Colorado Avalanche: Gabriel Landeskog Needs to Bring Back the Physicality

ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche battle against Nick Ritchie #37 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on November 18, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Gabriel Landeskog #92 and Nikita Zadorov #16 of the Colorado Avalanche battle against Nick Ritchie #37 of the Anaheim Ducks during the game on November 18, 2018 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche could benefit from captain Gabriel Landeskog leading the way with the physical side of hockey.

Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog is a power forward, or that’s been his style since the beginning. Lately, it feels as if Landeskog hasn’t been bringing the same physicality to the game, and that’s a shame.

Recently, when I watch the Avalanche play teams, especially Eastern Conference teams, like the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals, I notice that the way to knock them off their game is with physicality. Teams have had good success using rough stuff to slow the speedy Avs down.

You may think that’s not important since Colorado only faces Eastern Conference teams twice a year. However, Western Conference teams like the Anaheim Duck, and, especially, Central Division rival St. Louis Blues have learned the tactic. That’s bad news for the Avalanche.

The thing is, there is no reason for the Avs to get out-worked in the physicality department. It’s not like the team is composed of a series of shrinking violets or rank divers like certain teams that won’t get mentioned (ahem Penguins, Predators).

Indeed, as I look down the Colorado Avalanche roster, I see a few bigger forwards like Mikko Rantanen (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and Carl Soderberg (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) who shouldn’t be easily knocked around. And Colorado has big defensemen such as Erik Johnson (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), Patrik Nemeth (6-foot-3, 219 pounds) and Big Z the Destroyer, Nikita Zadorov (6-foot-5, “230 pounds” — he laughs at that weight).

Many of the smaller guys are scrappy, too. Sven Andrighetto handled Ryan Hartman just fine last playoffs. Matt Calvert was ready to take on the entire Red Wings bench. And both J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost seem willing to tussle at least a little with opponents. Oh, and no one takes a hit better than Tyson Barrie — and he seems like a chirpy sort, too.

Add to that a legit tough guy like Ian Cole and our hot-headed Irish Sniper, Nathan MacKinnon, and you’ve got a team that seems ready to roll with the junkyard dogs.

But when teams have used physicality to slow them down, the Avalanche have been all-too-ready to roll over and play Penguin, er, opossum.

Now, I’m certainly not going to lay the blame at our captain’s feet — we all know how much I respect him as a leader. However, he’s such a great leader that I can’t help but think that as Landy goes, so goes the team in the physicality department. He’s a quintessential power forward, and if he’s now powering, maybe most of the Avs aren’t either.

Washington Capitals vlogger Kate Drudge brought up some interesting observations recently about physicality and captaincy. I remarked in a tweet that the Avs “need more physicality in their play. You can say all you want there’s no place in today’s NHL for fighting and big hits. You’re wrong — it’s still North American hockey, not European.”

Kate came back with the observation that that kind of physicality should be in the tool box along with “blocking shots, protecting the puck with the body, laying the body when necessary, winning board battles.” She added the following:

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Hockey is a physical sport, especially North American hockey. I know there’s a certain sector that would like to see all but the most necessary of physicality removed from the sport, but I direct that sector to European hockey. The North American rink is smaller, which makes the game faster — and meaner. That’s part of the draw of hockey.

But getting back to Landeskog and physicality, Kate brought up an interesting observation about her captain, Alexander Ovechkin, and our captain. She observed that Ovechkin is the type of big, physical player who can score a lot of goals but deliver some bone-crunching hits — what she calls the Ovi Boom.

Well, our 6-foot-1, 215-pound captain isn’t quite the horse that her 6-foot-3, “235-pound” (ha ha!) cap is. In fact, he doesn’t have so much a Landy Boom as a Landy Nasty. Our cap is just mean — an OHL opponent coach once observed that he knew Landeskog was a fierce competitor because he stared the entire bench down after making a shootout goal. And I personally have seen him employ the Vulcan pinch right where the shoulder pads end — that’s devious.

But this season, the nasty hasn’t been as evident. I believe it has a lot to do with his being on the elite top line, the best scoring line in the NHL. Perhaps he’s focusing on that aspect of his game — or being told to.

And that’s a mistake, at least if that’s all he’s focusing on. Because we come back to the fact that the Avalanche play in a North American league. And part of North American hockey is physicality.

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So, like I said, I won’t put blame on Landeskog. However, the Colorado Avalanche need to keep a wide variety of tools in their toolbox — they can’t rely on speed and stick handling alone. They have the components to play the grittier side of hockey.

And they have the power forward captain, Gabriel Landeskog, to lead the way. I’d like to see him get more into that side of the game to lead his team to play the body-punishing style of hockey that he’s best known for.