In second place in the Central Division at 13-6-2 and coming off a second win over the Calgary Flames this season, the Colorado Avalanche are doing extremely well despite missing Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Phillip Grubauer, Nikita Zadorov, JT Compher, and Pavel Francouz for significant stretches through a quarter of the season.
Hopefully, the Avalanche are enduring the injury bug early on in the season in exchange for late-season health. As it stands right now, they have done a decent job going 5-6 without Landeskog and Rantanen, two of the team’s top players. Getting those two healthy will bring the team back to the caliber that corresponded to the 8-1-1 start.
Nathan MacKinnon is the team’s leading points leader with 31 points on 13 goals and 18 assists. The off-season acquisitions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donski, and Nazem Kadri have already paid incredible dividends as they all have double-digit points and have combined for 48 points with 26 goals and 22 assists. When the first line returns to health and can score at a similar clip to last season, the second line of newcomers will be the difference-maker between a good team and a contender. They aren’t just scoring meaningless, garbage time goals, either, as Burakovsky is fifth in the NHL in game-winning goals with three.
Cale Makar has started the season on a historical pace and is playing at an undeniable Calder Trophy level with 23 points (most out of all rookies) on five goals and 18 assists. He has also been mentioned in incredible company with his 1.095 PPG average through 21 games being third all-time behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
Outside of Makar’s scoring prowess, he’s also been a key player on both sides of the ice by keeping pucks in the offensive zone, manning the blue line, creating turnovers, and starting the offense off with crisp passes out of the offensive zone. He also leads all NHL rookies in plus/minus with a plus-nine rating. He’s such a great player and is still so raw. While he has a ton to learn, he also has such a high ceiling.
Goaltending has been good this season with Grubauer and Francouz ranked 14th and 16th in save percentage, respectively. Grubauer has a record of 7-3-2 with a 2.73 goals-against average while Francouz is 4-2-0 with a 2.82 goals-against average. Both were injured around the same time and the Avalanche had to call up not one but two goalies from the Colorado Eagles to step in and win some important games.
So far this season, injuries have been the name of the game with other key contributors like Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost, Ian Cole and Colin Wilson also missing time with injuries in addition to the aforementioned household names. The Avalanche are weathering the storm and their current record is indicative of a good team that is capable of winning night in and night out. Once healthy, I believe this team will return to a dominant form that is expected to win or be competitive in every single game.
The 2019 Avalanche first-round draft picks of Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook are both contributing in their respective leagues and developing nicely. Defenseman Byram has two goals and 12 assists in 20 games as a member of the Vancouver Giants in the WHL. Newhook is playing at Boston College in the NCAA and currently has five goals and three assists in 11 games. Byram has the better opportunity to appear for the Avalanche late in the season, but both are 18 years old and are afforded the luxury of developing and growing in the minors before being required to join the team.
Some things that are a bit worrisome so far are Nikita Zadorov being fourth in the NHL in penalty minutes, Nathan MacKinnon’s shooting percentage (13 goals on 104 shots for a 12.5 percent accuracy), and the team face-off percentage of 46.3 percent, which ranks 30th out of 31 teams. The face-off stat isn’t exactly correlating to wins and losses historically, but for a team that ranks ninth in face-offs per game and 30th in win percentage, they are giving other teams loads of extra possessions, which isn’t helping.