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MHH Roundtable: Halfway to playoffs

What has impressed us most so far this season?

Minnesota Wild v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

With 29 games in the books the Colorado Avalanche have officially passed the halfway point in the 2021 NHL season which is a good time to take the temperature of the team.

The Avalanche are currently 8-1-1 in their last ten games, which aspects of their performance has been the most impressive?

Patrick: I can’t believe it’s already the halfway mark. The season is absolutely flying by! As far as the last ten games have gone, the shot suppression has been incredible. I know a handful of games against the Kings can make any defense look better, but going back nearly 20 games without allowing 30 shots on goal is ridiculous.

Evan: The resilience of the team has been remarkable as of late. With injuries to key guys, guys like Val Nichushkin and Tyson Jost stepped up and earned some wins. Similarly to Patrick, the team defense has been outstanding. The first thing that comes to mind for the Avs is a high flying offense, not a shut-down defense. The Avs have both on their side, which will only help them in the future.

Jackie: The way that the team has found an identity and they continue to play their style even when faced with adversity. Also how Bednar has coached each player to make the most of their strengths and fits them into his system is also an impressive feat.

Daniel: Halfway through so far I am happy to be where we are at. The start & first third of the season seemed to be a bit of a let down based on expectations for the team. This was partly due to the injury bug once again finding its way into the locker room, also the COVID pause that slowed down the pace of the season out the gate. However, recently this team is on another level. I am most impressed at Phillipp Grubauer’s play in net. We all know what it means to have excellent goaltending, and to watch him night in and night out flat out shut teams down (with help from top level defense) has been a treat. This team knows what they have to offer, and it seems they are finally putting the pieces together for a big run.

That said, the Avalanche are still climbing the standings. What challenges have this unique season and new look West Division thrown their way?

Patrick: Playing the same teams over and over has resulted in more “extra-curriculars” than I’m used to seeing Colorado involved in. Between Dan Renouf, Matt Calvert and that one really unfortunate Dennis Gilbert tussle, the Avalanche have been engaging in a fair bit of fisticuffs in 2021.

Evan: Injuries have continued to be an issue, but seems even more so this season. The Avs are without their usual backup in Pavel Francouz, leaving Grubauer to spend most nights on duty in net. Playing the same seven teams each week has been difficult as well, as every night is a division night. The standings constantly change, which makes things even more crucial this season.

Jackie: The division tends toward more defensive games and the Anaheim Ducks have posed the most problems oddly enough for the Avalanche. What has helped recently is getting sweeps in two-game sets against teams which makes a big impact in moving up the standings. They need to keep that momentum going to challenge Vegas for the division crown.

Daniel: From a logical perspective, the lack of fans at most games and seeing the same teams over and over again would be difficult for any professional athlete to get used to. Add the factor of COVID protocol at home and at the rink day after day, this unique season already has made things tougher. Perhaps the game planning is also changing this season, as teams know who and what to expect from their division opponents and that can help and hurt a team trying to break away from other teams in the standings. Overall, the Avs have done a great job managing the season so far under all the new circumstances.

Success has certainly been a team effort but who is your half-season MVP?

Jackie: Mikko Rantanen was my choice at the quarter mark and he’s still leading the team in points and nearly lapping his teammates in goals. Rantanen is also one of the hottest players in the league right now and climbing the top 10 leaderboards.

Patrick: Philipp Grubauer. His consistently great presence in net (sadly without any true NHL caliber backup) has stolen a few points for Colorado. The biggest testament to Grubauer being most valuable to the Avalanche is how noticeable it is when he isn’t between the pipes.

Evan: My half-season MVP is Samuel Girard. He has stepped up big time this season in the wake of injuries and continues to be a stable player for the Avs. He is consistently one of the highest on-ice time leaders every night, and not only plays the most but plays exceptionally well. He could be an outside looker for Team Canada in the Olympics in 2022.

Daniel: Hard to deny a player like Mikko Rantanen, who seems to be playing his best hockey of his NHL career every night this season for the Avs. With that said, & as mentioned before, Phillipp Grubauer is my clear cut first half MVP no doubt. He has shown that when he is in the crease, he controls the game and allows the Avs to work their magic with the puck. They know he will be there when they need him. His workload and record reflect the level he is at right now, and we all hope that his play continues to ascend into the top 3 goaltenders in the whole league.

It was recently announced that starting on April 2nd fans are allowed back at Ball Arena. How do you feel about this development?

Jackie: While the Avalanche have enjoyed a good record at home at 12-4-1 I’m excited to see if having a crowd behind them gives the team any extra jump especially as they hope to secure home ice advantage through the playoffs. Bednar has repeatedly mentioned how important having a home crowd is to the team and I hope they feel the love soon.

Patrick: I have mixed feelings. I’m sure it will provide a boost for the team on the ice, as it seemed to in the “away” game in Arizona. Still. I would like to see further progress on the medical front; but I live halfway across the country, so I don’t have the ability to go to “the Can” anyway.

Evan: I’m so excited to see fans back at Ball Arena. It will hopefully allow a true home advantage for the Avs for the rest of this season. Of course, this comes with risks. As long as those in attendance are able to follow Ball Arena’s policies regarding COVID and stay safe, it will be rewarding for all in attendance. If it does not cause rises in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in Denver, it will hopefully go along as planned safely. If this happens, there could be an increase in capacity as we get closer to normality.

Depending on how expensive tickets may be, I hope to be there for at least one game later this season!

Daniel: I am very excited to see limited capacity back for the Avalanche. I was able to make it out to the two game set in Arizona last month. I was wondering what the atmosphere would be like for the fans and the arena with all the protocol in place for public sporting events. I was pleasantly surprised at how the Coyotes handled the situation & when I returned to Denver, I immediately was confident that games should return to Ball Arena. You could just feel the team respond to Avs faithful in attendance. With the vaccine arriving for the residents of Colorado, coupled with the general awareness of the population a year plus into this pandemic, things are trending in the right direction. The fans are what make the game so exciting in the first place, so as long as the fans who would like to be there follow the rules, we will be rocking the roof once again at Chopper Circle!