year later, the biggest concern for Jared Bednar and the Avalanche is trying to find a legitimate second line to play behind Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. The season is less than a week old, but it looks like they might have found it.
Through the first two games of the year - and during the preseason - the trio of Alex Kerfoot, Tyson Jost and Colin Wilson has looked like the perfect compliment to the Big-3.
When playing at even strength, no line has been nearly as effective - at either end of the ice - that Kerfoot, Jost and Wilson.
Through two games (I know, I know) the line has an ES CF/60 of 87.49 - that is a shot-generation rate nearly twice as high as the MacKinnon line. Add to that, the fact that the line has a team leading corsi-against rate, and you’ve got a group that has been performing better than any Avalanche line - at both ends of the ice.
To a certain extent, these numbers don’t mean a lot when we’re talking about such a small sample size. What they do mean is that the second line has been by far the best on the team through the first two games. Something the coaching staff needed to see in order to build confidence.
While Kerfoot and Wilson are the two that have been on the score sheet, Tyson Jost has looked great centering this line. He is winning faceoffs, generating offense and limiting chances against. He doesn’t have a shot on net yet this season, but that’s mostly due to bad luck. No Avalanche forward has had more of their shots blocked (5) than Jost.
Jost is also playing a couple extra shifts at 5v5 than his linemates each game. Showing that the coaching staff has a building sense of confidence in the second-year center. The fact that he’s getting time on the top powerplay unit as well is a great sign that Bednar sees Jost as a player he needs trust in most situations.
While Jost has been good, Alex Kerfoot is the one driving possession on the line. He’s been the team’s best forward when it comes to zone entries and it’s a great sign that he appears willing to shoot the puck more than in his rookie season.
Recent history suggests that the Jost-Kerfoot combination is a pair more than this is a full line. Colin Wilson has been riding with them early in the season, but we’re likely to see others rotate through that second spot on the wing. Vladislav Kamenev, Matt Calvert and a healthy Sven Andrighetto are all guys we’re likely to see on the line with Jost and Kerfoot as the year progresses.
For now, Wilson has been the perfect compliment for the sophomore duo, but we definitely shouldn’t count on health and consistency from the 28-year old.
What makes a great second line is the ability to excel against lesser opponents. The MacKinnon line is going to draw the toughest matchups every night. That leaves the Jost/Kerfoot line to compete against inferior competition.
When you play teams with depth like Nashville or Winnipeg, the drop-off from the first to second defensive pair isn’t significant enough to exploit a lesser matchup. Other nights - like against the Flyers - you’re going to line up against Andrew MacDonald and Christian Folin. Those are the nights you have to exploit the matchup. Last year they weren’t able to capitalize on it. So far this season it’s been a different story.
The same goes for forward matchups. On Saturday night, the second line spent most of the game lining up against Philadelphia’s group of Jakub Voracek, Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindbolm - and the Avs trio was flat out dominant. Colin Wilson led all forwards in the game with an even strength shot attempt +/- of +7 while Kerfoot and Jost were just behind him at +6. The Avs’ second unit was impressive in every facet of the game, and it showed on the score sheet.
They’re generating shots, driving possession and limiting the play of good players on the opposing team. Now all they have to do is be consistent with it as the season goes on.
Of course, it’s incredibly early in the season, but this line already looks a lot better than any secondary line did at any point last season. It’s a great sign, and if they can continue to build on the early success with the puck, it’s just a matter of time before they start producing at a rate expected from a high-end second line.