It’s been a season of turmoil early in the 2021-22 campaign for the Colorado Avalanche. Through the first quarter there has been multiple injuries to key players including a COVID-19 related absence as well as a suspension, losing streak and several lopsided losses. However after completing a quarter of their portion of the schedule the Avalanche sit in a playoff spot and are looking to threaten for better positioning.
Who has been the quarter season MVP?
Evan: I’m going to go down a different route for this one. I know people are going to say Cale Makar and Nazem Kadri, but I’m going to give a shout-out to Logan O’Connor. While he doesn’t get on the scoresheet every game, he is always the hardest working guy on the ice. Just a few games ago against the Montreal Canadiens, he was the one that set up the shorthanded goal simply by his rush down the ice. He is a great example of how hard work will get you success in this Avalanche squad.
Jackie: I’ll take the obvious answer with Makar. No slight to Kadri who had an incredible first 20 games getting into the top five of league scoring but Makar has been on another level. I personally witnessed it in the first game against Ottawa how he turned up his game with so much aggression and determination and scored twice right after the Sens tried to take control. Makar is already just two shy of his career high of 12 goals and if he can stay healthy the sky is the limit for him.
Luke: Kadri. It might be the low hanging fruit but he has been unreal to start this season. With 20 games played he leads the Avalanche in points, 30, assists, 21 and is tied for 2nd with 9 goals. In a year where I thought we might see a bit of a drop off him, Naz has shown up and just played. I’m not going to say the Avalanche won’t pony up for his services, but he has looked so good, he will likely play himself out of Colorado in the summer, which really is a bummer, because he brings an element this team lacks and needs in the top 6. If the rest of the team can find some consistency, this team show return to the powerhouse it was predicted to be.
Eddie: In Nathan MacKinnon’s extended absence to start the Mikko Rantanen was able to give the Avalanche a top liner to rely on. Rantanen currently sits at 10 goals and 11 assists through nineteen games so far this season and has shown his value for the Avalanche in more ways than just production. In games where Mikko hasn’t had an impact on the scoresheet he’s consistently provided for the Avalanche on the forecheck and in the defensive zone. His two way game has come a long way and is still severely under valued. In the games he did find his way on the scoresheet he did so in style, putting up some amazing goals and assists throughout November and potting three quality goals against the Nashville Predators for his third career hat trick. Now that his right hand, technically left hand, man is back look for Mikko to put up some insane numbers in the remaining three quarters of the season.
Who do the Avalanche still need more from?
Evan: I think the Avs simply need to get healthy. When healthy, this team will be successful. However, there are losses that hurt. Specifically, thinking back to the Toronto game was painful for the defense and Jonas Johansson. I think if the defense can get tightened up along with the constant improvement to Johansson and eventually Pavel Francouz when he is back, this team should go far and climb up the standings.
Jackie: Most of the team has had their share of ups and downs but they need a better consistent effort from their stars namely Nathan MacKinnon. I know the guy has had some tough circumstances with the lower body injury and also a Covid-19 positive test to begin the year and the 18 total points is nothing to complain about but he’s a ball of frustration right now and it’s leading to poor decisions with the puck. Though he just finally scored his first even strength goal and second on the season it really feels that MacKinnon is pressing to score and hopefully when he gets a few to hit the back of the net he will relax.
Luke: It’s really hard to point at one thing or one player considering they cant stay healthy and the line up continues to be influx. But one player that needs to step up is Andre Burakovsky. It’s a contract year, he has always out preformed in these years, but I don’t see that extra gear, extra effort he has shown. He has floated through games and looks a lot more like the player Washington moved on from that the player he was in his first couple of seasons with the Avs. For a guy with the potential to get paid a lot of money this offseason, he sure is playing like a guy who will be given another prove it type of contract to me.
Eddie: People will say MacKinnon or Burakovsky, but those guys have found ways to have an impact on the game when they’re not filling the net like we all would like. For me the big name that needs to step up is Samuel Girard. Sammy had a big regular season last year where he found himself finally getting the national recognition he deserved. Unfortunately for Girard after a pretty poor second round performance against the Vegas Golden Knights he hasn’t fully returned back to form. We’ve seen flashes of the elite two-way defensemen we saw in the 2021 season, but he’s been too inconsistent for my liking. Girard will have his games where he’s confident and knows he can spin all over any one who dares step to him, but he also has his games where he’s scared to use his body, which we know he can do effectively. Towards the end of November Girard slowly found a happy medium and is climbing his way back to becoming what he needs to be. Hopefully a consistent line mate will help him out.
