The Colorado Avalanche currently face a problem they haven’t had to deal with since the end of the 2015-16 season; the absence of Nathan MacKinnon.
Not that there is ever a good time for a team to lose its potential Hart Trophy candidate, but the timing of MacKinnon’s injury is problematic for the Avalanche, as a crucial point of their schedule approaches, in the midst of their longest losing streak since the 1-4 home stand in early December.
With MacKinnon out for the next 2-4 weeks with his upper-body injury — announced Thursday by the Avalanche — the Avs are going to need someone to fill the monstrous void until he returns.
After further evaluation, Nathan MacKinnon will be out 2-4 weeks. pic.twitter.com/ftGuHDqgdt
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) February 1, 2018
Not only is MacKinnon in the top of NHL statistics in scoring with his 24 goals and 37 assists, but he also appears near the top in most statistical categories including; five-on-five points, on-ice shooting percentage by players with 20 or more games played, and power-play production.
It’s extremely difficult for any one player to replicate what Nathan MacKinnon has brought to the Avs this year, but three players specifically, can put a Band-Aid on the Colorado wound, pick up what MacKinnon has left behind and help the Avalanche stay afloat in the ultra-competitive Central Division.
Just seven goals and five assists behind MacKinnon, Rantanen provides the second biggest offensive threat for Colorado. He has a tremendously quick shot and creates dangerous offensive opportunities by finding the quiet areas of the ice.
Rantanen has maintained right around a 15 percent shooting percentage in each of the last two seasons. While MacKinnon currently provides the most shots on goal for Colorado with 3.34 per game — due largely to ice time — Landeskog and Rantanen are next in line in shots per game from forwards.
If Rantanen can compensate for one or two shots per game that Colorado is missing from MacKinnon, and the rest of the slack gets picked up by his linemates, the 21-year-old Finnish forward will help keep Colorado’s offensive production at bay while adding to his season goal total assuming he can maintain his shooting percentage.
Kerfoot held down MacKinnon’s center role on the top line and will likely continue to do so as he is both willing and able to carry the responsibilities of a first-line center. Fourth on the team in assists with 20, Kerfoot’s strength lies in setting his teammates up for success.
MacKinnon has assisted on eleven of Rantantanen’s 17 goals this year. If Rantanen is expected to take on some of the offensive burden, it will be Kerfoot’s job to use his playmaking ability and find Rantanen in scoring opportunities.
Kerfoot also has a freakishly high shooting percentage at 27.27 percent. He has an ability to make great decisions on when to shoot and finds success when he does get the shot off. By forcing his hand and involving himself in scoring chances, he can help out with the scoring as well and maybe even reinsert himself in the Calder Trophy conversation
The Avalanche power play has been one of the biggest improvements from last season to this one, going from 30 power-play goals and last in the league, to currently sitting at 38 goals and 6th in the league. The Avs success hasn’t exactly depended on the power-play success this year, but they are 17-8-1 when converting with the man advantage, and of the 38 power-play goals, MacKinnon has had a hand in 18.
Taking MacKinnon’s place on the first power-play unit will be one of the only other right-handed forwards remaining, J.T. Compher. The Avs power-play strategy calls for a right-handed player in MacKinnon’s spot to release one-timers on the weak side, so aside from Blake Comeau, Compher really is the only one to fill this role. Compher only has five points on the power-play this season, so an increase in his production in MacKinnon’s power-play role will be vital as non-five-on-five play is as important as ever in today’s NHL.
Compher will face serious pressure to perform in this role, and without the team’s main scorer, maintaining the power play’s success will be imperative for Colorado to remain competitive in the playoff standings.