Last week, the Colorado Avalanche showed off that despite their warts and occasional hiccup, they still have a gear that few if any other teams can reach (Look at this now!). It looked as if the Avs were kind of picking their way through the regular season and hitting their stride in the spring. After all, this is a team that is still only 18 months removed from a Stanley Cup and then went out in the first round last April, so they definitely should have a feel for what it takes and what is meaningful. They were pacing themselves while others might punch themselves out before the games that matter.
Or maybe not.
This kind of airing out of teammates in the press is pretty rare for hockey, given the sacred nature that players tend to hold “the room” to. So for Devon Toews to pull this trigger now, something must be pretty rotten.
No, the Avs should not be losing to Chicago under any circumstance, even if Cale Makar was out injured. The Hawks are the kind of opponent that you give Makar a rest day for, because a team like the Avs are supposed to sweep aside this kind of AHL-plus roster while barely getting their heart rate going. In the interest of fairness, there will be the odd night that the Hawks will pull out a win because Connor Bedard decrees it, doing stuff like this, or this:
But still, that shouldn’t be happening to the Avs. Perhaps Toews thought sounding the alarm bells now, while the Avs are still atop the Central Division, or tied for it, was the best course of action instead of waiting before they possibly dropped too far in the standings. A long runway to sort out whatever he thinks is the problem, as it were.
But who exactly is Toews talking about?
Toews spends most of his time playing behind the top line, Nathan MacKinnon’s line, so it’s hard to believe that he thinks MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen don’t know how the Avs play and where they’re supposed to be. The system is designed around them, after all.
Due to Makar’s absence, Toews was paired with Bowen Byram a fair amount Tuesday night. Byram has been around a while now, and while he has a tendency to freelance a bit and get a little cowboy, that’s kind of the Avs thing. Toews was on the ice late in the third when Valeri NIchushkin and Frederik Olofsson both were mesmerized by Bedard and allowed him to tear them open for a power-play goal, are they the object of his ire? Nichushkin has 29 points in 30 games, so that’s probably not it. And the expectations can’t be all that high for Olofsson, who’s just a guy.
Certainly Miles Wood running everywhere to try and prove how hard he plays, and taking dumb penalties along with it, is probably not the best way to introduce yourself to teammates. But Wood has his uses. And he and fellow newcomer Ross Colton are the ones tasked with taking the defensive shifts so that MacKinnon doesn’t have to worry about them.
Though I am biased, one is very tempted to think that Toews is looking right at Ryan Johansen, who really should have the sweetheart spot that is playing center on the line behind MacKinnon. Mac K takes away the best defensive pairings and best checking centers, which should allow the No. 2 center to bum-slay to his heart’s desire. It made Nazem Kadri very rich after all.
The problem is that Johansen himself is a bum and has been other than the one season in Nashville when he was in a contract drive. Johansen’s line had most of the possession when on the ice Tuesday night, but he didn’t manage a shot on goal all night and the only time anyone noticed him is when he was repeatedly trying to punch Colin Blackwell when Blackwell wasn’t looking, a signature move from Johansen. He has two points in his last 11 games, hasn’t managed more than two shots on goal in a game since the end of November and just hasn’t been a threat. And again, he’s positioned in a spot where it shouldn’t be all that hard to be a threat, especially Tuesday night, which he spent most of being countered by Nikita Zaitsev and Filip Roos, neither of whom are NHL players.
Toews is clearly upset about a hole somewhere in the roster and that’s the biggest one other than maybe in net. Jonathan Drouin isn’t doing anything either, but Drouin hasn’t done anything in four or five years and there’s a reason he’s on his third team at 28.
Something is clearly amiss in Denver, even if there are plenty of teams that would trade places with them. Maybe it isn’t so simple after all.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social