In the February 18 game against the Edmonton Oilers, the Colorado Avalanche lost both Erik Johnson and Anton Lindholm due to injury, leaving Avalanche coaches and management in a scramble to fill the defensive void in a crucial stretch of the season.
Of course, the absence of Johnson overshadowed that of Lindholm’s due to a variance in ice time and importance to the lineup, but after getting hurt on an unlucky play and missing the last four games, Lindholm is ready to return to the lineup and help Colorado’s final playoff push.
At Tuesday’s optional practice, Lindholm’s non-contact jersey was replaced with a standard black jersey and the 23-year-old pushed himself to measure how far he has come in his recovery.
“That’s what I did today, I did some extra contact after practice — tested it out,” Lindholm said following the ice session. “According to me, I feel like I’m ready, so I feel like the medical staff needs to make a decision and re-evaluate after the practice I had with contact, but yeah, I feel ready.”
With his injury coinciding with Johnson’s, Lindholm felt there was a missed opportunity to take on a bigger role, but he has plenty of time remaining in this season to continue to prove his value.
“With EJ being out, his huge minutes need to be portioned out, so obviously, that would have been a great time to get more responsibility and try to step up and do a little bit more,” Lindholm said. “It is what it is, I guess, and once I earn my way back into the lineup, I just need to keep going and prove it every day.”
While coach Jared Bednar is certainly happy to have more of his lineup return to good health, he’s also pleased with the players that have stepped up in the wake of the injuries, and is not in a hurry to get Lindholm back in the defensive rotation.
“The idea today was to get him in contact and then catch up with the docs and the trainers tomorrow, and then make a decision, and we will decide on the lineup,” coach Jared Bednar said following the practice. “I really liked the way we played the other night, so there’s a good chance we keep the lineup the same.”
The myriad of injuries forced the Avalanche to make some roster moves and the result was a couple of AHL call-ups and a couple of acquisitions to bolster the defensive group for the Avalanche and San Antonio Rampage alike. Despite Lindholm’s eagerness to jump back into his old spot on the depth chart, the defensive roster spots are going to be up for grabs in a friendly, open competition down the stretch.
“We will go game-by-game. If someone struggles, maybe someone else gets an opportunity,” coach Bednar said Tuesday afternoon. “It will be competitive back there right now because of the importance of all the games and just where we are at in the year — we’ve got to play to win.”
“[David] Warsofsky and [Duncan] Siemens especially, coming in and doing a nice job here with the last few games — I feel like after last game at home, both of those guys were really good again, so I’m leaning towards keeping the lineup the same.”
The Avalanche have used ten different defensemen so far this year — throw in newly acquired Mark Alt and that makes eleven. The variety of options makes the timing of Lindholm’s injury unfortunate for him, but fortunate for Colorado. The defensive group lacks experience so the plethora of possibilities along with the competition for playing time will allow the Avs to pick their best possible six defensemen as they continue to try and fill the shoes of Erik Johnson, as difficult as that may be.