Avalanche star players having endurance tested at mid-season mark

Just past the halfway mark of the regular season, the Colorado Avalanche have a few familiar questions left to answer. How much reliance on a top line and starting goalie is too much?

Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

The Colorado Avalanche have just crossed the halfway point of the marathon that is the NHL regular season schedule. The Avs are where we expected them to be in many respects. To be exact they are 28-13-3 and just one point back of the Jets for the Central division lead.

Most teams would envy such a position. Yet Colorado is not like most teams. They know that anything less than a Stanley Cup is falling short of expectations and overall potential. The nagging challenges that face the Avs are quite similar to the ones they saw at the opening of the year, and the quarter mark. For me, the issues all relate to endurance and durability.

Whether it's the seemingly eternal search for balanced production from stars vs depth scoring from everyone else or the workload question confronting the league's most taxed primary goalie I wonder when exhaustion may set in.

The Avalanche's top stars Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen are nearly unimpeachable. Nate is chasing a possible Hart Trophy this year with 70 total points, trailing only Nikita Kucherov (72). Meanwhile, Cale tied Tyson Barrie in the Avalanche all-time record books with his 75th career goal last night in the loss to Montreal - the most in Avs history for a defenseman.

Mikko somehow manages to fly under the radar with a massive 56 points of his own this season so far. Only in Colorado would a feat like that even be possible. But this is why over-reliance can become an issue. As was pointed out by Evan Rawal this morning on social media, the Avs top liners are being asked to carry a heavy burden.

Mikko and Nate not only lead all NHL forwards in minutes per game, but the Avs Valeri Nichushkin also ranks 6th with another 21+ minute average. Yesterday, it was announced that Big Val will be out for the foreseeable future. Much like Sam Girard before him, we at MHS wish only the best for the Chu Chu Train and his recovery.

He is arguably the Avs best finisher at the net, so his absence will surely be felt in the lineup. Ross Colton took Val's place on the power play unit yesterday and immediately paid dividends. However, if he is a long-term fill-in on special teams, it remains to be seen.

Indeed the Avs looming questions regarding their 2C (which was Colton's spot last night) remain hazy at best. Ryan Johansen was intended for the role when he came over from Nashville in the off-season. RyJo started the year strong but has tapered off in recent weeks. He is still relied on to win important face-offs, though Colorado would certainly hope for more.

The impending returns of Artturi Lehkonen and Miles Wood will be very welcome. They are both with the team on the road and could re-enter the lineup as soon as tonight against Ottawa. Either one or both of them would be a lot of help.

Resorting to starting Caleb Jones, a d-man, at forward is less than ideal and that is what Bednar elected to do last night. It would be false to suggest that this is the long-term solution to depth problems but at the moment it is hard to see what the Avs plan on that front. The surprising trade and essential punt on Tomas Tatar for draft picks opened up a roster spot that still has yet to be filled with a reliable regular.

The other major concern has to be Alexandar Georgiev. Georgie, like Nate Dogg and the Moose, is shouldering league-leading ice time. I've already opined on how Georgiev's numbers tell a complicated story this season. Yes, he leads the NHL in wins, and he just got named an all-star, but his save percentage is sub-.900 and he looks overworked at times.

Furthermore, it would seem as though the team has come to some decision on whether or not they trust Ivan Prosvetov. After his last start against Florida, in which he was pulled - the Avs have brought Justus Annunen up from the Eagles. He may even be in net tonight on the tail end of the back-to-back.

The Avalanche are not about to panic, but at this stage, it is only prudent to be cautious with star player health. A team that has been without their captain for more than a season and a half knows that as well as anyone. The Avs have already had to micro-manage their fair share when it came to the defensive core.

They seem to have uncovered a potential gem in Sam Malinski because of that hardship. Let us hope they can find similar luck in their depth forwards and last but not least in net, with a backup that helps Georgie get some well-deserved rest.