Colorado Avalanche Struggle Early with Lineup Inconsistencies

Colorado Avalanche struggle
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The Colorado Avalanche dropped three of their first four contests to start the season. They looked great on opening night against the Chicago Blackhawks, cruising to a 4-2 victory. The same couldn’t be said of the next three games. Against the St. Louis Blues and then Washington Capitals, the Avs never held a lead and gave up goals in the first half of the first period. They improved against the Florida Panthers, but still lost that heavyweight battle. In all the losses they played from behind all night, an uphill battle that cost them three regulation defeats. The early Avalanche struggle, though, has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Lack of Lineup Consistency Cause Colorado Avalanche Struggles

The Avs featured a different lineup in all three of their first contests of the season. They went without superstar Nathan MacKinnon for the first two games of the season. They lost Gabriel Landeskog to suspension over their second and third games, too. Those forwards remain two of the most dynamic players on a strong Avalanche roster, so their absence undoubtedly was felt. That fact rang especially true against St. Louis when both skaters sat on the sidelines simultaneously.

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They also have yet to suit up with Devon Toews in the lineup, a mainstay on their blueline. Jack Johnson, who signed a contract after completing the preseason on a professional try-out, missed a game after entering COVID protocol as well. Plus, middle-six forward Valeri Nichushkin went down and out with an undisclosed injury after the season opener. And last but not least, backup goaltender Pavel Francouz remains out after a lower-body injury in the preseason.

Avalanche Mixing Up Lineup on Daily Basis

When two of your top-line forwards are unavailable, others must fill those roles. That causes a trickle-down effect across the rest of the lineup, as players bump up from one line to the next to backfill. With Nichushkin out as well, the situation winds up compounded that much more. It has meant that the team already filtered through a ton of different depth options; Dylan Sikura, Alex Newhook, Stefan Matteau, Mikhail Maltsev, Martin Kaut, and Jayson Megna each rotated in and out of the lineup in those first three games. Only three holes needed to be filled, yet six different players received opportunities to do so.

The situation on defence and in net looks seems stressed, too. Missing Toews wasn’t a surprise to begin the year and opened the door for Jack Johnson to jump into the lineup. Then when he faced COVID protocol, Kurtis MacDermid drew into his spot. MacDermid dressed as a seventh defenceman once already, too. In net, Darcy Kuemper started and finished all their first three games. Behind him, Jonas Johansson owns the backup duties and got his first start of the season against the Panthers in their fourth contest. Though he looked solid, the Avs continued to struggle to find any offence.

In three straight losses, Colorado performed abysmally. They were outscored 15-7, giving up an average of five goals per game. Goaltending certainly needs to improve, but the team defence isn’t doing them any favours either. And for what is supposed to be an elite offence, the lack of scoring can’t continue.

Team Getting Healthy, Success Should Follow

Against Florida, the Avs may have played their last game without Toews. He skated in practice and joined the team on the trip, and even almost dressed versus the Panthers. Nichushkin and Francouz would then be the last lineup regulars out with injury. And frankly, having one or two players out is something most teams face at any given point in the season. Colorado should be prepared to succeed with a player or two (or three) unavailable every night.

That’s easier said than done, especially early in the year. And even more so when it’s your top dogs. For the first time this season, the Avs featured their typical top line in Florida with MacKinnon, Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen. Their odds of winning skyrocket when those three play together and go even higher when Samuel Girard, Cale Makar, Erik Johnson and Toews all play too. Get their regular starter in net with Kuemper, and this Avs team is still formidable. The early Avalanche struggle won’t last long, they will only improve as the year rolls on.

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