This is not about PP1 for the Colorado Avalanche. That weapon of mass destruction will very likely remain unchanged from last season, save for shuffling around the Gabriel Landeskog injury. Nathan Mackinnon and Cale Makar will still lead that unit, flanked down low by Mikko Rantanen, Artturi Lehkonen, and Valeri Nichushkin for now.
It’s the second power-play unit that is raising eyebrows around the NHL.
Ever since the 1-3-1 became the preferred power play for most of the league (one man down low, three in the middle, one up high), it has been uncommon to see two defensemen on the power play, let alone three, as most teams roll out four forwards and one defenseman.
Makar obviously takes the top spot on PP1, so who do you sit between Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and Bowen Byram on PP2? Jared Bednar’s answer seems to be: nobody!
This sounds like the kind of thing some rebuilding team with nothing to lose who is very thin with forwards would experiment with, but it just goes to demonstrate the embarrassment of riches the Avs have at defense. The goal is to put your most skilled players out on the power play, and in that context, this experiment makes all the sense in the world even if it is unconventional.
Given how they’ve lined up in the preseason, Byram and Girard will likely be on the wings with Toews playing quarterback up top. All three defensemen have complementary skill sets, and the power play is more about fitting a specific role than playing a fixed position. Plus, all three players can move interchangeably between the middle and high positions in a 1-3-1—which makes the classic Girard to Toews setup even more dangerous.
Devon Toews gets his first goal with the Avs pic.twitter.com/df50pkHTE8— Rob Taub (@RTaub_) January 16, 2021
Brent Sutter famously put five defensemen out on the power play once, but that was a message to his team and it wasn’t a positive one. There’s a lot of excitement around the potential of this group, but it must be acknowledged that part of what makes this so fascinating is its unconventionality. This might not be an effective second power play unit simply because we have no obvious examples of a three-defensemen power play working for a sustained period. Jared Bednar has acknowledged that he’s not sure how long this group will last together.
This is also just a short-term lineup until Gabriel Landeskog returns, then Bednar almost surely will have to kick one of his three talented defensemen off the second power-play unit—unless this really works. Then who knows, maybe in a few months we’re all writing about how the Avalanche started the league’s hottest new trend for the 2022-23 season.