There was a lot of doubt on whether the Avalanche were right in giving captain Gabriel Landeskog a max-term contract extension last offseason. After all, players of his ilk have a shelf life that more often than not doesn’t stretch into their mid-30s. But what Landeskog has given the Avs this season — and was highlighted in Wednesday’s 7-3 victory over the New York Rangers — is alone worth every penny.
Landeskog only had an assist in Colorado’s second straight seven-goal outburst, improving his point totals to a whopping 25 in just 20 games. But the highlight reel likely isn’t going to focus on that single point. Rather it’s his willingness to always have his teams back.
Landeskog challenged New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba to a fight at Madison Square Garden after Trouba laid out superstar center Nathan MacKinnon with a powerful open-ice hit. The call went unpenalized and is likely going to be deemed as a clean hit by the league. But the unnecessary amount of force Trouba put into the play was potentially what caused him to answer the bell.
That plus the fact that Landeskog will always stick up for a teammate.
Landeskog is giving the Avs a combination of physicality, grittiness and scoring that we haven’t seen from him in years. His offensive production has not stalled at all — in fact it’s actually improved — but understandably so, Landeskog hasn’t been as physical in recent years as he was earlier in his career. It’s not that he’s mailed it in, it’s that he’s rediscovered his mean streak.
That tenacity he’s bringing is what’s different this season. The 29-year-old watched as his team got pushed around in the playoffs last year and get eliminated in the second round once again. The skill was there. The will wasn’t.
Landeskog identified the issue, signed a long-term contract to get more than just one more crack at hockey’s holy grail, and is willing his team and their offensive prowess with a style of play that wins championships.
The Avalanche scored 19 goals over the first four games of the road trip but surrendered 20. All four contests were played without starting goalie Darcy Kuemper. In his return, Kuemper gave the Avs stability in goal, making 26 saves on 29 shots. Letting three pucks get past you isn’t an outstanding effort in the grand scheme of things, but Kuemper made the stops Colorado wasn’t getting throughout the road trip.
In the first period, the Rangers had a 2-on-0 breakaway that was saved. They had another breakaway later that Kuemper also stopped with ease. The former kept the Avs close, setting up for a five-goal second period. And the latter kept Colorado ahead by a wide margin for good measure.
Is this a good time to remind everyone that general manager Joe Sakic signed Logan O’Connor to a three-year extension with an average annual value of $1.05 million? And that the deal doesn’t actually begin until next season?
O’Connor continued his outstanding year with a two-goal performance — both coming just 22 seconds apart in the second period. The former DU Pioneer has five goals and 12 points while being one of just four skaters to play in all 23 games (Tyson Jost, Darren Helm and Erik Johnson the others).
11s and 12
Two of the first three Avalanche goals came from forwards Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri. It was the 11th goal of the year for both, matching star defenseman Cale Makar for the most on the Avs. Rantanen, who had a hat trick less than two weeks ago, later added a second goal for his team-best 12th.
Rantanen had 30 goals last year to lead the way in the shortened season and is well on his way to another season of 30-plus goals. For Kadri, the feat has not been accomplished since his days with the Toronto Maple Leafs. But the most fascinating of the bunch is Makar. Despite failing to score a goal Wednesday, Makar is well on his way to being the first blueliner to score 30 in the NHL since 2008 (Mike Green, Washington).
I say they do it.
Oftentimes the goal that breaks a drought isn’t the simple shot. And that was the case for MacKinnon, who scored just his second goal of the season and first in over six weeks to break a nine-game goal drought. He had 13 assists during the stretch but goals were hard to come by.
His tally against the Rangers was a reminder of his greatness. MacKinnon beat the goalie to the puck and extended his stick to just poke it through rookie Adam Huska to tie the game at 2-2 early in the second period.
Could this be the one that breaks the dam?
Third-line center Alex Newhook scored for the third straight game. His seventh of the season was also his third game-winner.
Newhook has awoken as the point producer the Avalanche expected him to be when they selected him 16th overall in the 2019 Entry Draft. Since getting called up from the AHL, he has 10 points in 13 games. His seven goals in that stretch are tied for fourth with Valeri Nichushkin trailing only behind Kadri, Rantanen and Makar.
Newhook is the only one of the bunch that doesn’t play big minutes.
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif