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Twitter Tuesday: Nathan MacKinnon, top-line concerns and the Colorado Eagles

The Avalanche is 5-0, which is great!...but there are still some questions being asked

Dallas Stars v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

At the time of writing this, the Colorado Avalanche are off to a 5-0 start and remain the only undefeated team in the NHL two weeks into the seasons. At least for now, it appears all the pre-season hype and buzz surrounding this year’s team was all warranted. But still, there have been a few glaring issues, albeit minor.

Namely, we haven’t seen as much of the dominant quote-unquote “Best Line in Hockey” for the Landeskog — MacKinnon — Rantanen line like we have in recent years. And that’s really not a bad thing.

Nathan MacKinnon and top-line worries?

To answer this very bluntly and to-the-point: no.

While the top-line maybe hasn’t looked as overwhelmingly dominant during the early part of the season as maybe they have been, the MGM line — or individual members of it — has still accounted for two goals in each of the Avs’ first five games of the year. And looking at a breakdown of the stats by line combination, that top line is still far-and-away the biggest point-producing trio of anyone on Colorado’s offense.

Through five games, the Avalanche’s No. 1 line has produced eight goals and 23 points, adding 46 shots on goal. The next closest line, the second-line trio, has notched just six goals and 11 points with 31 shots on net.

So whether or not it looks or feels like that top-line is struggling, they’re really not, relatively speaking. I think they’re just a little less flashy this year and their usage has been a little lessened thanks to a much deeper Avs squad. The Avalanche is no longer just a one-line team like they have been in recent history, Colorado is much deeper now and is rolling through all four of its lines, meaning, less exposure for the MGM line. Less exposure is probably why if feels like they’ve been absent thus far.

On the same note of the above tweet and response, it’s not that MacKinnon’s performance isn’t as dominant, I just don’t think you’re noticing it as much as you’re used to.

While he hasn’t been scoring goals like we’ve come to know, MacK is quietly putting together a pretty respectable campaign. He currently sits tied with Cale Makar for the team lead in assists, and he’s second on the team with eight total points, one shy of his linemate Mikko Rantanen.

Whether you’ve noticed or not, MacKinnon has notched points in every single game so far this season. Believe it or not, MacKinnon is off to a better start this year than he was through five games last season. As a matter of fact, this is MacKinnon’s best five-game start in his NHL career(!).

As mentioned in the tweet, I see what you’re saying. Points aside, he hasn’t looked like the same MacKinnon so far. That is to say, we haven’t seen much of that jaw-dropping speed and puck-handling and his lightning quick release unleashed too many times this season. I’m sure he’ll return to this soon enough, after all, we are only five games into the regular season. I’ll stand by my pre-season prediction: MacKinnon will finish the season with 100-plus points for the first time in his career.

...And I don’t think he misses Tyson Barrie too much. As a friend off the ice, maybe. But Barrie’s production has been very adequately replaced with that of Cale Makar, who is well on his way to a Calder Trophy-winning season.

I think Locker room chemistry is a very important thing, if not maybe the most important thing, for a successful team to have. So I’d say it’s more underrated than overrated — in fact, it could never be overrated. There are a few guys in the Avs locker room, in my personal experience, that have stuck out as having a lot of fun and keeping things loose and light-hearted.

Tyson Jost, Nikita Zadorov and Mikko Rantanen. Honorable mention: JT Compher.

Those guys are always goofing around and love messing around with others and keeping it fun. Here are a few videos to summarize the Avalanche’s class clowns:

On the Colorado Eagles

Since the time of this tweet, the Eagles secured its first victory of the season, so actually the team is 1-2. But nonetheless, there has been a bit of a struggle so far.

The issue, stemming back to last season, seems to be special teams with the Eagles. Colorado finished the season dead-last in the AHL on power-play conversion percentage. The team cashed in on just 13.8 percent of their man-advantage opportunities and a league-low 40 goals while on the power play.

This season, it’s been much of the same to start the year. During the Eagles season-opener last week, the Stockton Heat gifted Colorado eight power-play opportunities and the Eagles failed to score on any of them. Since then, the team has gone 2-of-7 on the man advantage, to pull them to a middle-of-the-pack 13.3 percent on the PP.

I see their start as a minor blip. To be fair, it’s always a hard first few games of the season, especially considering the entirety of the team didn’t get the opportunity to practice more than a few times together before the season started. The Eagles are coming off a big come-from-behind victory over the Ontario Reign last weekend and will look to build off that momentum heading into another stretch of away games.

Not at all. I actually spoke to Eagles head coach Greg Cronin about this during training camp and he kind of insinuated it’s really up to the Avs front office to decide who plays big minutes down in Loveland:

“The core of what we’re doing here is developing players for the Avalanche, right? So they’re going to have players that they want [us] to focus on...I think when you have guys like (Shane) Bowers, (Martin) Kaut, (Logan) O’Connor and (Nick) Henry, you’re focusing on that group that are possibly NHL players down the road.”

So which players are playing the big minutes are exactly the players the Avalanche want playing in those big minutes, maybe not necessarily what Cronin may want on the ice at all times. Of course it really depends on the situation, but the Eagles best players are going to be the ones playing the most ice time, which usually corresponds to its higher draft picks and the guys the Avs office may be eyeing for a potential call-up.

Shane Bowers, hands down. He nearly made the roster out of his first training camp and that’s really a testament to how the Avalanche staff views him. He’s definitely a little more ahead of the curve than most guys on the Eagles. Bowers could get called up today and he’d probably hold his own against some NHL competition. I think next season, he’ll really get the chance to stay in the NHL. And I’d assume it’s between Bowers and A.J. Greer as the top-two guys that the Avs are eyeing as the call-up forwards incase of injury this season. I’d say Bowers may see some in the NHL this season.

Martin Kaut, however, needs some polishing still. He certainly looks like a more confident player this year but he’ll still need to work more on developing some NHL speed and thinking about the game at a higher level.

I’ll share a quote with you from coach Cronin about his thoughts on Kaut entering the season (taken from practice on Oct. 3):

“He just turned 20, he’s a young kid. He’s a great person, he’s very coachable, he’s very self-aware. He’s got to take those assets and he’s got to convert those into an identity on the ice, that’s going to be kind of a hybrid power-forward that going to go up and down the wall, generate scoring chances off the rush, and most importantly, build the cycle game into that. So if he does get called up to the NHL, he can be what I call a ‘lock-down cycle guy,’ like you’re not getting the puck off his stick and, therefore, his line is going to spend more time in the other team’s zone and eat time off the clock. You want that in a player like him. He’s not going to razzle-dazzle you or skill you to death but as he physically grows and matures mentally, he’s got to aspire to be that type of player.”

More questions? Hit me up on Twitter @0ffScottFree and I’ll see you next Tuesday!