Certainly nobody can deny that Nathan MacKinnon is enjoying an excellent rookie season for the Colorado Avalanche. However, you’ll recall there were those who believed strongly that the Avs should have used their first overall draft pick on defenseman Seth Jones, who’s enjoying his own fine rookie campaign in Nashville.
Just looking at Colorado’s roster — specifically, the defensive corps — there are probably those who still believe that.
Even the club’s executive VP of hockey operations, Joe Sakic, admits he had concerns about his defense during the summer. Although those concerns seem to have been alleviated somewhat.
“Going into the season, was it a question mark? Yes, we’re not going to lie about that,” Sakic told ESPN.com. “But the guys have played well. [Erik Johnson] has stepped it up and has become the player we all expected, and he’s expected of himself, he’s had a tremendous year. Tyson [Barrie] has picked it up, Nick Holden has played well … really, our blue line as a unit has done a tremendous job this year. Now, if people are looking at our blue line, I believe our blue line as a unit has earned the respect of being a pretty good group.”
Maybe so, but there’s a risk in assigning too much credit to the defense when a team gets the kind of goaltending the Avs have received this season. Per Extra Skater, no team has had better netminding than the Avs at even strength when the score is close. Last season, that honor belonged to Ottawa. The season before? Florida. And we know what happened to both those teams when the goaltending fell off.
Anyway, MacKinnon is showing that he has superstar potential, so it’s hard to say he was the wrong pick. Sakic may still need to upgrade the blue line, though.
Flames keep showing life, Stars stumble once again
If you think the Dallas Stars are struggling because of defense more than anything else, then you’ll make sure to keep the video above “on file.”
There Kari Lehtonen was, helpless on a 2-on-0 rush for the Calgary Flames, which Johnny Gaudreau finished with calm and ease. For some, that goal is the symbol of the Stars’ season.
Either way, it was a painful goal in the Flames’ 2-1 win against the Stars. Calgary won despite Dallas firing 30 shots on goal versus the Flames’ 20.
One team climbing, the other stumbling
With that, the Flames are now on a four-game winning streak. Since falling to 5-10-1 on Nov. 12, the Flames have gone 9-3-1 in their last 13 games, pushing them to 14-13-2 overall. Gaudreau coming back is the icing on the cake after Chad Johnson really took charge of the Flames’ top job.
During a similar span, the Stars can’t seem to get it together. Dallas stood at 6-6-3 after beating the Oilers 3-2 on Nov. 11. They’re now 10-11-6, essentially standing in place as a .500 team.
Dallas can’t seem to get momentum going, a thought that might have left them envious of the team on the other end of the ice on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, it wasn’t just about Jack Eichel vs. Connor McDavid. Instead, it was a clash between a fleet of young scorers who were in their prime, with the Buffalo Sabres coming up on top against the Edmonton Oilers.