With a big win Monday night in Toronto, and very winnable games upcoming against the Kings and Senators, there is good reason to believe the Colorado Avalanche can push out of the slump they’ve been in for the last month.
The 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs was only the second in Colorado’s previous 11 games. It’s been a tough run that has seen the Avalanche fall down the standings, though they still hold on to the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
The team has been playing a lot better lately, but they’ve been a victim of bad luck - and bad goaltending. Things are bound to regress back to luckier ways eventually. The return of three veterans should help to stabilize things as well.
On Saturday night in Montreal, we saw both Colin Wilson and Mark Barberio return to the lineup while Nikita Zadorov made an impactful return last night. All three of these players should be regulars in the Avalanche lineup - despite what some think of Barberio - bringing stability and strength to a lineup that hasn’t seen much of either this season.
The addition of Wilson to the forward group has already paid dividends as he looked great with his new linemates against Toronto. Playing with Carl Soderberg and J.T. Compher on the newly formed second line, Wilson made a big impact in the team’s latest victory. After outworking both Nikita Zaitsev and Travis Dermott behind Toronto’s net, Wilson set up the game winning goal midway through the third period.
He only had one secondary assist in the game, but Wilson’s speed and aggressive forecheck were the catalyst for a line that looks like they could do some damage together going forward.
While Wilson’s return is important, it’s the health of Zadorov and Barberio that will likely have a bigger impact on an Avalanche team that will be looking for consistency more than anything else.
Monday night marked the first time in a long while that the Avalanche were able to ice their six best defenders in the same game. Zadorov and Barberio give the team a high-end third pair as well as two defenders that can help out on the penalty kill - as long as Zadorov stays out of the box.
Zadorov made his presence felt Monday night, and despite taking a couple of unfortunate penalties, he was a net positive for the team. Zadorov is able to disrupt an opponent's cycle down low the way no other Avalanche defender can, and as long as they’re not trying to do too much, both he and Barberio can contribute to the team’s breakout and transition game the way Patrik Nemeth simply can’t. Add to that the fact that only Tyson Barrie has a better rate of breaking up an opponents rush and Zadorov’s addition to the lineup is an unquestionable upgrade.
Mark Barberio’s contribution might not be as obvious. A polarizing defender, Barberio is one that doesn’t always endear himself to those watching the team. That said, he clearly has a fan in head coach Jared Bednar, and as long as he’s healthy, we should see Barberio in the lineup ahead of Nemeth on most nights.
While Nemeth has the size and physicality that some fans like to see in a defender, Barberio has been a better player over their time with the Avalanche - in all three zones. He breaks up the opposition’s rush at a much higher rate, but more importantly, Barberio is one of the best Avalanche players when it comes to starting the breakout from their own zone.
None of the three players returning to the lineup will have the kind of major impact to make or break the Avalanche's season, but the three veterans should combine to help stabilize a roster that needs to quiet the critics.
With 36 games remaining in the season, the Avalanche still have a ton of time to establish themselves as a legitimate threat in a Central Division that has been a lot weaker than most had anticipated.
Despite their record over the past five weeks, this team has the potential to put up a good fight in the playoffs and now that their veterans are healthy, we should see some much more consistent results.