With some unexpected time off it’s time to reflect on the first 11 games of the Colorado Avalanche season and to look ahead when play hopefully resumes soon.
What has been your greatest surprise and disappointment on the Avalanche 2021 season thus far?
Daniel W: Looking deeper into the first 11 games of the season, there is more to be excited about than disappointment. With that being said, my biggest surprise so far this season is how well Grubi is playing and the poise that Bo Byram is playing with this early in his professional career. It is truly refreshing to see the fruits of the Duchene trade really showing themselves in a great light. On the other hand, the injuries have been the most disappointing thing I've noticed thus far. After the playoffs last year, I was hoping to see the squad compete at full health and see what we are truly made of. Our depth is getting tested and I am not upset at their contributions, but man the injury bug seems to find a way back no matter what.
Jackie: I am most pleasantly surprised with how well the penalty kill has performed. As I write this the Avalanche have the top unit in the league with a 89.7% kill rate and have only given up four goals against on the man disadvantage. Also with the addition of Tyson Jost and both Sam Girard and Cale Makar to the unit has brought a new found spark of energy, mobility and puck skill which has helped improve the penalty kill’s success as well.
Of course the injuries and now this COVID-19 forced break have been very frustrating and I’m sure every single fan feels the same way. However what has really bothered me is how despite the injuries creating opportunity neither Martin Kaut nor Shane Bowers are the beneficiary. While the story on the season is far from over both should have been in a first call up type situation in order to prepare them for expanded roles by the playoffs and into next season. Every time the can gets kicked down the road just makes it a greater hurdle to overcome.
Evan: I think the biggest surprise was Bo Byram getting into the squad this early in the season. I figured he would be featured later on with injuries occurring, but he came in right after the Avs dealt Ian Cole. Not only that, but how well he’s done so far. He is a wonderful skater, already jumping into the play, and basically looking like a second-coming of Cale Makar. I really hoped he would have gotten his first goal before the shutdown of team activities but he is only getting better.
The biggest disappointment besides this current cancellation I’d say was the way the Avs came out of the gate. Of course, expectations were high and being at .500 after six games was definitely something we didn’t see coming, but the Avs have rebounded since then.
Tom: I was surprised by Devon Toews. I knew he was good and that he was one of the more underrated players in the NHL but I didn’t know he was THIS good. Before getting hurt, Toews was regularly leading the team in TOI and had already become the workhorse every great team needs. He and Makar have been the best defensive pair in the NHL so far this season.
As for disappointments, how irresponsible the NHL has been when it comes to protecting their players. There’s only so much the league can do to protect them from COVID but the NHL isn’t even doing the bare minimum. They let the Sabres and Devils play just hours after receiving a positive test from a New Jersey player. That resulted in an outbreak for both teams. A similar situation resulted in the Wild and Avalanche having games postponed. That’s flat out irresponsible. The NHL needs to be better.
Patrick: Surprise? That the Avalanche lost games to Anaheim and Los Angeles? All kidding aside, the biggest shock from my perspective are the special teams and defense. While I think all pundits believed the Avalanche power play would be lethal, I don’t think anyone saw the Avalanche leading the league on the penalty kill and ranking number two in goals against per game. While Grubauer has been fantastic and that certainly helps, each member of the defensive corps deserves praise for keeping the sight-lines clear for our goaltenders and controlling play in the opponent’s zone.
While it’s really early in the season to be calling anything truly disappointing, I reserve a little disappointment for how slow Nazem Kadri started the season. After the playoff bubble last season, where Kadri was lighting up the lamp regularly, for his line to be defensively weak and not scoring through the first couple of weeks of the season does register as a mild disappointment. I don’t think this will last, both he and Brandon Saad were much improved last week and show signs of shaking off that slow start and becoming one of the top second lines in the league.
What are your thoughts on the new look two-game series schedule and divisional play?
Daniel W: I have enjoyed watching the series and divisional play so far, however it is a bummer to think that the only teams we will be facing this season until later in the playoffs are going to be the same from here on out. I am not complaining about hockey being back by any means, but I traditionally love watching the Avs head to TD Garden in Boston and beating the Bruins early in the year to set the tone for the year. The Honda West division has been tight so far, hoping it stays that way for a while!
Evan: It has set the tone for the season for sure. It will create new rivalries and renew old ones with every game being in the division. However, it is what has haltered the Avs season up to now after contradicting the virus from the four game stretch vs. Minnesota. Besides the West, the North division has been spectacular and is stellar for all the Canadian teams and fans up North. It will be interesting to see the NHL season post-pandemic, with rumblings of teams wanting to schedule baseball-like games against the same team in the same town for upcoming seasons.
