The two-year anniversary of the Colorado Avalanche’s about-face is just a couple weeks away and the talent-laden club may just celebrate by winning every game it has between now and then.
Remember what we all (yes, all!) thought of the Avs about 24 months ago? That was right before Matt Duchene was finally traded by GM Joe Sakic, who hadn’t really done anything on the job to that point to make us believe there was going to be some great second act to his hockey career.
Colorado was coming off a 2016-17 season in which it posted a .293 winning percentage, Nathan MacKinnon appeared to be settling into life as a 55-point player and Jared Bednar was — by some distance — the guy you were most likely to forget was an NHL coach.
Then, on Nov. 5, 2017, Sakic grand-slammed the Duchene deal and the good news basically hasn’t stopped since. The latest development is some indication even the bottom-six supporting cast might be ready to take a step forward, which should absolutely terrify the rest of the league. The story of Colorado’s second Florida victory of the weekend — they beat the Panthers on Friday and downed the Lighting in what might actually be the betting favourite for a Cup preview on Saturday — was Tyson Jost’s three-goal showing.
Jost is a third-line player with first-round pedigree in his third full season. The 10th overall pick from 2016 had only one goal before potting the hat trick versus Tampa and if he’s just now starting to scratch his potential, it would further solidify a forward crew that added high-end help last summer in the form of Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi. In fact, the Avalanche’s entire second line — Kadri between Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky — were all wearing different uniforms last year. Throw super rookie Cale Makar into the mix and you have four guys who were not on the scene during the regular season last year and are now playing important-to-vital roles in Colorado.
When you’re 7-0-1 and averaging well over four goals a game, it’s safe to say things are going your way. Of course, when we’re talking about two years’ worth of good fortune, that simply means a master plan is coming to fruition.
Other Weekend Takeaways
• If I asked you who the happiest guy in hockey is, would you answer “Marc-Andre Fleury” faster than ‘Flower’ kicks out his pads? It’s so easy to forget how emotional it was for Fleury to leave Pittsburgh two-and-a-half years ago for an expansion franchise we all assumed would be something akin to the awful pre-Crosby Penguins team that drafted the goalie first overall in 2003. The degree to which Fleury embraced being the franchise face in Vegas right from the start is admirable and even if you kind of hate the Golden Knights for never knowing a down period, how can you not smile for the guy who may own the league’s signature grin? Like a few teams, Vegas is still struggling to find a backup who can spell its starter for 25-30 games. That said, the way Fleury is playing so far, it feels like a crime to keep him out of the crease at all. The 34-year-old — hard to believe with those still-boyish looks he’ll turn 35 in a month — has posted a .934 save percentage in this young season, a higher mark than every goalie with six or more starts save John Gibson. And seriously, how much fun is this guy — who blanked his old buddies 3-0 on Saturday — having?
• Two things it’s hard to believe weren’t really part of an NHL defenceman’s repertoire a relatively short time ago: The high flip out of the defensive zone and the intentional bank off the end boards in the O-zone. St. Louis Blues rearguard Alex Pietrangelo played the carom to perfection against Montreal on Saturday.
Former Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom should collect royalties every time a blue-liner executes this hard bank, one he really pioneered back in Joe Louis Arena.
• I’m not sure a team could be more desperate for an early-season win than the Dallas Stars were in Philly on Saturday after dropping their fifth straight in Pittsburgh on Friday night. Dallas — a sexy pre-season Cup pick in some circles — got its much-needed victory by dropping the Flyers 4-1 despite registering just 15 shots on goal. Trust me, the Stars will take it. That game featured Corey Perry’s first marker with the squad, as the veteran also registered two assists in his third game with Dallas. The back-hander he put under the bar is a good reminder that slow feet and achy knees don’t make your hands any less soft.
The 2-7-1 Stars now need to make hay while playing six of their next seven at home.
• With his Washington Nationals set to play their first-ever World Series game on Tuesday, pitcher Max Scherzer showed up to the Caps game on Friday to put his own little twist on the ceremonial opening face-off.
At this point, Washington defenceman John Carlson could likely play hockey with a Louisville Slugger and still create offence. With an assist in Sunday’s win over Chicago, Carlson has a league-leading 18 points in 10 games. The only other D-men in league history to put up at least 18 points though 10 contests are Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr.
• Jack Hughes buried up his first NHL goal when his Devils downed brother Quinn’s Canucks 1-0 in Newark on Saturday. Does that mean 2019’s first overall pick had to cover up the tab for the Hughes family dinner?
The Hughes Family pic.twitter.com/4Mof5L1FtC
Red and White Power Rankings
Edmonton Oilers (7-1-1) – It’s one thing to win when 97 leads an offensive onslaught that overwhelms an opponent, but quite another to earn three of a possible four weekend points while allowing just one goal against in 125 minutes of action.
Vancouver Canucks (5-3-0) – It was great to see Jacob Markstrom return to the net for Sunday’s win at MSG over the Rangers after a brief trip home to Sweden to tend to difficult personal circumstances he declined to get into. Thatcher Demko was also solid in Markstrom’s absence, putting up a .943 save percentage in three games last week.
Montreal Canadiens (4-3-2) – Montreal completed an early-season sweep of the defending-champion Blues on Saturday, but blew a third-period lead 24 hours later in Minnesota, leaving at least one point on the table during its short roadie.
Calgary Flames (5-4-1) – Big win in Anaheim on Sunday night for the Flames, especially coming off a loss to the Kings the night before. Anybody who follows Calgary knows the team doesn’t often leave Orange County with points.
Winnipeg Jets (5-5-0) – Stick tap to coach Paul Maurice, who won his 700th game on Sunday when Winnipeg claimed a 1-0 shootout shutout over the Oilers.
Ottawa Senators (1-5-1) – Ottawa finally registered its first power-play goal of the year on Saturday, meaning the Sens are now breaking even on the man advantage after also giving up one shorty this season.
In Your Ear
Tune into this week’s episode of Tape to Tape to hear more about the Avalanche and another strong starter, the Anaheim Ducks. Co-host Rory Boylen and I are going head-to-head in our fantasy league this week, so this podcast might mark the last time we speak to each other for a while.
• Nice Central Division matchup on Monday night as the Avalanche visit the Blues in St. Louis
• The Leafs get in the Halloween spirit by visiting their personal house of horrors on Tuesday with a return match versus the Bruins in Boston.
• ‘Ovie’ is tearing through Western Canada this week as the Caps make stops in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
• Outdoor hockey is back! The Heritage Classic between the Jets and Flames goes Saturday in Regina.