5 Avalanche takeaways at the All-Star break; Rantanen’s moment, Landeskog timeline | Colorado Avalanches
The Avalanche entered the All-Star break with a surge of momentum.
Colorado won seven of its last eight games to get back into the playoff picture as currently the second Wild Card team out of the West — at 57 points (27-18-3). A trio of players — Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen — will represent the Avs in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday for the NHL All-Star Game.
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Here are five major takeaways from the first 48 games of the Avalanche season:
1. Rantanen’s moment. It’s never been a question of whether Rantanen had all the physical tools to be considered the top power-forward in the NHL. He’s a 6-foot-4, 215-pound freight train on ice with the length, speed and strength to overpower opponents. With Nathan MacKinnon absent for 11 games, the rest of the NHL discovered what the Avalanche already knew. Rantanen can be that guy.
The numbers are impressive. Rantanen is tied for third in the NHL with 34 goals scored — the most among Avalanche players by a 19-goal margin over second-place Artturi Lehkonen (15). Rantanen is a workhorse who stayed healthy despite leading all Colorado forwards in ice time (22:49). He’s carried the Avs this season.
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2. MacFarland shines as GM. Let’s examine the first two major roster additions of the Chris MacFarland GM era in Colorado. Goalie Alexandar Georgiev (acquired via trade from the Rangers) and forward Evan Rodrigues (signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh). How well did those moves pan out?
Short answer: Brilliantly.
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Georgiev is playing like a Top-10 goaltender — 20-11-3 record, 2.60 GAA, .920 SV% — on a mid-level goaltender’s contract ($3.4M AAV). Rodrigues is a Swiss Army knife, thriving up and down the lineup at center and wing with 11 goals and 15 assists. Both have been critical to the Avalanche’s success. Kudos to MacFarland.
3. Postseason outlook. It looked dicey for the Avalanche in early January, losing seven of eight games, and momentarily falling out of the playoff mix. Since 1971, only three Stanley Cup champions in history failed to reach the postseason in the following year; the 1995-96 New Jersey Devils, the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings.
But it’s no time to panic that the Avs will be the fourth.
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Colorado eased fears heading into the All-Star break and climbed back to within one point of Minnesota for third place in the Central Division. It’s safe to assume, barring no more significant injuries, that Colorado has yet to play its best hockey of the season. The Avs are still a safe bet to make the playoffs. Getting healthy is the last obstacle standing in the way.
4. Help is on the way. It’s no secret that injuries have derailed the Avalanche’s first half and it showed with lengthy losing streaks in December and January. But the roster is beginning to stabilize with several key players set for possible returns after the break.
The team’s dynamic second defensive pair — Bowen Byram and Josh Manson — have been skating with the team in red no-contact sweaters for multiple weeks. Their respective lower-body injuries have another week of rest before Colorado returns to play next week at the Pittsburgh Penguins. The same goes for winger Valeri Nichushkin (upper-body injury), who is considered day-to-day for return.
5. Where’s Landy? Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog skated around with the Stanley Cup before the season opener in October as part of the pregame festivities at Ball Arena. It’s the last time we’ve seen Landeskog in uniform after a longer-than-expected recovery time from knee surgery. Forget the point production (30 goals and 29 assists last season). It’s the captain leadership that Colorado covets the most in his absence.
The latest on Landy: Colorado is hopeful that Landeskog will be available to play again by early March, according to a TSN report. Avs coach Jared Bednar recently told local media the “tentative plan” is for Landeskog to begin skating after the All-Star break.
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