When the teams met in Denver on Nov. 15, Anaheim and Colorado were headed in different directions. They’re still heading in different directions but the circumstances have reversed.
The Ducks had won eight of 10 going into that game and the Avalanche had recently dropped five of seven games, and in three of those they were shut out.
When the teams meet Saturday night in Anaheim, it is the Ducks who are struggling and Colorado is surging.
Anaheim has dropped eight in a row — all in regulation — starting with the 8-2 loss in Denver in mid-November. Three of those losses have been by one goal, which is a tough lesson for a team with a young core to experience.
But the Ducks aren’t losing faith in their roster or their first-year coach, Greg Cronin. The struggles they’re going through are considered part of the process to get better.
“With a young team and a new coach, I think I was expecting a little bit of a roller-coaster ride and now we’re kind of seeing that,” Anaheim general manager Pat Verbeek told the team website. We were 1-1-0 after two games, went to 1-4-0 and then reeled off six in a row, which was really good. And now we’re going through a stretch where we’ve found ways to lose.
“That’s all part of the learning curve. As a result, there’s going to be some games we win, some games we lose, and that’s where we’re at.”
The Avalanche went through a similar growth experience in coach Jared Bednar’s first year and finished with the fewest points in the league. They didn’t get the top pick in the draft after that season but they snagged the best player with the fourth pick, Cale Makar.
Makar has already won a Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman and the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs. He is having another strong season with seven goals and 27 assists to lead all defensemen in points.
His scoring has been valuable in Colorado’s current run. It is 7-1-1 after that tough stretch in early November despite not having Artturi Lehkonen (neck injury) or Samuel Girard (NHL/NHLPA Players Assistance Program).
It has helped that the Avalanche are getting production from more than just the top line. Nathan MacKinnon had four goals and 22 points in November and Valeri Nichushkin has nine goals and six assists in the past 12 games, but the contributions from Ryan Johansen (nine goals, one assist) and Jonathan Drouin (three goals, three assists) have bolstered Colorado’s attack.
Both got off to a relatively slow start but as they’ve gotten more comfortable with the Avalanche system, they are starting to score more.
Johansen had two goals Monday in a win over Tampa Bay and fellow newcomer Tomas Tatar has found a groove, too.
“We’ve started to build some chemistry,” said Tatar, who has eight assists in 20 games. “We’re trying to focus a little bit on the stuff on the defensive side. It’s been clicking.”
–Field Level Media