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Twitter Tuesday: MacKinnon’s ‘struggles’; Francouz vs. Grubauer and team defense

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What forwards and which goaltender do you roll with once everyone is healthy?

Colorado Avalanche v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

Them boys hot! The Colorado Avalanche is coming off the busiest month in franchise history, playing 15 games in a shortened February month. The Avs are also the league’s hottest team heading into March, and have now won seven games in a row.

Colorado earned a record of 12-3-1 for 25 points in the standings, the most of any team since Feb. 1. Thanks in part to the emergence of goaltender Pavel Francouz as an apparent Vezina contender, the Avs allowed an NHL-low 30 goals and 1.88 average per game since Feb. 1.

Does he, or should he? Those are two different questions.

Just historically speaking, teams with injured No. 1 goalies tend to give their de facto top-guy every chance to assume their position as the team’s starting netminder once they return from their ailment. That said, Philipp Grubauer will likely retake his throne in between the pipes for Colorado. Although, that decision is probably getting increasingly harder on the Avs coaching staff.

Should he, however? In my opinion, no, I think Pavel Francouz has earned the right to continue riding the wave. I’ve been saying that for about a month now. While Grubauer went through a late January/early-February rough patch, he turned it back around and was playing lights out before his unfortunate mystery injury at the Stadium Series. Since then, Frankie has played incredibly over his last few starts — and he played incredibly before that.

Francouz is 19-5-3 and currently sits 2nd in the NHL with a .929 save percentage and 4th with a 2.24 goals-against average (minimum of 22 or more games played). Frankie is also one of the NHL’s hottest goalie in the past month. He’s 7-1-1 with an astounding .942 Sv% and an extremely-low 1.79 GAA.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it...

Do the Avs move on from Grubi? No, I don’t think so. And added bonus, he’ll be the guy the Avs likely expose in the upcoming NHL Seattle expansion draft. That is, if he doesn’t have some Vezina-finalist season next year and Joe decides to re-sign him.

Grubauer will be heading for free agency just a couple weeks after the expansion draft. That said, he’ll still be a member of the Avs organization until then, making him eligible to be exposed. The Avs, like every team in the league aside from Vegas, have to expose one goalie to Seattle and it makes sense that he’d be the one exposed. Again, unless he has some crazy season next year.

He did pretty good last night, eh? The Hutchinson trade was simply cheap insurance for the Avs while Grubauer is out. Although Huthinson is a below-.500 goaltender in the NHL, still, he’s started nearly 130 games in the National League. The other option is Colorado Eagles goalie Hunter Miska, who has all but stolen the starting job from Adam Werner in Loveland while he was out with injury and since he’s returned. Miska, however, has only played one game in the NHL.

Hutchinson is nothing more than a stop-gap for Colorado and he’s only owed $124,000 for the rest of the season. He was the cheapest, most serviceable option and I didn’t mind that move at all.

One of the things I’ll never understand about sports and fandom is how off and on a team’s supporters can be, even towards its franchise cornerstone players.

One Twitter user offered an atrocious freezing cold take on Nathan MacKinnon on Sunday and it was hilariously bad. He’s recently deleted the tweet in question after the entire Avs community went for his neck. The tweet read something along the lines of MacKinnon not being a good player because he hasn’t produced like he’s been known to do in the past and he’s not the top-line center you want to build a team around (lol). The irony is, the Twitter user that fired out that tweet has his Twitter banner as a picture of MacKinnon celebrating a goal — so I don’t know whose side he’s on.

Anyhow, to address your question, yes, MacKinnon hasn’t been the MacKinnon of old recently. To be fair, though, the Avalanche as a whole weren’t the offensive powerhouse last month that we’ve come to know and expect throughout the season. Colorado won games with its defense in February as opposed to its offense. The Avalanche allowed the fewest goals in the NHL and allowed the lowest average per game of any team during the month of February. The penalty kill also ranked 6th last month.

