Colorado Avalanche Plan for Winning in the Face of Injury

SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21: Matt Nieto
SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 21: Matt Nieto /

The Colorado Avalanche face a tough road as they navigate a playoff push in the final four of the season without two of their best players.

The Colorado Avalanche must move through the final four games of the season without two of their best players. Yet they’re still in the playoff hunt.

Goalie Semyon Varlamov was injured in the Chicago Blackhawks game when Tomas Jurco fell on his leg awkwardly. He’s done for the regular season. Defenseman Erik Johnson was injured in the Vegas Golden Knights game when he slid awkwardly into the boards. He has a fractured, non-displaced patella, which is the kneecap — he’s also done for the season.

The Avalanche had just gotten healthy, relatively speaking. Jonathan Bernier and Sven Andrighetto had recently returned from injuries. That really left only defenseman Mark Barberio and Colin Wilson injured, and neither of them is a core player. (They went on the road trip.)

Varlamov and Johnson, of course, are both core players. Indeed, that represents a huge hit in the team’s defense. However, the Colorado Avalanche have had to win without them before, and they’ll have to do so again.

Here’s the plan for winning and potentially still making the playoffs.

Anaheim Ducks, April 1

Goalie: Jonathan Bernier
Defensive Pairings: Nikita ZadorovTyson Barrie, Samuel GirardAnton Lindholm, Patrik NemethDuncan Siemens

The Anaheim Ducks play a heavy, hard-hitting game. They like to slow things way down and get under your skin. Well, the Avalanche aren’t the big team they were a few years ago, but they can still ice a mean defensive corps.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have been playing well — Big Z protects the rover, and both can move pucks up the ice. Sam Girard and Anton Lindholm can both skate. The former can handle pucks, and the latter can (man)handle the Ducks. The third pairing is just big and mean — they should hit the ice whenever Corey Perry is out.

I think Colorado is going to do their usual in the face of adversity in this game — they’ll pull together and play a tight game. If we can get Nathan MacKinnon and his line scoring again, the Avs have a good chance of winning this game.

LA Kings, April 2

Goalie: Andrew Hammond
Defensive Pairings: Nikita Zadorov-Tyson Barrie, Samuel Girard-Anton Lindholm, Patrik Nemeth-Duncan Siemens/Mark Alt
Scratch whichever fourth-line forward most bungled his play against the Ducks.

More from Mile High Sticking

Like Anaheim, the Kings like to play a slower, heavier game. Unlike the Ducks, they have some phenomenal skill and a stellar goalie. They’re also fighting hard for their playoff lives.

I never game the Avalanche much of a chance to win this game. I don’t know that they can take another regulation loss and still make the playoffs. However, this is the hardest game I see for them. Not only have they failed to beat LA this season, but they always fall apart the second game after a key player is out.

So, to try and jolt the players out of that funk, I think the coaching staff should throw the other “not our goalie” out there and go back to that weird 11 forwards, 7 defensemen format. Putting crazy together just might work.

And if not, this was probably a game they were losing anyway.

San Jose Sharks, April 5

Goalie: Jonathan Bernier
Defensive Pairings: Nikita Zadorov-Tyson Barrie, Samuel Girard-Duncan Siemens, Patrik Nemeth-Anton Lindholm/Mark Alt

The April 5 game is going to be the one that answers the question GM Joe Sakic said was up to them to decide — Are you a playoff team? The San Jose Sharks are a skilled team that the Avs have beaten twice, but both times at home. They’ll have to prove they can do so again, but in San Jose.

The coaching staff needs to ice the very best roster they have available. Every forward in the lineup should have earned his spot. For defensemen, I’d love to see Girard and Siemens paired — Duncan is even faster than Lindholm and better with the puck. For the third pairing, I suggest the Avs ice whichever of Lindholm and Alt played better in LA.

If the Colorado Avalanche win this game, they prove they’re the real deal. It may not be enough to earn a playoff spot, but it will be real hope for us moving forward.

St. Louis Blues, April 7

Goalie: Jonathan Bernier
Defensive Pairings: Nikita Zadorov-Tyson Barrie, Samuel Girard-Duncan Siemens, Patrik Nemeth-Anton Lindholm/Mark Alt

We all hope and pray that this game decides which team goes to the playoffs because that will mean the Colorado Avalanche didn’t blow the all-important California road trip.

This is the final game of the season. I don’t know that the game is sold out yet, but it will be if both teams are fighting for a playoff spot. That will give the Avs real home ice advantage as the Pepsi Center will be buzzing with a playoff atmosphere.

The lineup should probably be about the same as it was in San Jose. The players had better come out with a spring in their step. No mistakes. Don’t let St. Louis get the upper hand in any way.

Next: Playoffs Depend on Cali Road Trip

Four times the Colorado Avalanche have scored six goals against the Blues, to win of course. Once, on March 6, 2010, they scored seven to win. Let’s aim for that, boys. For EJ’s and Varly’s sakes.