The Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup defense has gotten off to a wobbly start.

Their 6-4-1 record has them in third place in the Central Division, trailing both the Winnipeg Jets and the Dallas Stars by four points, but with a game in hand as they prepare to host the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.

The Avalanche got their collective heads above water on their recent trip to Finland, easily sweeping the Columbus Blue Jackets in a two-game set last weekend, but significant challenges with injuries have made things difficult for head coach Jared Bednar, who has been forced into constantly shuffling lines with an ever-rotating cast of characters.

The successful trip to Finland came at significant cost for the Avalanche, as defensemen Bowen Byram and Samuel Girard both suffered lower-body injuries. Bednar said on Tuesday that Byram is “week-to-week,” and Girard “day-to-day.”

Their loss means that the Avalanche will have to shake up their blueline.

“The strength of our team has been our back end, and we’re just pulling two guys out of it now for who knows how long,” Bednar said. “There’s obviously some opportunity for some guys, just like we’ve seen up front. We’ll see our D-core change a little bit. There’ll be opportunity for more forwards to come up here now and [we’ve] just got to grind through. Injuries are going to come at certain times; you’re hoping they don’t pile up all at the same time — like they kind of are for us right now — but the good news is we’re coming home. We’ll get the rhythm of our game going again.”

Finding rhythm was always going to be a challenge for the Avalanche, who knew that their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, was to miss a significant part of the season after rushing back to last summer’s Stanley Cup playoff chase following knee surgery. The understandably confident Avs won’t rush Landeskog back this time; after a scintillating, 20-game postseason performance that included 11 goals, 11 assists and a plus-15 on the ice, Colorado will be satisfied with letting their captain take his time to recover. “I don’t have a timeline on Landeskog,” Bednar said on Tuesday.

Landeskog and fourth-line forward Darren Helm, who’s dealing with an injury of his own that has kept him from playing at all this season, are on injured reserve, although Bednar said that the veteran Helm is “week-to-week” and much closer to a return. Helm, however, despite notably clutch performances last season, isn’t being counted on to score all that much — but after having rewarded him with a new, eight-year, $49 million dollar contract in the offseason, Valeri Nichushkin is.

Nichushkin, who authored a breakout campaign last season at the age of 26, got off to a hot start again this season, including an impressive seven goals and five assists to lead the team in points with 12 through their first seven games. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury in that seventh game and hasn’t played since. Hope that he’d return soon was quickly quashed by Bednar upon returning from Finland. “So, Val is having surgery on his ankle,” he explained. “He’s going to miss approximately a month, give or take.”

If you’re keeping track, that means that the Avalanche are without a quarter of their four forward lines, and a full third of their defensive pairings; not exactly ideal for any team, let alone a squad who has a target on their backs every night as the defending champs, and one that’s faced a difficult early schedule that’s understandably showcased the current Cup holders, both in North America and abroad.  As a result, the Avalanche have already used 24 skaters on the ice in their first 11 games.

That said, since injuries are all but inevitable in a grueling, 82-game NHL schedule, there’s an argument to be made that there are a few upsides to the Avalanche’s current situation, even as challenging as it currently is.

Eventually, every Stanley Cup contender will have its depth tested, and there’s value in knowing what you’ve got sooner rather than later. The Avs’ injury situation has forced their hand, and some of what they’ve learned has been revealing.

Longtime prospect and former first-round draft pick Martin Kaut is still only 23, and even though he was rumored as a potential trade piece last season, he’s getting a longer look at the NHL level this time around, averaging 8:03 in ice time and logging a pair of points in eight games. The Avalanche plucked 26-year-old Dryden Hunt off of waivers from the New York Rangers, and Bednar hasn’t wasted any time deploying him. Hunt hasn’t been effective with the Avs yet (no points and a minus-1 in seven games), but given Colorado’s youth, he might as well be a wily veteran.

Mikhail Maltsev, part of the 2021 trade that sent Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils, and Jayson Megna, who’s bounced between than AHL and NHL levels, are having an opportunity to show the organization that they’re still legitimate prospects. Unfortunately for the Avalanche, Ben Meyers — who signed with the Avalanche directly out of the University of Minnesota — hasn’t gotten early traction and finds himself toiling with the Colorado Eagles up in Loveland. It was hoped that Meyers, who was the Big Ten Player of the Year in 2022, might be able to quickly establish himself as a regular, but it’s not surprising that he’d need a little more seasoning.

That’s the type of clarity that the fallout from an early wave of injuries can bring — and having that clarity can help the organization decide what’s next.

The Byzantine nature of the NHL’s salary cap means that each time the Avs shuffle a prospect back and forth — something they certainly wouldn’t be doing if they weren’t so injury-riddled in the season’s early going — they’re saving money on their cap; money that gets accrued, literally day-by-day, over the course of the season. That savings, which builds up a little bit at a time, could conceivably free enough up cash to complete a potentially season-altering trade before the deadline in early March as Colorado prepares for another lengthy playoff run.

Of course, having Landeskog, Nichushkin, Byram, Girard and Helm back on the ice would be better, but the Avalanche know they aren’t in a sprint. It’s a marathon, and as long as they’re at their best when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, that’s about the only thing that really matters in the end. But after a bumpy couple of weeks that have seen the Avalanche criss-cross the globe, Bednar’s simply happy to sit on his own bench for a change. “The good news is we’re coming home,” he said. “We’ve just got to chip away for now.”