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Injuries, scoring imbalance affect strategy

techsm5

As the Avalanche flew from Vancouver to Edmonton after a fifth straight loss and a season low, the most staggering statistic of the season (still) was the team’s scoring imbalance.

Or maybe Colorado was still positioned for a playoff berth despite it.

The Avs (19-15-3) finished seventh in the West with .554 point percentage, trailing the wildcard crowd even though Mikko Rantanen remained the team’s only double-digit scorer at the 37 mark. games (26 goals).

Every other team in the league had at least two 10-goal scorers; 30 of the 32 teams had at least three; 21 teams had at least four; and 13 had at least five.

For historical context, only 70 times in NHL history and 56 times since the start of the expansion era (1967) it has taken a team 40 games for a second player to reach 10 goals . Only 15 of those 70 teams were above .500 when a second player scored their 10th.

Most games ever played: 54 for the Sharks from 1997-98 and the Senators from 1995-96. These teams finished 34-38-10 and 18-59-5 respectively. In 2021-22, the Canadiens became the third team in NHL history to win 50 or more games. They finished 22-49-11.

It’s the second longest it’s ever taken for the Avalanche/Nordiques franchise. The longest? 39 games in the nightmare of 2016-17.

In other words, this level of scoring imbalance this far into a season is unsustainable.

Obviously, the Avs would have more double-digit scorers if they had more healthy forwards. Nathan MacKinnon has missed 11 games. Valeri Nichushkin was scoring seven goals in seven games when he injured his ankle. Gabriel Landeskog scored 30 goals last season but still hasn’t played a game.

As that stretches into the midway point of the season, the question that Colorado’s season hinges on is: Should the Avalanche go all-in to win another Stanley Cup by the trade deadline?

Chris MacFarland and Joe Sakic have until March 2 to decide. The most crucial determining factor will be the evolution of Landeskog’s status. On a team that currently ranks last in the NHL in 5-on-5 shooting percentage (5.6%), the captain shot 17.4% last season.

Landeskog’s initial schedule put him on track to return next week when the Avs visit Chicago. Coach Jared Bednar said he was “nowhere near” returning, but the team still expects him to return this season. “I wouldn’t call it a setback,” Bednar said. “I think he is making very good progress. We are happy with how it is going. It’s just a new calendar.

As long as the organization remains optimistic about it, there is no reason to change its business strategy. But if Landeskog still isn’t on the ice by, say, the last week of February, a pivot will be more questionable. The benchmark for an aggressive trade deadline should be if the Avalanche can consider deploying two top lines in the playoffs — essentially what the team did last season with Nazem Kadri at 2C.

The second line should be completely different from its current iteration: you want Landeskog and Nichushkin on the wings, and a trade acquisition eventually replacing Kadri in the middle. (Recent second stunt doubles include Alex Newhook, Evan Rodrigues, JT Compher and Denis Malgin.)

Nichushkin skates individually but still does not travel. He’s classed as day-to-day, so ideally once the deadline approaches, he’ll be back to full health for several weeks. That, combined with an imminent return from Landeskog, should be enough to make you feel more convinced to buy.


techsm5

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