We’re back with the Colorado Avalanche weekly report card!
This week Colorado couldn’t get their engines going against the Jets, swallowed the Sharks, got goalied in Chicago, and rode a career night from Nathan MacKinnon to victory over the Senators. But were they any good?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Nathan MacKinnon: 6 Goals, 5 Assists
The NHL’s player of the week last week extended his points streak to 17 games with 11 points in four games including a four goal night to single handedly lift the Avs over the Senators. He’s at an MVP level right now and it’s beautiful to watch.
I’ve complained in this space and on the podcast about the powerplay focusing on creating ineffective shots for Nate from the dot, but right now it is working – his first goal of the game came from the same spot:
And the powerplay scored at least a goal every game, including a dominant four goals on five chances against Ottawa. When Nate’s shots are connecting like this, feed the beast.
We can’t ignore in the fanfare over his production that it wasn’t enough to beat Chicago or Winnipeg – but let’s be honest, that’s not a Nate problem that’s a depth scoring and defense problem. Would it have been nice for MacKinnon to tally at even strength in Chicago? Yes, but the man was definitely pulling his weight trying to drag the rest of the team to victory.
Cale Makar: 2 Assists
Only played in the Senators game and picked up two assists on the powerplay. Great to have him back! The rest of Makar’s game was somewhat typical of a Cale return from injury game – not great, but still productive. Like the rest of the team, his underlying statistics at even strength were not good and Ottawa outscored Colorado with him on the ice 2-1. But those powerplay assists make up for that to an extent.
Mikko Rantanen: 3 Goals, 2 Assists
The points are solid, and his actual play to the eye test was very good in three of four games this week. The Winnipeg game was the outlier, as like every Av not named Nathan he just couldn’t find a high enough gear to impact the game. Until he managed two goals against the Senators, most of his week looked like this:
Let's see how Mikko Rantanen is doing.. pic.twitter.com/tJt5Wajnf9— LandysKnee (@landysknee) December 22, 2023
But this nifty play got him going and he managed another PP tally later that night:
MINDING THE NET
Got the night off against the Jets, and bounced back from the doghouse last week with strong showings against the Sharks and Hawks. Petr Mrazek did outplay him in Chicago, and he may want a couple of those goals back, but ultimately the defense in front of Georgiev sprung a lot of leaks and when he needed to shut the door to give Colorado a chance to come back in Chicago and against the Senators he did it and did it well:
That’s an incredible save. But they’re also down 4-2 because of Georgiev’s earlier struggles:
When the numbers look like this and you're down two, bad luck is only part of it. Georgiev has been shit. pic.twitter.com/TvDWJ7iSdW— Nicky Molitoris (@MolitorisNick) December 22, 2023
So two things are true for Georgiev in the Sens game and overall for the week – he wasn’t been good enough overall despite showing flashes of the high end netminder from last season. B-
The team in front of him was not up to snuff against the Jets, but neither was his .792 save percentage. Winnipeg created 2.30 expected goals and scored 5. D
ROLE PLAYER HONOR ROLL
Valeri Nichushkin: Nuke is making a case to change sections in this weekly recap – he’s an absolute star right now, playing the best hockey of his career with points in all four games this week including both goals in Chicago.
The points don’t tell the full story – he’s taking pucks from opponents all over the ice and that work is a huge part of Nathan MacKinnon’s offensive explosion of late. With Rantanen still working through whatever has been keeping him down, there’s a legit case that Big Val is the best wing on this team right now. A+
DUNCE CAP IN MY DOGHOUSE DUNGEON
The Second Period:
I could call out plenty of players this week, and I will in just a moment. But the whole team was trash in the second period every night. The Jets dominated play and won the period 1-0, the lowly sharks managed to slow down the Avs and tie the 2nd 1-1, Chicago didn’t score but kept the majority of the play in the Colorado defensive zone, and the Senators turned a 2-2 game that Colorado was dominating into a 4-3 game that looked like the Sens were the recent cup champ and the Avs were the pesky upstart trying to keep pace.
It’s unacceptable, and Coach Bednar knows it:
“We got lots to work on. If we’re not going to score, we better be better defensively than we were in the second period,” Jared Bednar loved their first period but had a lot of notes after tonight.— Meghan Angley (@megangley) December 22, 2023
“It’s not always going to be perfect. Just shows me we got a lot to work on.”
He’s not the spiciest quote, but Bednar calling out the bad play publicly is significant. D-
Bowen Byram: He is struggling right now, and Makar’s return in Ottawa gave the coaching staff the chance to cut his ice time a bit. He and Mrazek were the two biggest reasons Colorado lost in Chicago.
