Colorado Avalanche have exceeded everyone’s expectations so far this season. After finishing last in the league with 48 points, many expected there to be a few more bumps before everything clicked into place. Only a year later, they’re fighting for a wild card spot and have made their case to make it into the playoffs.
The team’s doing well all around. Last season, the Avalanche finished with 166 goals and a -112 (league worst) goal differential. This season? They’ve already scored 160 goals with a +17 goal differential in just 49 games. Players like Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have surpassed their previous season points and are possibly on pace to double them.
Help is also coming from their goaltenders. In the 2016-2017 season, Avalanche’s goalie tandem was Calvin Pickard and Semyon Varlamov, who finished with a .904 and .898 SV% respectively. Pickard only won 15 out of 50 games played and Varlamov 6 out of 24. This year, the tandem is Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier. The team signed the unrestricted free agent for 1 year at $2.75 million and he’s played well with a league average SV% of .917 while Varlamov is at .912. Although the goalies might not be playing particularly spectacular, they’re performing a lot better than last season.
However, the one player that sticks out the most is Nathan MacKinnon. With 61 points, he’s second in the league and a Hart trophy consideration. While the team around him as gotten considerably better than the previous season, without MacKinnon’s production, this team would likely have been looking at an early off-season again. Unfortunately, MacKinnon was hurt after a collision on Tuesday night during Avalanche’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. He’s day-to-day right now and will be missing Thursday night’s game. Lucky enough for the Avs, it looks like the injury is minor and he’ll be back soon enough.
In the meantime, without MacKinnon in the line-up, a lot of the pressure to make the wild card will fall on other players. This can make or break a team no matter how long or not-so-long MacKinnon stays out. Avalanche was on a 10-game win streak, only to have it snapped by the Montreal Canadiens. Since the streak ended, they’ve lost their next two games. It seems like they’re struggling to regain momentum and MacKinnon’s injury certainly doesn’t help.
At this point in the season and given where the team is in the standings, every game counts. If the Avalanche play with that mentality, even without MacKinnon for a few games, they’ll be well on their way to securing a playoff spot.