Colorado Avalanche’s Up and Down Play

The Colorado Avalanche haven’t been playing consistent hockey that will allow them to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

The Colorado Avalanche won their game against the Edmonton Oilers. Yay, we finally get to type that the Avalanche have a win. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to do  that — since before Christmas, to be specific.

The Avs are ever lethargic after the Christmas break — I can remember years past being cheeky about eating too many Christmas cookies.  However, this skid was un-fun. They went for five games without a win and dropped out  of the playoff bracket.

Fans and even sports writers will always say, “There’s still a lot of hockey to play.” Indeed, the Avs are only  38 games into their season. That gives them 44 games to recover their game and get back into the playoff race — much less the Stanley Cup race!

But then, that truth  is the same for all the other teams. Nobody, not even last-place rebuilding teams, have given up hope in January. So, it’s all about jockeying for position among a group of teams just as hungry as Colorado, if not more so.

So, how did a team that was a perennial favorite for a good three years before winning it all get to this point? The obvious answer is injuries. Bad enough the Avs had to start without Gabriel Landeskog, who has missed  the entirety of the season thus far with lingering knee issues.

About  a month, six weeks in, key players started dropping like flies to the injury bug. Bo Byram, Valeri Nichushkin, Pavel Francouz… even Nathan MacKinnon did a stint on the injured reserve list! It’s hard to play highly-competitive hockey when your top two lines are comprised of bottom-six players and your bottom six are comprised of AHLers.

The matter is exacerbated by the fact that the Colorado Avalanche are the reigning Cup champions. They had less rest in the beginning of the season than all but one other team (their SC opponent, Tampa). Plus, teams try to go extra hard against the reigning champs.

There’s also no denying that Colorado lost some key players in the  offseason. The main player was Nazem Kadri. Colorado searched for years for a second-line center, found it in Kadri, and lost him to free agency. There was no way they could keep him with the contract he earned, but they’re nonetheless feeling the loss. No one player has emerged as a true second-line center this year.

I believe the Avs are feeling the loss of Andre Burakowski as well. True, he was as inconsistent as Colorado weather.  However, when he was spectacular, he could pull  the Avalanche up into the win column. And he could be spectacular.

Another factor has been that the players who have remained healthy are not always playing up to their potential. Some fans are pointing at their favorite whipping boy, Sam Girard. Others are starting on old man EJ (Erik Johnson). Recently, the main culprit has been Devon Toews. He had a stinker of a game against Vancouver in which he put the breaks on what should have been an icing and then got a penalty. That’s anecdotal of what his play has been like recently.

Well, 44 games, and we don’t have just doom and gloom to face  moving forward. Players such as Landeskog and Byram have been skating recently, so they may not be far off. A healthy Colorado Avalanche team is a force.

What”s more, the most important players are playing up to their potential. MacKinnon may have needed a minute to get back into his stride after missing 11 games with injury. Mikko Rantanen has been on a tear. He currently leads the  team with 26 goals and 22 assists for 48 points. And you can never discount superstud and this year’s All Star, Cale Makar.

The Colorado Avalanche have their first crack at that 44 games tonight as they host the Florida Panthers. Sure, they had a five-game losing streak. After a win against Edmonton last game, they now have a chance to start a winning streak.