Maybe Nathan MacKinnon is going to have to ban everyone from drinking soda again. Or let them drink soda, whatever isn’t what they’ve been doing this season.
If winning the Stanley Cup is the hardest journey in North American sports (debatable but let’s leave it because it’s too early in the new year to deal with raging screams from places without electricity or running water and a moose is mayor), then defending it must be even trickier. It’s why the Penguins were the first to do it in regular style in nearly 20 years, and the Lightning needed two gimmick/odd seasons to do it. The Pens and Lightning could boast of having a heavy veteran team. Given how young the Avs were when they raised the Chalice last spring, it might not be a huge surprise they’re still marveling at the banner with a slightly goofy if not less than sober grin on their face while this season’s games tend to pass them by.
They’d better shape up sharpish, because it’s getting away from them with the season almost halfway over. The Avs lost their fourth in a row last night to the Golden Knights at home. This came after getting fairly well stomped at home by the Leafs 6-2. They were actually worse against Vegas, even if the scoreline was far more fair at 3-2, because the Knights were all over them for 60 minutes (the Avs managed just a 24 percent expected goals last night). Colorado hasn’t won a game in regulation since December 17th. They’re one point out of the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference, and three points behind Minnesota for the last automatic spot in the Central.
So what’s with his limp dick defense? Well, part of it is a limp dick defense, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
You’ve probably heard the wailing in Denver about injuries, and certainly that’s been a problem. Nathan MacKinnon has missed 11 games. Bowen Byram has only played 10. Val Nichushkin has missed over half the season. Gabriel ThreeYaksAndADog (Landeskog) hasn’t even suited up. Josh Manson has missed 15 games. That’s certainly an issue.
And when that’s combined with what the Avs lost from last year’s champions, it feels like they’ve lost more than half the team. Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri walked in free agency, and combined with Nichushkin’s and SapsuckerFrog’s (Landeskog’s) injuries, and that’s essentially half of the top three lines gone. And then there’s been those 11 games that MacKinnon hasn’t been around leaving them even more threadbare.
It’s also important to remember that even before Burakovsky showed up last season at the deadline, the Avs were lapping the field in big thanks to Kadri producing like a #1 center from the #2 spot. He had 87 points in 71 games last year. The Avs simply left that spot open to start the season, hoping that maybe Alex Newhook could grab it. Well, he hasn’t (12 points and middling metrics). J.T. Compher hasn’t been much of an answer either. It’s why you’ll be hearing the Avs connected to every center available between now and the deadline (O’Reilly, Toews, Horvat to name a few). Thanks to their sputtering and additions like Evan Rodrigues (further proving my theory that if you captained your college team you can’t possibly be all that good) have left the Avs looking more like an overgrown bottom-six than having a genuine second line.
That top-heavy forward lineup has led to a massive drop in their bite. Last year the Avs were the fireworks factory, with 3.05 goals-per-60 minutes at even strength. It’s at 1.9 so far this year. Yes, luck has played a role here, with the Avs not even shooting six percent at even-strength where it was 8.8 last season, and that will rise simply due to market-correction. But they’ve lost or been deprived of the kind of scorers who boost that kind of thing or score more than the metrics say they should. You can’t do that with one line and then nine bottom-sixers. Here’s the most stark example.
The plague spreads to the blue line too. Josh Manson was supposed to anchor the second-pairing, and he’s barely been around. Byram was supposed to be the third-pairing bum-slayer, and he’s been around even less. There’s still a great pairing on the top with Devon Toews and Cale Makar, but it falls off a cliff after that. Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson can hold the fort on the second pairing, but they need a little more than holding the fort right now. If Makar and Toews don’t create offense, the Avs don’t get it.
Are there signs of light? Sure. As stated above, the shooting-percentage will have to get better. The goaltending has been a surprise, as Alex Georgiev has been something of a revelation and the Avs have the third-best save-percentage at even-strength in the league. Sadly, they have the fourth-worst on the penalty kill, another problem.
The injuries will hopefully clear up, and they will make a move. But there is more pressure on this season than the Avs have played with. Nathan Mackinnon’s salary doubles next year, and Toews will be a free agent the year after that. The team will probably change.
Either way, they’re starting to run out of runway this season.