The beginning of the NHL season can be tricky to analyze. Small sample sizes are rampant, and it can be difficult not to overreact to early contests. Two or three games does not a trend make. Yet we can look at things that have gone on and try to determine whether or not they are sustainable.
Take the Colorado Avalanche’s first two games of the year, for instance. They have scored 10 goals across their first six periods of action, and the offense has gelled wonderfully. Colorado quietly shook up its forward group after a disappointing 2014-15, signing Blake Comeau in July and adding Jack Skille just before the season started.
The Avalanche also acquired Carl Soderberg in late June and landed Mikhail Grigorenko as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Then 2015 first-round pick Mikko Rantanen surprised some pundits by making the opening-night roster, while Borna Rendulic is looking to build off of his 11 games of NHL experience. Former Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon was also moved to center after spending his first two seasons on the wing.
When viewed individually, most of these changes don’t look overly spectacular. The Soderberg trade-and-sign was flashy, but the Comeau and Skille deals went largely unnoticed and Rantanen has been overshadowed by other rookies like Connor McDavid (which is understandable).
Still, this new-look Colorado offense was pieced together on the fly and has given Patrick Roy a lot of options to work with. If the first two contests are any indication, the high-flying Avalanche from the 2013-14 season appear to be back after taking a year off in 2014-15. Two years ago, Roy lead the Avs to the playoffs by playing a ridiculously fast brand of hockey.
The team looked slower a year ago, but seem to have found that identity again in 2015-16.
Matt Duchene has settled in on a line with Jarome Iginla and Comeau, and the trio was frequently noticeable during Colorado’s recent 6-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. Duchene is able to create space for Iginla with his speed, leaving the veteran sniper open to bury opportunities in close.
This line isn’t deadly by itself, but it is supported by three more strong trios. And each one has been affected by changes that were made this summer.
The second, third and fourth lines have been used interchangeably by Roy in the early going. The fourth line of John Mitchell, Skille and Cody McLeod has been given third-line minutes while Rantanen and Rendulic settle in. The rookies are centered by Soderberg and have the potential to create matchup problems down the line since MacKinnon has been skating with Gabriel Landeskog and Alex Tanguay on the second unit.
These lines might not match Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Chris Kunitz on paper, but they’ve been effective so far in 2015-16. For the Avalanche to be successful, the attack will need to be balanced on a nightly basis. Roy seems aware of that. Instead of loading up with a Landeskog-Duchene-MacKinnon super line, the bench boss has elected to spread the wealth out a little bit.
It’s tough to argue with the results.
Landeskog and MacKinnon both already have five points on the year, and the Avalanche have the second-most effective offensive attack in the NHL at the moment. Colorado isn’t going to average five goals through all 82 games of the season, but it’s clear that there is some pop here. Perhaps there is even enough pop to help propel this team back into the playoff picture.
The offense has been so good that maligned free agent addition Francois Beauchemin has registered five assists and is leading the NHL is that department. Like the five-goal average, Beauchemin isn’t going to set up 2.5 goals per contest, but it’s indicative of the larger picture in Colorado. The team still has plenty of work to do in their own end, but scoring goals isn’t going to be a problem for the Avalanche this year.