There’s zero reason to panic about the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup hangover
Four of seven.
That’s how many top forwards from the Stanley Cup championship team a season ago the Colorado Avalanche were missing in two recent losses.
The Avs fell 1-0 to the New Jersey Devils and 5-4 to the New York Islanders to cap a disappointing swing up to the Northeast. It started on a high note with a phenomenal 3-2 win over the New York Rangers, but ended on a sour one. First, getting shutout by the Devils and second, blowing a 3-0 lead and collapsing against the Islanders.
Scoring zero goals in New Jersey is the most shocking on paper, but a deeper look at things shouldn’t make it all that surprising. And it brings us back to how this column started.
Before the Avalanche took the ice against the Devils, head coach Jared Bednar announced that winger Valeri Nichushkin would be out with a “lower-body injury” and was day-to-day. After an excellent postseason run, Nichushkin has been even better to start this year. In just seven games, he has seven goals and 12 points. The goals lead the Avs, the points are tied with superstar Nathan Mackinnon, who’s played all nine contests for Colorado.
But Mackinnon is an outlier. Same with forwards Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen. Those are the only three guys out of Colorado’s seven best forwards from a season ago who skated against the Devils and Islanders.
As mentioned, Nichushkin is battling some sort of injury. Hockey coaches are always careful to not tell us what’s really going on. And captain Gabriel Landeskog is out three months after another knee surgery, plus Nazem Kadri is wearing a Flames sweater while Andre Burakovsky plays for the Kraken.
Think about that for a second. That’s a lot of firepower that was on the ice in June in Game 6 against Tampa Bay that’s now missing. Nichushkin, Landeskog, Kadri and Burakovsky. Again, four of Colorado’s seven best forwards who helped hoist the coolest trophy in sports just four months ago.
So, with a 4-4-1 record, it’s safe to say the Avalanche have a Stanley Cup hangover. And there’s zero reason to panic. None. Zip. Zilch.
Who cares if the Avs are chasing a Presidents’ Trophy come April? That trophy is cursed anyhow, as the team with the most regular season points hardly ever wins the whole thing. Colorado took it home two seasons ago before bowing out in the second-round against Vegas. The same happened to the Florida Panthers last year.
The Avalanche could be .500 at Christmas and I wouldn’t care. Yes, Nichushkin should be back well before then, but Landeskog is looking at a mid-January return. It’s painfully obvious the Avs miss his leadership and ability to finish in heavy traffic around the net. Kadri and Burakovsky aren’t walking back into that locker room, but the Avs have reinforcements.
Forward Evan Rodrigues has been heating up lately, and now has four goals on the season. Plus, Colorado’s defensive core is more than capable of scoring goals. Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Bowen Byram can all light the lamp on any given night. Samuel Girard, Josh Manson and Erik Johnson will chip in a handful of tallies as well. Scoring will not be an issue for the Avalanche this year.
Plus, new goaltender Alexandar Georgiev has looked fantastic for the team so far. In the thrilling win over the Rangers, one we all got to watch because it was on ESPN, “Georgie” stood on his head. He was nails and made at least five truly spectacular saves. He’s an upgrade over Darcy Kuemper, plus Pavel Francouz is still here as a capable backup.
Finally, if the Avs have to go on the road more in the postseason because their seed isn’t as high as it should be, then oh well. They were fantastic away from Ball Arena in the playoffs a season ago, posting a ridiculous 9-1 record. It’s like they thrive on being the villain and maybe get a little too comfortable at home.
So, fear not Avalanche fans, this slow start is nothing to worry about. Even if they’re still recovering from the high of winning a title, they’ll be fine.
They’re way too talented not to be.