We are indeed in a long streak of the NHL season, and the Colorado Avalanche are climbing the standings once again. With every day we are getting closer to the most beautiful time of the year.
No, not Christmas.
Playoff time for hockey.
The Avalanche have just 14 games left before the playoffs begin. This season was particularly long. After the Stanley Cup playoffs, it was difficult to get up through 82 games of the regular season. I think Avalanche felt that way too. But since losing to Chicago in January, they’ve been on a roll, winning 20 of 28 games. The team isn’t perfect, and they still have some pretty big injuries to deal with, but they’re as dangerous as any team in the Western Conference.
That being said, here are my five thoughts on the Avalanche heading down the stretch into their final games of the regular season.
Is Denis Malgin for Real?
From November to January, the Avalanche were desperate for someone, anyone, to score in the top six. I liked what I saw from Malgin after he was acquired, but nothing happened to him. Then he got hurt.
He came back at the end of January, and it was more of the same. Solid puck play, created a few chances but nothing found the back of the net.
Then something clicked and he’s been constantly on the scoresheet for a month now. It’s not like he’s doing much differently, it’s just that the puck has started going in. Not all soft goals either. We are talking about really nice goals.
Now, he’s not perfect. He has his warts defensively and tends to hold onto the puck too long, but he has plenty of skill. He is fantastic at winning the zone with possession, and in his 29 games, the Avalanche have controlled 56% of their shot attempts with him on the ice. That’s more than any other forward on the team.
Is he a top six player? No. But he is a restricted free agent this summer and is making just $750,000. The Avalanche may have found a cheap player that they can keep to fill out next year’s roster, and one that they could realistically make come playoff time. Who saw that coming when the trade was made back in December?
Workload Management by Alexander Georgiev
Georgiev has really been a revelation this year. I think even his biggest supporters may not see it. Not only has he been very consistent throughout the year, but he’s done it with more work than most people expected, including the team.
The Avalanche planned for Georgiev to be their starter when they traded for him, but they also planned for Pavel Francouz to be there to make his job easier. That has hardly been the case since Christmas. Georgiev already has 50 games, and with 14 games remaining, there is a real chance that he will reach the 60 game mark. Coming into the season with a career-high 34 games played, that’s a big jump. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, but you don’t want to dump him before the playoffs start.
Now, the good news is that Pavel Francouz has finally started skating again. The last time he started skating after returning from injury, it took him about two weeks to return to games. If that’s the case again, it will give the Avalanche a chance to give Georgiev some much-needed off nights heading into the playoffs, as he’ll start every game from that point on, unless something unexpected happens.
For the most part, the Avalanche have done a good job lately of winning the games they should have. Since losing to Anaheim on Jan. 26, they have beaten all nine non-playoff teams they have faced. And down the stretch, they’re going to see a lot of bad teams.
In the next 9 days, they will play twice against Arizona, Chicago and Anaheim. In April, they play against San Jose twice, again against Anaheim and close the season against Nashville. Why do people think they have a real chance to win the Central Division? Look no further than their easy schedule.
…Except for Three Games
There are, however, three big games that I have circled on the schedule below.
March 29 – Minnesota at home
April 1 – Dallas at home
April 8 – Los Angeles on the road
Why these three games? Well, the Wild and Dallas are two teams that could realistically play in a month when the first round begins. They had no problems with the Wild this year, winning both meetings, but it is still an important game on the schedule in the standings. With Dallas, the Avalanche won their first two meetings before getting stomped a few weeks ago in Dallas. Like the Wild game, this is another game that could greatly affect the standings.
And why the Kings? I may be in the minority on this one, but a Kings team, if they get a goal, scares me in the playoffs. They can lock it down with guys like Kopitar and Danault patrolling the middle of the ice, but they’ve been given terrible goaltending all year. I’m not sure Korpisalo is that guy, but he’s played well for them so far. The Avalanche lost both meetings with the Kings this year. The April 8th game is sandwiched between playing two other terrible California teams, so they’ll have to get up for that game.
Gabriel Landeskog Watch Intensifies
With less than a month until the start of the playoffs, watching Lanski will only get more intense. Obviously, there are other important injuries that we don’t know much about (Josh Manson), but Landeskog’s situation will be one that everyone will have their eyes on.
This Monday will mark one month since he started skating again in Denver. He’s improved, but he still doesn’t look like a guy who’s going to break into the lineup anytime soon.
From what I’ve heard, the Avalanche do not expect Landeskog to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs as of this moment. Nothing is ruled out now, and no final decisions have been made, but things would have to really progress for him to get there. And it is not impossible for him to progress as well, because this whole situation did not go as anyone expected.
I think when the Avalanche say they really don’t know, they mean it. The original prognosis from his October procedure was 12 weeks. He didn’t even return to Denver until a full month after those 12 weeks had already passed. Heck, back in January Pierre Lebrun said the Avalanche hoped to have Landeskog back by mid-March. Clearly, that didn’t happen. That’s why they pretty much gave up on the timelines.
If he comes back, that’s great, but as of right now, don’t expect that for the first game of the postseason. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen or that he won’t be back this year, but this is a guy who hasn’t played this season. All expectations must be thrown out the window at this point. They just need to see progress on the ice and in rehab. It’s obvious they want Landeskog back, but can they count on it? I don’t see how they could with the way it all went.