The regular season is bound to have ups and downs, but for the Colorado Avalanche, the year has seemed uniquely streaky. A quick look at the 2023-24 schedule so far shows a noticeable tendency toward hot and cold spells in the win/loss column. From opening night against Los Angeles on Oct. 11th, through the 24th against the Islanders the Avalanche raced to a 6-0 start.
Following that enviable stretch the Avs hit their first skid, dropping a surprising 5 of 7 from Oct. 26th, through November 11th. Even more perplexing was the fact that those first three L’s were all shutouts. The Pens and Sabres each beat the Avalanche by 4-0 tallies, the worst of all was a 7-0 scoreline vs the defending champ Vegas.
As is often the case, however, Colorado rebounded in style, winning seven of their next eight. The only blemish in that hot run came after a cursed 40-second debacle in which Nashville scored twice to escape with the most improbable win I may have ever witnessed. Another 3-game skid followed on the road where the Avs lost their first two games in OT to Arizona and Anaheim and a third to the Kings. The Avalanche did get some revenge on the Ducks a few days later to begin their 5-game homestand. Sadly, they then lost to both Winnipeg and Philly before getting back to winning this week against Calgary and Buffalo. From Nov. 30th to Dec. 13th, the Avs have posted a rather pedestrian 3-3-2 mark. Not good enough for Colorado’s standards in my opinion.
It could be that Colorado Avalanche fans are just spoiled. After all, at an overall record of 18-9-2, they still sit first in the Central Division, if just barely. Interestingly the streak-heavy trends have also trickled down to individual numbers for some of the Avs best. Last month Nathan MacKinnon went on his own goal drought, which stretched to seven games throughout November. However, as I write this, Nate The Great is one week off adding his 500th career assist, and riding a 13-game point streak. With three more points last night against the Sabres (1 goal, 2 assists) he’s hit another overall milestone of 800 career points! Those gaudy numbers have MacKinnon ranked 3rd in the entire NHL this season.
Another top-line fixture in Mikko Rantanen had been dealing with his own struggles lately. Rantanen went nine games without a goal from Nov. 24th, against the Wild through Dec. 9th, vs the Jets. Mikko of course is not accustomed to such ice-cold luck. He led the Avalanche in goals with 55 last year. Thankfully, The Moose finally got loose again on Monday night, scoring a goal and adding two helpers in the comeback to put out the Flames. Rantanen followed that star performance up with a statistically identical one on Wednesday.
Speaking of getting off the goalless schneid against Calgary, off-season acquisition Tomas Tatar finally lit the lamp in that game too. Tatar had been the most snake-bit forward for Colorado. His first goal came in game 28 of his Avs tenure despite generating his fair share of chances all year. Sure, the Avs were not expecting top form Tuna of 2019-20 when he led the Habs in points with 61, yet for a forward who has averaged 19 goals in a career that has lasted over a decade this has been a glacially slow start.
Tatar was just traded by the Colorado Avalanche to the Seattle Kraken for a fifth-round pick on Friday.
There are plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the regular season. The 800-point milestone for Nathan MacKinnon was not the only one reached by the team against the Sabres. Valeri Nichushkin scored a pair of goals in the 5-1 victory notching career goals 99 and 100. Avs fans know why we call big Val the Chu Chu Train – when he gets going, he can seem unstoppable. Earlier in the year he had a 9-game point streak of his own and could easily be on the verge of another.
Rookie D man Sam Malinski scored his first career goal as well, on a nice top-shelf slap shot. Forgive me for being overly hyped but his game so far seems potentially similar to all-world Avs talent Cale Makar. Malinski has shown an ability to be very clever with well-timed dangles at the blue line that set up teammates. He’s already tallied four points in just seven pro games.
In net, Avalanche starter Alexandar Georgiev has hit arguably his roughest patch of the campaign. He didn’t look like himself in the 6-5 thriller Monday night where so many others seemed to get right. Georgie was pulled after two periods in favor of backup Ivan Prosvetov. Luckily for Colorado, Ivan shined in relief and was perfect in the third, making the comeback possible. Coach Bednar rewarded that work with the start against Buffalo and Prosvetov proved solid once more. When I last wrote about Ivan I talked a lot about what it takes for a secondary netminder to earn trust. A large part of that challenge is about coming in cold and holding the line. Sometimes that involves injury to a number one goalie, and other times it is more about giving them space to shake off a funk. Whatever the scenario, Prosvetov’s steadying force these last two games has been a blessing.
Future milestones are also likely to be celebrated too. Makar is staring down Tyson Barrie on the all-time franchise points list for D men. Currently, Cale needs just 25 more points to eclipse the record of 307. In all likelihood, Makar will easily clear that statistical mountaintop and continue to add to his own Colorado Avalanche legend. More hot streaks and cold skids will undoubtedly come for the Colorado Avalanche this season. A team named for a force of nature that can be triggered by a shift in wind and pressure should count on the unpredictable and get ready to capitalize on positive momentum whenever it strikes.