Jackie: I like the two game series although they tend to end up in a split between the teams. Playing four games against the same team however maybe not such a great idea with how the Wild series ended in an outbreak. It is nice to have some predictability in the schedule and matchups but that could be thrown out the window now.
Patrick: It reminds me of baseball and I think will cause records to move towards .500 for all teams. With teams getting to see each other two nights in a row, only the strongest teams will be able to regularly take both halves of a back-to-back. This will benefit Colorado this season and could lead to even more intense, close playoff battles the last week of the season. I wouldn’t be upset to see it adopted for regular seasons going forward to cut back on some of the travel for west coast teams though.
With roughly 20 percent of the season completed who is your early 2021 season MVP, for the Avalanche or otherwise?
Daniel W: Crazy to think 20 percent of the season is finished already! I have been keeping track of the league as a whole as much as I can, a few players have stood out early on to me. I can't deny that Connor McDavid is looking otherworldly alongside his teammate Leon Draisaitl. those two seemed destined to win a couple MVPs over the course of their careers. I also would be inclined to add Cale Makar to the mix, maybe not as a league MVP, but this could be the first of many seasons he makes a run an a Norris Trophy. Can Grubauer win a Vezina Trophy this season while we are at it???
Evan: For the Avalanche, it has to be Cale Makar and Grubauer. Makar continues to shine, although only having one goal on the season. Regardless, he has been up in the play, jumping at chances, and assisting left-right-and-center for his forwards up to now. Grubauer has simply stood on his head as of late and could be a dark horse for the Vezina later on in the season if he keeps up this form.
League-wide, while I hate to say this, Connor McDavid continues to be McDavid and run through the North Division and looks set to compete for league MVP once again. Look at the goal he scored a few days back against the Maple Leafs; it was absolutely spectacular.
Jackie: My Avalanche MVP is Mikko Rantanen. It is tough to leave out Nathan MacKinnon, Philipp Grubauer and Cale Makar who have all performed very well thus far. However, Rantanen has been remarkably consistent and impactful on a night to night basis. Rantanen leads the team with seven goals in seven of the 11 games played and has contributed 40 shots on goal. As far as the league, it’s too soon to say especially because each division is isolated and does not play the same competition.
Tom: For me, the Avs MVP has been Cale Makar and it’s not particularly close. Not only has Makar been the team’s best player but so far, he’s been the best defensman in the entire NHL. We all knew he’d be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate but I’m not sure we expected it to be this quickly.
Patrick: I’m having trouble splitting my decision between Makar, Grubauer and a much improved Samuel Girard. While Makar has been the best defender and Grubauer looks to have risen to the level of “elite”, it’s the much improved physicality added to the already incredible skating of Girard that’s impressed me the most. I don’t think you could go wrong picking any of the three, but it’s got to be Makar at this point, right?
What are you looking forward to the most when the Avalanche season resumes?
Daniel W: Once this season resumes, I am looking forward to seeing how well our young guys and depth play as the season progresses. Kiefer Sherwood and Logan O’Connor have been solid players who have chipped in and made a difference recently so I hope they can continue to add that last layer of depth that will be so valuable heading into the postseason. GO AVS GO!
Jackie: I’m almost near irrationally excited to see the debut of the Quebec Nordiques inspired reverse retro jerseys at the outdoor event in Lake Tahoe. Hard to believe that is just two weeks away and will be a welcome reward for the fans after having to endure this pause.
I also look forward to watching Byram on the ice every night. Seeing such a highly touted prospect I have spent a lot of time watching since his draft year in 2019 finally ascend to the highest level is such a treat and also knowing he will only get better as his career unfolds.
Evan: I’m just looking forward to the Avs being back. It will be exciting to see the Avs in their Reverse Retros for the first time in Lake Tahoe, of course if things all go well with the Avs recovery. Having not even been alive during the Nordiques era, it will be interesting to me personally seeing both clubs meshed together on the ice in a scenic backdrop. I will also be looking forward to guys returning from injury, like MacKinnon, Toews, EJ, and more. If the Avs can compete now with a depleted squad, it will be scary once everyone is healthy again.
Tom: Selfishly, I’m looking forward to getting my fantasy team back. In by main (keeper ) league, I have MacKinnon, Makar, Kadri, Burakovsky, Saad and Grubauer. I need the Avs to stay on the ice.
Patrick: Reverse Retro night (especially if Adidas/Fanatics decide to re-stock so I can finally purchase one) and the continued dominance of Nathan MacKinnon. Sure, McDavid might technically be more gifted and yeah, Draisaitl scores more points, but is there a player that’s more exciting and takes over games like MacKinnon? There isn’t a more electric combination of skill, speed, strength and desire in the league and I can’t wait to watch him carve up rinks in the Honda West division once again.