The Avalanche can still make it look easy. The problem is, they don't often seem to want to

The Avalanche can still make it look easy. The problem is, they don't often seem to want to

It hasn’t been the smoothest season for the Colorado Avalanche. They still lead the Central Division, because the Central is the division where everyone has mittens pinned to their jackets year round. There’s the Dallas Stars, sort of, and then a bunch of teams trying to figure out how doorknobs work.

But other than that saving grace, it’s been wonky of late for the 2022 Stanley Cup champs. The idea of taking Ryan Johansen off Nashville’s hands to be the No. 2 center behind Nathan MacKinnon has been a predictable disaster, as RyJo wanders through games like he’s flipping between whether to wait for the bus or just go ahead and walk. He has 11 points in 28 games, some of the worst metrics on the team. The hope that Jonathan Drouin might recreate some magic with MacKinnon that they had to scorch children back in the OHL lasted just about five minutes. And he’s on the second line with Johansen wasting most everyone’s time, as well. Thankfully, what’s kept them from having blaring red lights on the dashboard is that Ross Colton and Miles Wood on the third line have been useful or better, and doing so while having to turn over the whole ice as they start a majority of their shifts in the defensive zone, as well as the continued brilliance of the top line.

The defense misses Samuel Girard (get me one of them donuts with sprinkles on ‘em while you’re thinking!), who is taking time away from the team to deal with anxiety and depression. It’s forced Bowen Byram and Josh Manson to take the ultra-defensive shifts, which has handcuffed the former’s offensive game, though they’re still pushing the play.

The goaltending hasn’t been great either, as Alex Georgiev hasn’t really proven he’s capable of carrying the mail for a genuine Cup contender yet (.897 save percentage). Ivan Prosvetov has shown flashes as a backup, but that would be quite the gamble.

Mostly, one gets the feeling while watching the Avs this year, though, that they’re keenly aware they don’t have to work all that hard to win the Central again, they’re kind of waiting around to see what the front office will do before the trade deadline, and they’ll pump into gear in the spring. That was kind of their plan last year, except they never really kicked into gear (though they still won the division and then just lost a supremely weird series to Seattle in the first round).

One gets that feeling after games like Monday night. The Avs came into their home date against Calgary having lost five of six and their last two home games to the Flyers and Jets. And not particularly well, either. Perhaps most worryingly, last weekend they got absolutely clubbed by the Kings in Los Angeles, not exactly looking like they can measure up to one of the conference’s best.

The first two periods Monday night weren’t all that much more encouraging, as a pretty limited and waiting-for-the-fall Flames team took a 5-3 lead into the second intermission. Prosvetov looked like he was still navigating his first full season in the NHL, Johansen was getting fourth-line amount of ice time (though actually playing pretty well with them), and Byram was struggling with taking on the dungeon-shifts.

And then it took the Avs five minutes to do this:

Flames @ Avalanche 12/11 | NHL Highlights 2023

One turnover, one rush from Byram and Makar, and one instance of Noah Hanifin walking off to the zoo in the neutral zone, and the Avs had simply zoomed by the Flames like Christian Bale past that palooka at Daytona in Ford vs Ferrari. The warts might still be there, but the Avs still have perhaps the most deadline, top-line combination in MacKinnon and Rantanen, backed up by the most dynamic d-man in the league in Makar, whom they can send into overdrive when they pair him with Byram as the did late in last night’s game. There’s a level of passing and speed when they hit the big red button that few, if any, teams can match or even comprehend. The Avs, when they want, zip themselves and the puck around the rink like a glitch.

Joe Sakic is still going to have to figure out the second-line problem and possibly one in net. Yet watching them only actually try for one-sixth of a game and still pile up three goals they need to win, while looking about as taxed as you and I do searching the fridge for a snack, makes you think that the Avs still only need a scalpel instead of a hatchet to get them ready for April.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.