Colorado Avalanche team chemistry high at all-star break

The Colorado Avalanche are back atop the Central and looking to round into championship form. Leadership and togetherness are keys to the ultimate goal.
Washington Capitals v Colorado Avalanche
Washington Capitals v Colorado Avalanche / Jamie Schwaberow/GettyImages
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The Colorado Avalanche may be holding a narrow lead in the Central standings but championship habits are starting to emerge and it's more than raw stats telling the story. I have written here recently about how the Avs‘ superstars, first among them Nathan MacKinnon, is shouldering a heavy burden through the first half of the season. Nate is on fire, tallying 84 total points thus far (31 G, 53 A ). This includes an overall point-streak of 13 games, and a home-specific streak of 25. This season-opening mark ties MacKinnon with Bobby Orr, and he now trails only Wayne Gretzky who compiled an almost unbelievable 40-game run in 1988-89. Many may be favoring Nate for his first Hart Trophy, however individual accolades are seemingly not his focus.

Team chemistry is the key to another historic Stanley Cup for Colorado, and as the Avs de-facto leader, MacKinnon is providing proof that he cares about locker-room intangibles. It started early in the off-season, when the Avalanche took a calculated risk on signing Jonathan Drouin. Most all Avs fans have heard the story by now - that Drouin was a reclamation project taken on to see if he could rekindle some magic from his days as a prospect in the QMJHL alongside MacKinnon. It took some time to be sure, but the gamble has paid off. Drouin is now a firm fixture on the Avs top-line with his good buddy right next to him cheering him on. Drouin's 10 goals this season might not seem to be a massive number, but already equal his previous three seasons in Montreal combined.

Drouin's impact on ice might not jump out on a scoresheet but he's more than proved his worth to the team on a shift to shift basis. He skates hard and more than keeps up with the Avs big guns. Just look at Nate's reaction every time #27 finds the back of the net - I've been watching Nate his whole career and I don't know if I've ever seen him so excited. Fans often point out that Nate is different than some other top-scoring stars in that he plays with an angry edge. Perhaps more than part of this ferocious first half of the season is owed to the feeling he's not only playing to win, but to prove to the front office that betting on his good friend was among the best off-season signings.

The feel-good stories aren't just reserved for the top line either. Consider the case of Logan O'Conner. LOC has been cooking of late, to the tune of 13 goals, a career best all by the all-star break. That was highlighted by his January 20th, hat-trick against Philly. As part of the trio now affectionately being dubbed the Roaring 20's by Avs faithful, along with Ross Colton and Miles Wood, Logan has found a sweet spot. The line has provided consistent energy and a never-quit attitude. LOC has long been considered a streaky scorer, as evidenced by his early-season start where he lit the lamp three games in a row in October. I would argue though that this recent heater is more indicative of a true breakout as opposed to a lucky run. The kind of goals we are seeing from #25 are about being relentless, and moving with confidence.

True, that third goal to finish the hattie might have been a gift-wrapped. It was after all, an empty-netter assisted by none other than Nate, but that really only goes to reinforce the point about team leadership. MacKinnon was also sitting on a two-goal game that Saturday afternoon, but he was obviously happy to cede the goal to his teammate. Sometimes you know that lifting up another player can mean more to the team as a whole in the long run.

If you believe in karma or so-called hockey Gods, Nate The Great was duly rewarded the following game against Washington. In the 6-2 win over the Caps, MacKinnon scored a natural hat-trick of his own, putting in three goals in less than a seven minute span of the second period. He then added a fourth goal on the night and some very enthusiastic fans responded by throwing underwear onto the ice in celebration! The four-goal performance was the second of the season for MacKinnon after he made franchise history by becoming the first Avalanche player to hit the mark during a game in Ottawa on Dec. 22nd.

Logan O'Conner meanwhile kept up his own stellar play the following contest against L.A. LOC found the net twice in the 5-1 win and kicked off the scoring with maybe the sweetest looking goal of his NHL career. It was a nasty snap shot off the post and in through a screen. It was so nice that Avs play-by-play man Mark Rycroft said it was like Logan O'Sakic.

It remains to be seen if these statement seasons by depth forwards will continue, but for the moment Colorado has the team vibes that feel different and potentially primed for the another drink from Lord Stanley's Cup. The addition of long-time rival Zach Parise to the lineup could also be a sneaky good move preparing for the second half. As written about here on MHS this week, team leaders MacKinnon and injured Captain Gabe Landeskog were instrumental in pushing for the free-agent who spent the better part of his NHL career with Minnesota.

Initially, I admit to being surprised by the move. But the more I sit with it during this off-time the more I like it personally. The cost is minimal and payoff could be big. Coach Bednar has compared the move to the Avs adding Andrew Cogliano a few years back, a nod to vet toughness. But I think there might be some budget Lehkonen in there as well. Perhaps most important is knowing that the Avs locker-room leaders are blessing the slight roster adjustment.

Next. A look at the Colorado Avalanche so far through the halfway mark of the season. A look at the Colorado Avalanche so far through the halfway mark of the season. dark