That turnover is just way too casual and absolutely cannot happen. D
Andrew Cogliano: Got hurt on an uncalled hit from behind against the Sharks after tallying an assist. Was effective playing with Ryan Johansen and Logan O’Connor. B
Ross Colton: His ice time was way down this week, prompting speculation he may be injured because his actual play has been effective. Only one assist though. C+
Jonathan Drouin: 5 game point streak and it seems the coaching staff has unlocked him on the powerplay. He’s the most consistently dangerous forward not on the top line right now by a mile, and seems to have the defensive system figured out. A
Sam Girard: G is back skating with the team after a stint in the Player’s Assistance Program. Can’t wait to see him back in game action, likely after Christmas. A
Ryan Johansen: He’s winning faceoffs so consistently right now the coaches are letting him out there on the PK to win and change. That’s about it though. C
Jack Johnson: I’m never going to understand this choice:
What in god’s name is Jack Johnson doing in the neutral zone? https://t.co/sTtGaF1arX— Jay #Bad4Baseball (@BlueJaysDoodDad) December 20, 2023
t’s hard to tell from that replay, but instead of getting back to defend the middle here Jack decides to chase Bedard across the neutral zone toward the area Devon Toews is clearly already defending. Toews sees this happening as he’s stepping up on Donato and he tries to change course but it’s way too late and Bedard has a free entry for a two on Jonathan Drouin, and that goes as you’d expect.
Now, if JJ had the speed to keep up with Bedard you could maybe justify him thinking he could effectively defend the rush like that, but he absolutely knows that he doesn’t. He’s stout defensively most of the time, but then brain farts hard and it is consistently costing the team. D
Joel Kiviranta: He had one chance to make a real difference this week and double clutched it:
Mrazek's been great tonight— Blake (@SoldierFieldBlg) December 20, 2023
He's made a number of high difficulty saves pic.twitter.com/ji08OR7us2
That’s a lot of net to not score on. C-
Kurtis MacDermid: That puck got to Kiviranta because Mrazek barely got across to stop a MacDermid wraparound. He also drew a penalty with a clean check that made the Sharks’ Mario Ferraro big mad. C-
Sam Malinski: Had some very rough turnovers in the Ottawa game but overall was solid. Came back stitched up and stronger for it after this hit:
e picked up only one assist while creating several chances that weren’t finished. B-
Josh Manson: Manson’s offense has cooled of late, and his positional play has drawn some questions. His expected goals for percentage never exceeded 50% this week, unfortunately. C+
Ben Meyers: Didn’t play the Sharks game and didn’t put up any points on Johansen’s wing. I couldn’t find replay of it but there was one play in the Senators game that I think summarizes why Jackie has been down on him all year and the coaching staff is reluctant to trust him:
The puck came to Meyers on the wall right below the hashmarks in the defensive zone. He had an outlet option in Bo Byram below the goal line who could have settled play down and started the breakout, but instead he turned up the wall and tried to push through a Senator forward to start the breakout on his own and turned it over.
That kind of play doesn’t jump out as a drastic mistake, but it is a big problem because he makes the difficult choice consistently when the smart simple play is right there for him. He needs to clean those up to stick at the NHL level. C-
Logan O’Connor: LOC hasn’t had the chance to create much with Johansen and Meyers/Cogliano, but he’s doing his job well. B
Fredrik Olofsson: His pointless streak is getting too long, but his PK work was better. C+
Good on Toews for calling out his guys after a bad loss. It doesn’t matter who he meant specifically, just that everyone knows they need to improve their systems play. B+
Miles Wood: He’s working hard out there and I get that emotions get high when you feel like you’re doing your job and getting jobbed in return, but berating a referee so badly you get a 2 and a 10 when your team is down is a bad look that could have crushed any comeback attempt against Chicago. I criticized the referee for having thin skin on that one, and I stand by that, but Wood also was in the wrong for giving him a chance to make that call. B
TEAM GRADE FOR THE WEEK
2-2 with a stinker in Winnipeg and an even strength bagel in Chicago does not look like a good week on paper, no matter how great Nathan MacKinnon and Val Nichushkin were. These road woes need to be sorted out, as do the second period struggles.
On the plus side, the powerplay is clicking right now and that should be a huge boost to the team going forward if they can keep it going. MacKinnon playing at an MVP level is obviously also a major plus.
But optimism for next week doesn’t matter when grading this week. The Jets game was the most important of the week as they are the Avs’ direct competition for the Central Division title and the San Jose and Chicago games were gimmes that should have been victories. Of those three, they only beat the Sharks.
Nearly losing to a struggling Senators team before Nathan MacKinnon took off his Clark Kent glasses is honestly not much better than actually losing to Chicago because the dreadful turnovers and defensive breakdowns that plagued Colorado against the Hawks continued against Ottawa and if Joonas Korpisalo played half as well as Petr Mrazek it would have been another loss.
On top of that, the Jets game was the worst of them all is only MacKinnon and Nichushkin seemed to get the memo that it was a big game. Everyone else was flat, and they got the 6-2 drubbing they deserved.
The Colorado Avalanche were downright bad this week. D