What is the biggest challenge the Avalanche face moving forward?
Evan: The schedule is not in the Avs’s favor. After a light November, December is the complete opposite along with January. Along with this are several road trips for the Avs, they will be feeling the pressure and tired. Not only this, but now there have been several NHL teams that have cropped up with positive COVID-19 tests affecting their practice time and schedule. This is something the Avs need to be wary of before possibly heading to the Olympics in early February.
Jackie: Injuries are a ridiculous constant for this team and it seems like something they should just assume will continue to factor into their season. I would prefer to see better management of the bottom of the roster so that insufficient depth doesn’t hamstring this team’s potential. Departing on a five game road trip to the other side of the continent with Kurtis MacDermid as the only healthy extra player was asking for trouble, which came to fruition. Mikhail Maltsev, Martin Kaut and Sampo Ranta who have all been productive lately in Loveland should factor into improving the lineup. They should not just constantly get resigned to playing MacDermid because he’s the only healthy guy around.
Luke: Outside of injuries, a strange schedule, Covid-19, the biggest thing the Avs just need to do is get young players in the line up. Newhook and Byram look great. Now let’s gets Kaut & Maltsev up and back. The coaching staff needs to learn to add young players in and get them in positions to succeed. With the schedule becoming more normal, with games every other day, the consistency will help them. Tampa Bay has been the gold standard for justy bringing in young players and letting them play. That’s the model you need to follow. Its easier said than done, and some of these young guys have player really well in the AHL, but its time to graduate them full time to the big club to see what we have in them.
Eddie: From now until the end of time the Avalanche will seemingly have to deal with terrible injury luck, so there’s no use in mentioning that. I do agree with Luke though, the Avalanche need to start calling up players who will actually have an impact, rather than AHL veterans like Jayson Megna who’s most valuable trait is having no impact on the game either way. Guys like Mikhail Maltsev and Shane Bowers have earned opportunities with the big club. Bowers just returned from injury so he needs a bit more time in the minors to get him back into game shape, similar to Kaut who was just sent down after returning from injury. There’s no reason not to give Maltsev another shot with the Avalanche, he’s been producing with the Eagles and, outside of the Tampa Bay game, performed well in his time with the Avalanche. Maltsev will provide the type of production the fourth line needs and has solid defensive metrics.
How has their return to the Central division changed the Avalanche’s long term outlook?
Evan: The Central Division has been surprisingly competitive this year. Fans across the league were discussing how the Avs were going to run away with the division. Because of the slow start, they find themselves behind in the division right now. Despite playing one to three less games than anyone in the division, this makes any division game crucial coming up these next few weeks.
Jackie: A tightly contested division should continue on for the rest of the season. Thus far the Avalanche are 4-2 in division games which is a good pace to shoot for going forward. One area of concern is that the Avalanche have not been quite as strong on the road while finally achieving a winning record of 7-5-1 after securing the last two road victories but that pace will need to continue to improve before the heavier division portion of the schedule begins in January.
Luke: I don’t think its changed too much. Colorado should be the class of the division for a the majority of the next 5 years. Winnipeg, was my pick to win the division this year. I liked there top 9, Hellebuyck, and their defense upgrades but they have fallen from their hot start. Turns out there defense is still bad. St. Louis, again, hot start, cooled off and they signed that goalie for 5 more years? Woof. Chicago is meh, Dallas looks old, Arizona is on team Shane Wright and Conor Bedard (if they land those two players... look out!) and Minnesota is looking like they did last year, who the Avs man handled, but they still look good. While the Avs have not looked like the defensive power house yet, they are still primed to go in that direction. They have a stud in Byram, Newhook looks solid. Outside of Minnesota and maybe Winnipeg with prospects coming up, I still think the Avs are the bar setters in the Central. They also have 3 games in hand over most teams. Just don’t waste those points away.
Eddie: The division will be tough, but not quite as tough as it appears. The Jets are struggling to find consistent production from their top six, the Wild are riding the softest schedule in the league so far, the Blues have finally stopped being able to outscore their problems, and the Stars are just kinda there. As the Avalanche finally get back to being healthy they will be able to pull into first and start to assert their talent on the rest of the division. It won’t be a cake walk though. The Jets showed flashes of the team we all feared against Toronto this past weekend and the Stars, Blues, and Wild will always cause problems for the Avs, but I’m confident Colorado can beat all four of the teams I just listed. They have the ability to win the Central, now they just have to go out and do it.