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Morning Flurries: Reality sets in for Avalanche despite good news in sight

It may be time for MacKinnon’s return, but there’s nothing easy about this stretch for the Avalanche

NHL: All Star Game-Skills Competition Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche were the league’s hottest team through January - and man, was it ever a fun ride.

After the league’s worst season in years, Colorado fans that stuck around were heartily rewarded with a ten-game win streak, given a promising stretch of games after losing Semyon Varlamov to start out 2018.

Once the starter returned, though, the team began to fall back to earth.

With their 6-1 loss on Friday to the Winnipeg Jets, the Avalanche have now been blown out twice in the last week alone, dropping to two points out of the Wild Card race in a white-hot Western Conference battle. [Mile High Hockey]

Make no mistake - this isn’t to pin anything on Varlamov. He and Jonathan Bernier, who put up one of the best performances in the NHL during the team’s winning stretch, have been splitting their starts. Neither of them has been overly impressive; Bernier may be struggling slightly more, if anything, but Varlamov hasn’t been particularly impressive either.

The team’s demise has not-so-surprisingly coincided with the absence of Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon, and the scores have shown that in spades. They’ve struggled to score, and even their shutout win earlier this week saw a 44-shot effort by the opposition that likely would have been a completely different story if the opposing team wasn’t the Montreal Canadiens (who, based on the last few games I’ve seen, can’t seem to stop a beach ball).

It’s been disappointing watching the team fall back to earth, no doubt.

There’s good news ahead, though - Nathan MacKinnon is expected to be returning, which should provide a huge boost to the team’s overall talent level. [MHH]

If he manages to get the team going again, what should the strategy be for the next few weeks? That becomes the question; if he’s able to push them back into playoff contention, would a short-term loan with little to give up be worth it? [MHH]

Speaking of contention, let’s talk about just how good the Denver Pioneers have been this year (again). Here’s a look at what to expect from the NCAA team coming up this weekend. [MHH]

Meanwhile, overseas, we need to spend a brief moment talking about Nathan Chen:

Maybe you aren’t into figure skating. That’s perfectly okay.

As fans of professional sports - and as fans of one that is played on the same blades of steel that figure skaters use for their own craft - we should all be able to appreciate just what Nathan Chen’s SIX quadruple jumps mean in terms of skill, strength, and sheer athleticism. I’m actually dizzy just watching this.

In Calgary, one of the summer’s biggest pending free agents just went off the market - and everyone is jealous of the deal. Check out Mikael Backlund’s new contract for the Flames. [Matchsticks and Gasoline]

Finally, to ease us back into me writing too much for a morning link dump, here’s an awesome story on how hockey gear can still price a lot of women out of falling in love with playing the game.

InGoal Magazine has been following J Aisha Thorne for the last few months as she takes the plunge to become a goaltender at the ripe old age of 40; she’s a rookie in the sport despite being older than most of her coaches, trainers, and fellow newbies.

Her journey has been incredibly fun to follow, but this particular piece struck a huge chord in me when she first sent me a message whilst writing it.

I’ll be perfectly honest; I’ve never thought much about how much gear can really price people out of hockey. It’s expensive, and I know it is - new gear isn’t something I can ever really swing for myself anymore - but I’m 5-foot-6 and change, 135 lbs, and broad-shouldered for a girl with no real curves to speak of. I’m currently wearing hand-me-downs from one of the ASU men’s coaches because all of his old stuff fits me perfectly.

Talking to Thorne about her piece, I realized that for the average US woman, hockey gear is... not just occasionally expensive, it’s always expensive, because custom gear (which is what the average US woman, dimensionally, will need to wear in order to play - not the outlier obese US woman, but the average one) is DAMNED pricey. And they really have no other option.

Worth a read, because a lot of us forget that playing hockey really is a privilege that only some of us get: