The streak is over for the Colorado Avalanche; 15 games of picking up points, winning 13 of them, but the run is no more.
The cynical people out there will see this post as a reaction to that, but in truth, it is something that has been in my head for a week or two now. Of course, the loss to Minnesota highlighted the need further, and I get the feeling a few more people saw what I did last night.
The Avs were not at their best last night, but over the past two games in Minnesota, we have seen a very tired team.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) April 8, 2021
Qualifying for the playoffs seems a formality from this position, and yes, the push for first in the division is important, as is the overall position in the league, for when this team hopefully reaches the final four.
However, their ability to win in the final four will be seriously harmed if the team does not work out a plan for the remainder of the regular season when it comes to management of both games and time on ice.
As you go through this post, you will notice some of the suggestions as think they are small and sensible, while others will be radical. Resting the bigger names will not come until the very end of the season, when, hopefully, the Avs have the No. 1 spot in the division wrapped up.
Other smaller moves probably need to start happening now.
The remaining game schedule
From now until the end of the season—just over a month away—the schedule that Colorado Head Coach Jared Bednar’s team has is a very simple one. Three back-to-backs remain and the team never has more than one day off.
For this reason, practice has pretty much gone out of the window, with optional skates and team meetings taking place on the days off, though mainly the injured players and taxi squad members are the ones taking part in the optional skates.
If a player wants a full day off from the rink, that only comes by being out of the lineup. From both a mental and physical point of view, the feeling I get is that everyone needs a day off now and again, and it would greatly benefit everyone on this roster, from top to bottom.
So when, where and how does this all work? Here are some things I have been thinking about.
The netminding situation
Philipp Grubauer has played arguably his two worst games of the season in Minnesota this week. One of the possible reasons for that is tiredness—he has been pushed a lot already this season, and perhaps the Avs are going too far with this.
Philipp Grubauer has had an excellent season, but this was his worst game of the year. He allowed seven goals on 18 shots for a .611 save percentage.
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) April 8, 2021
Talking about who will be the backup netminder is for another day, but what the team needs to do is sit down and work out how many games they want Grubauer to play between now and the end of the season, and let him know when his days off are coming.
It does not matter what the Avalanche do with a backup netminder because Grubauer is the man to lead this team in the playoffs. Getting him there in the best possible shape is now key, and that means management of games so he can spend time away from the spotlight on a regular basis.
Managing minutes on defense
We will get onto who should be playing on defense shortly, but first up let’s look at minutes. These need to be managed for the likes of Samuel Girard, Cale Makar and Devon Toews.
Toews in particular has looked gassed this week. He played 29:48 on Monday; that cannot happen again this season. On Wednesday, he played 20:35, which is much more like it.
Apr 05, 2021: NHL Most Ice-Time
— LinesLinesLines (@CcCMiddleton) April 6, 2021
Toews on the ice often means Girard is, too, and the same pattern emerges. Girard skated for 26:46 on Monday then just 19:48 on Wednesday. The second figures for both defensemen need to be what is seen moving forward.
Makar played 24:47 and 25:53 in those two games, and his time probably needs cutting back a little from that. He is the main guy, so is expected to go over 20 minutes, but if Colorado can regularly keep him around the 22–24 mark, that is good for him.
Of course, minutes from the top guys need to be found elsewhere, and these two games show what the Avs need to do. On Monday, Kyle Burroughs played just 6:17 while Jacob MacDonald played 9:45. On Wednesday, both bagged over 14 minutes, which is what they need to do to take the pressure off those on the lines above them.
Rotating in defensemen
When fit, one of the great elements of this team is the ability to call on multiple defensemen to play a role on this team. The top four are pretty much set, so let them keep rolling for now, but as far as the bottom two go, perhaps it is time to start rotating and keeping players fresh.
Burroughs and MacDonald will be involved, as will Bowen Byram, Greg Pateryn, Dan Renouf, Conor Timmins and even Dennis Gilbert if you want to.
The Avs have played 13 Defensemen at least once this season:
— Casey Cheatum (MHH) (@CaseyCheatum) April 6, 2021
You can play any two from those and not see a huge drop-off in the quality of the team. Yes, some are performing better than others, but the long-term benefit of having players healthy and fresh outweighs that for me.
Further down the line, hopefully in May when the No. 1 spot in the division is confirmed, the Avalanche can look to giving a Girard, Graves, Toews and maybe even Makar the night off. Not all at once, but it is certainly something I would consider planning for if the division standings allowed.
Rotating in forwards
One of the real highs over the past few weeks has been depth scoring in Colorado, and there is no way I want the team to change what they are doing, particularly with the third line. However, if we are looking at the bigger picture, then rotation and giving others a chance to play is what needs to happen.
If you are talking about the younger prospects here, then it is also an opportunity to see what they have.
When we get to the very end of the season, if someone such as Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon or Mikko Rantanen needs a night off to recover from a minor knock, then this will happen no problem.
However, before getting there, for me, it is time for the Avs to start using their depth and putting other players in for a night to give people a day off.
Even with Matt Calvert and Logan O’Connor injured, the likes of Jayson Megna, Kiefer Sherwood or TJ Tynan could step in as more experienced players.
If the team wants to go with younger players, who are seen as prospects for the future, then the likes of Martin Kaut could come up, Alex Newhook may get a chance and, of course, the constant ask for Shane Bowers is not going to go away.
Kaut had 2 goals, including the GWG late in the 3rd. Bowers with 1G 1A and Conor Timmins with 2 assists tonight. pic.twitter.com/VeDA1sQha6
— The Rink — Colorado (@TheRinkColorado) April 7, 2021
The bottom six would be shaken up—not what we want—and would likely have a different style about it, but when you look at the bigger picture, a night off for someone like 36-year-old Pierre-Edouard Bellemare could prove to be huge as we head into May.
There are multiple different looks that the Avalanche could have on their fourth line. Currently, we are seeing grit and toughness with the use of Liam O’Brien. It would be interesting to see how it looked with others, for example, if a more skilled player such as Kaut or Newhook was placed on the line.
There is also the option for this type of player on the third line if Valeri Nichushkin needs a night off, for example.
With how that third line in particular has been rolling recently, the last thing I would want to see is splitting them up or try and include new players on that line. However, with the need for this team to stay healthy and fresh, and the upcoming schedule the team has, in order to get to the playoffs in the best possible shape, it may be what the Avs need to do.