After the 2012-13 NHL lockout, the scheduling was adjusted making it so every team goes to play in every NHL city throughout the course of a season. In order to make travel as bearable as possible for the players, road trips are often scheduled similarly year in year out. The annual Florida trip for the Colorado Avalanche felt familiar as they played both the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in consecutive games.
Since this annual trip was established in 2013-14, the Avalanche have left the state of Florida every season with one win and one loss– some of which over time or shootout losses, but losses nonetheless.
This year’s trip to the Sunshine State came with added difficulty when compared to years past, as it was the first time they would face the two Florida teams on back-to-back nights. Colorado broke the seven-year trend with a 5-4-overtime win over the Panthers Friday night, followed by a 6-2 beat down of the reigning President’s Trophy winning Lightning on Saturday.
After a pivotal week on the road, the Avalanche now sit at 7-0-1 and continue to perform at a pace that even the most optimistic fans and pundits didn’t expect. Here are the key takeaways as the Avs were able to break the Florida curse and end the weekend on the highest of notes.
New guys carrying serious weight
It didn’t take long for this year’s offseason acquisitions to make Joe Sakic look anything short of brilliant, but the newcomers really made their presence felt, particularly on Friday against the Panthers. Jonas Donskoi, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Pierre-Eduard Bellemare combined for eight points on the weekend, chipping in or scoring on six of Colorado’s 11 goals.
While the top line hasn’t produced at the rate we’ve seen from them before, it is refreshing to see that they don’t have to for this year’s team to be successful. We knew offensive depth drastically improved, this two-game set made it clear the goal scoring wont rest entirely on the shoulders of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog as it did last season.
While the new guys are taking care of the goal scoring, the defense has been great at facilitating the offense from the backend. Of the 11 goals the Avalanche scored this weekend, defensemen had the secondary assist on six of them. This has been a part of the Avalanche game plan for sometime so this too comes with little surprise, but what is great to see from the Avs blueline is the contributions of Ian Cole who added two assists in the game against the Panthers and is an astounding +10 plus/minus rating which is currently leading the NHL.
Goaltending was monstrous
The Avalanche goal scoring was the biggest factor over the weekend, but the goaltending was easily the second most important contributor to the back-to-back victories. This year is a big “prove it” year for the Avs goalies and both Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz helped add confidence in what they are capable of after playing one game each.
Grubauer’s performance against the Panthers started off less than ideal as he had given up four goals in the first two periods of play, although, the goals were more due to defensive breakdowns than poor goaltending. Despite the four goals, Grubauer still had a handful of great saves that kept the team in the game as they came back from a 3-1 deficit. The third period is where Grubauer really kicked it into gear stopping all 12 shots he faced in the final frame, many of which were spectacular as well.
Pavel Francouz was in net against Tampa Bay for his second career start and even though he was playing against one of the NHL’s most potent offenses over the last several years, he was as calm and collected as can be stopping 44 of the Lightning’s 46 shots on goal. The 29-year-old rookie also let in two goals in his last start, and while it’s only been two games, a 2.00 goals against average and a .951 save percentage is pretty encouraging.
Saturday was all about Tyson Jost
The expectations for Tyosn Jost this season are high and it could be a breakout year for the 21-year old. If that’s the case then Saturday against the Lightning was Jost’s breakout game in his breakout year scoring his first career hat trick. Tyson Jost is capable of great offensive contribution and has continued to make strides since being bumped down to the third line. He is at his best when his confidence is high and it couldn’t be any higher than it is at this moment. Let’s see if the points continue to pile on for Jost and his breakout year comes to fruition.
Last season the Avalanche spent more time on the penalty kill than any other team in the NHL and had the seventh worst penalty kill percentage in the league. This past weekend the Avs were shorthanded six times and didn’t concede a single goal.
Sure, you’d like to see the power play do better than 0-6, but there are obvious improvements to the special teams so far as Colorado now has the fifth best penalty kill in the NHL.
The Avalanche take the ice again on Monday in St. Louis which will be the second to last game of the current six-game road trip.