Meanwhile, the offense — which has inarguably been Colorado’s strong suit this season — took a nosedive. The Avs’ O scored just 41 goals last month, tied for 16th in the league and 5th in the Central Division. The Avalanche generated the 11th-fewest shots of any team last month, while the power play sat 20th.

BacK to MacK, he still led the Avs with 10 assists and 13 points in February. His three goals tied for the 3rd-most on the team last month. But let’s relax, MacKinnon’s 88 points on the year is still nearly double the next closest player on the team. He’s tied for the 6th-most goals in the NHL and the 5th-most points. MacKinnon is still on pace for his best season in the league, something to the tune of 42 goals and 67 assists for 109 points — all of which would be career highs for him.

I’d attribute his slump to the lack of Avs depth. Colorado has been without four of its top-five scoring forwards for much of the month and has had to take on more of a defensive shut-down game plan to win close games. With most of Colorado’s depth out with injury, teams are more easily able to key in on MacKinnon and shut him down. Which they’ve obviously been able to do with some success. And in MacKinnon’s struggles, the Avs have gained some depth scoring from some secondary sources, a la Colorado Eagles call-ups.

Look at it this way: The Avs’ best player and one of the best in the entire league isn’t producing for Colorado, yet they still had the best month of any team in the NHL and they’re finding ways to win. That’s saying a lot right there, and that’s very important this time of year/ heading into the playoffs.

Here’s how I’d roll with it:

Forwards

Gabe Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Mikko Rantanen

Andre BurakovskyNazem KadriJoonas Donskoi

Vlad Namestnikov — J.T. Compher — Val Nichushkin

Matt Calvert — P-E Bellemare — Tyson Jost

Matt Nieto

Vlad Kamenev

**Martin Kaut/ Logan O’Connor reassigned to AHL

I like these lines a lot, if I do say so myself. My only struggle is Tyson Jost and Matt Nieto. Which one stays in the starting 12 and who becomes the 13th forward? I’ve liked Jost’s game a lot recently and it’s clear his efforts have increased post-deadline. He knew he was on the hot seat, he spoke about it before the deadline day and I think he’s thanking his lucky stars he still has a spot on this roster. It’s been showing lately and he looks to be regaining some confidence. So I think you roll with the hot hand and keep Jost in, knowing you have a very serviceable and rested fill-in guy in Nieto if Jost starts slumping.

Just for fun, I also like the idea of an all-Russian line of Vlad-Vlad-Val. Or Triple V? Or the Flying Vs? We could have some fun with that one. But that won’t happen though.

GM Joe Sakic said last week after the trade deadline ended that all his injured players would return in the middle of this month/ third week of March. All will be back by the time playoffs begin.

Bonus Question:

Submitted via email from Paul Archer

Paul thought it might be fun to do an updated list of player nicknames, a feature that was ran on MHH a couple of seasons ago.

Here are a few:

Coach Bednar: Bedsy

Nathan MacKinnon: MacK; Mack Attack

Gabe Landeskog: Landy; The Viking; Captain Handsome

Mikko Rantanen: Rants; Moose; Bubble Butt

Andre Burakovsky: Burky

Joonas Donskoi: The Don, He shoots, he ‘skois; The Joonas Brother

Nazem Kadri: Naz; The Moose (his Leafs teammates called him Moose, so him in Rantanen might have to duke it out for the moniker)

Val Nichushkin: Nuke; Chu Chu Train

J.T. Compher: Jimothy Timothy; The Ginger; 1-800-Goals-Now

Tyson Jost: Josty; Trade Bait (kidding, but I’m looking at you Avs fans — you know who you are)

Matt Nieto: Nietsy; Long Beach Native

Mark Barberio: Barbs; Barbie; The ‘Stache; Freddie Mercury

Erik Johnson: EJ; The Condor; Toothless

Cale Makar: Calder Makar; Dude, where’s Makar?!

Ryan Graves: Gravy; The Gravy Train

Sam Girard: G; Sammy G; Opera

Nikita Zadorov: Z; Big Z; Zads; Zaddy Daddy

Philipp Grubauer: Grubi

Pavel Francouz: Frankie; Martin Kaut’s dad