Via Colorado Avalanche and NHL.com
With a 6-3 away victory over the Minnesota Wild, the Colorado Avalanche improved their limited early-season record to 2-1-0 on October 17th. While the Wild continued their rather unsuccessful start, the Avs left their game in St. Paul with two points and enough data to start forming opinions on their new players.
While the top line has rocked its way through all three games, the following remainder of the forward group, with the exception of Valeri Nichushkin, has been lackluster to start.
Nathan MacKinnon has seven points. Mikko Rantanen has six, including his first goal against the Wild. In contrast, the Avs’ second line of Evan Rodrigues, Alex Newhook, and Nichushkin has yet to find chemistry — or the back of the net. Nichushkin’s four goals are all on special teams: three on the power play, and one shorthanded into the empty net against the Wild. So far this season, the second line has 45.45% Corsi for in 27 minutes of 5v5 and only 38.51% expected goals for, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s pretty rough compared to the first line, which sits at 59.5% Corsi for. Despite the downfalls of +/-, it’s also worth noting that Newhook, Rodrigues, and Nichushkin are the only negatives on the team at -3, -3, and -1, respectively.
This lack of scoring, however, is not unique to the second line, as the fourth line has also struggled. Lukas Sedlak and Kurtis MacDermid have recorded zero points in three games. Ben Meyers, the Avs’ big college free agent signing, lucked out with a fluky goal against the Wild but was otherwise invisible in the line’s roughly six minutes of ice time in Minnesota, a pretty clear display of a lack of trust.
In response, the Avs are sending down Meyers and Sedlak, despite Meyers’ goal on Monday. Kurtis MacDermid will stay up, as he plays a utility role for the Avalanche as a 13th forward or 7th defenseman. There’s also his tenacity for punching, the reason for his acquisition by the Avs. While it is unsurprising that a rookie like Ben Meyers might need time to adjust to professional hockey, his start to the season is disappointing following his final college season and NHL debut, where he scored in his first game.
The team will need to call up two players from the Eagles to fill the open spots left by Meyers and Sedlak, as injured Darren Helm and Gabriel Landeskog have yet to practice with the team. The two most likely candidates for call-up are Anton Blidh and Martin Kaut, the final cuts from this year’s training camp and preseason games. Blidh seems to be a favorite of Coach Jared Bednar, who liked the forward’s game in multiple preseason matches earlier in October. Kaut’s preseason was inconsistent, but he’s had a successful start to the season with the Eagles with two goals and one assist for 3 points in 2 games.
Other possible candidates are Charles Hudon, signed by the Avs in July and cut late from training camp, and Sampo Ranta. Ranta had a 10-game stint in the NHL with Avs last season, but he failed to score a point in any of those ten games. He’s also yet to record a point with the Eagles in their first two games, so it seems like long odds for him to get the call-up.
Until Helm and Landeskog return, the Avs’ lineup is going to be weak on depth — much weaker than they were at the end of last season. But, the team also started the 21-22 season with Nathan MacKinnon out, Cale Makar nursing a wrist injury, and Alex Newhook in the minors. There are no reasons to fret about the 22-23 Avs’ roster quite yet.
The Avalanche are simply using the early season to experiment with their bottom nine — especially their fourth line. Let’s hope they find a lineup with a bit more chemistry.