10 games into the season is a good time for our first check-in to see how the 2023-24 Colorado Avalanche season is going. With a record of 7-3-0, it seems the squad has avoided a slow start but the three straight shutout losses on the road are cause for concern. Who are the real Avalanche and where do they go from here? Follow along as we try to unpack these issues.
Which of the new players has given the best early impression?
Jacob: Fredrik Olofsson has centered what has arguably been Colorado’s second-best line. With all the injuries last year, the fourth line was either a liability or an afterthought, and so far this year, it looks like one of the best fourth lines in the entire NHL.
Jackie: I guess this is where I have to say Riley Tufte even though he has only played one game for the Avalanche. His nine goals in eight games including a hat trick with the Colorado Eagles have given him the best start of any new player in the organization. He’s going to have to make that impact in the NHL and will likely get the opportunity to do so very soon but Tufte like everyone else will have to put that hype on the scoreboard to make it meaningful.
Luke: I’ve liked what Ross Colton has brought to the lineup so far. He’s hard to play against, doesn’t take crap from anyone. I think that will also shine through in the postseason. While the points haven’t been quite to where I would like them, they’re not too far off. The on-ice results are great, except for the scoring. Rocking a 3.33% shooting percentage won't last forever, so I think we will see a rock-solid third line.
Evan: Sadly, not many of them have stood out as expected. It’s led to even a couple of them being scratched a couple games ago. I will go with Miles Wood in a similar fashion to Ross Colton as Luke mentioned above. He’s only recorded a goal and assist in the opening 10 games, but his play and connection with Colton on the third line has been good. He's done a lot of the dirty work well, creating chances. Now, it’s just a matter of finishing them more consistently.
What has been the most surprising part of Colorado’s season and play thus far?
Jackie: Health (knock on wood). It’s clear Cale Makar is dealing with something and Bowen Byram has missed a couple of practices but there hasn’t been an injury scratch thus far. The cohesive lineup helped the squad get out to a 6-0 start which might become important later in the year when surely several injuries at a time will be the norm.
Jacob: Their road struggles for sure. Being outscored 15-0 over their last three road games is a low point the Avalanche haven’t hit since their 48-point season.
Luke: The theme today is zero goals and 15 against in the last three road games. I’ll give them a pass in Pittsburgh but the games in Buffalo and Vegas were inexcusable. While it's still “early” in the season, that excuse is starting to wear thin. Parts of the lineup just haven’t clicked at 5-on-5, maybe that’s the surprising part. And there some players have been, well, bad. Some snake bitten, but some have been bad. And that’s a surprise to me.
Evan: As Luke said, some of the 5-on-5 play has been atrocious. Ryan Johansen somehow hasn’t recorded a point in even-strength play, and Jonathan Drouin has been dreadful. Is it time to question how some of the new acquisitions have gotten along and if they will fulfill what the team is looking for in the lineup? I say not yet, but if 10 games from now we’re talking about the same things then it’s safe to ask so.
What areas of improvement would you like to see?
Jacob: The second line needs to start producing at 5-on-5. Ryan Johansen has scored some power play goals but hasn’t contributed much at even strength. The second line of Lehkonen, Johansen, and Nichushkin has played the second-most time together of any Avalanche grouping (behind the fourth line of O’Connor, Olofsson, and Cogliano), but only has one even-strength goal to show for it. Their Corsi figure is good, controlling play 64% of the time, but that factor matters little for a scoring line that isn’t doing very much scoring.
Jackie: It’s going to take baby steps to get this train fully back on track but I agree with Jared Bednar that it starts with better defensive play. Eliminating the stupid turnovers and a better commitment to checking always gives the Avalanche better offensive opportunities in using their transition game and speed. A more consistent lineup would help, too. If that means committing to Tufte and scratching someone else for a while then so be it.
Luke: Special teams play comes and goes. So I’m not going to single them out. But 5-on-5 scoring is something that has been, well, lacking. Numbers: 16 goals for, 22 against, compared to expected xGF: 22.04, xGA: 16.21. Those have been dragged by a 6.13 SH% and a 0.956 PDO. For comparison, last year they had a SH% of 8.21 and a PDO of 1.010. Now some of this is easy to fix. As Jackie said above, stop turning the puck over in the defensive zone. The defensive play without the horrendous turnovers would be great. I think once Johansen, Colton, and Drouin get a little more comfortable and have a more normal schedule, they’ll start to produce more 5-on-5. Everything balances out. But you can’t let it get out of hand.
Evan: I feel as though everyone has hit the points perfectly here. I’d like to see the power play continue to step it up, as they’ve had a cold streak ever since the opening few games. This is also when your stars are on the ice and are sometimes needed whenever the rest of the lineup falters.
Which upcoming game are you most looking forward to and why?
Jacob: At this point, the biggest question is what kind of Avalanche team will show up on the road. They’ll get a reprieve with some home games this week, but we can’t say this team has demonstrated any real improvement until they can turn this around on the road, so next Monday at Seattle is their first big test after what has been one of the worst three-game stretches of the entire MacKinnon era.
Jackie: The next game against New Jersey is the most compelling forthcoming matchup on paper as they are a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. Injuries to Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier dampen the intrigue, however. Plus the Avalanche have to prove, once again, that they can score a goal and play a competent game from start to finish so the focus is on them more than anything.
Luke: Seattle. The NHL seems to think division games will manufacture rivalries. It doesn’t. The former playoff series do. And the most recent, Seattle. The little train that could. I want the Avs to just beat them. Then, they do it again in their barn a few days later. Another game I think is worth circling is Dallas on November 18th.
Evan: I’ll go down a different route: the Anaheim Ducks when come to town on November 15. They have been doing surprisingly well to start the season, winning their sixth straight game, handing the Vegas Golden Knights their first regulation loss of the season on Sunday. If they’re still on a good run, it’ll be a good matchup and test against the Ducks' youth. They’ll also welcome former Colorado Eagles head coach Greg Cronin back to The Centennial State.