NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Colorado Avalanche. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
You don’t win a Stanley Cup without depth. Joe Sakic knows this. His Avalanche teams during his playing days had the secondary scoring you need to go deep in the playoffs.
Now a general manager, Sakic values depth. It’s why he went out and acquired Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, and Valeri Nichushkin in 2019, and added Devon Toews and Brandon Saad this past offseason. The Avalanche can’t rely on Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen alone.
The importance of depth has played into Colorado’s season early on. Injuries have kept a number of key players off the ice through 10 games, and now MacKinnon and Johnson will be out.
MacKinnon was injured during Sunday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Wild. A salary cap crunch forced Jared Bednar to dress 11 forwards, and when MacKinnon exited they were down to 10 for the final period.
It was another blow for a team that are Cup favorites this season. Already without Toews, goaltender Pavel Francouz, and forwards Matt Calvert and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, the Avalanche aren’t worrying. They know they have enough bodies to help them compete and contend.
“We are obviously getting hit by the injury bug here, but at the end of the day we have so much depth so it shouldn’t really mean too much to us,” said Cale Makar after the OT loss. “I think guys can come in and fill roles that we need them to play. Tonight, it is what it is, I know we will come back stronger.”
Toews is expected back in the next 7-10 days, while Adrian Dater of Colorado Hockey Now reports that MacKinnon’s lower-body injury could keep him out at most two weeks.
The Avalanche is used these bumps along the way. Their lineup was hit with numerous injuries last season, so they understand the importance of managing through notable absences. As captain Gabriel Landeskog said, it’s better to go through this now than playoff time. Colorado is tied with the Blues atop the Central Division with 46 games to go.
Bednar likes what he sees in his team so far, even as injuries have affected his roster. Take last year as a learning experience, he believes.
“I think we are playing hard, and we’re getting some bad luck. There are positives that come out of it,” he said. “I think last year we learned fighting through adversity and injuries that other guys elevated their game and were able to help us win hockey games, and it made us fight for every point that we had. It gives guys experience in different situations; we’re seeing our whole taxi squad is up playing at this point, and it’s good experience.
“Would I like to have our guys healthy and be playing our full lineup? Absolutely. But that’s not something that I can control as a coach or that we can control sometimes as even players, things happen. We are just going to have to fight through it and move on. No one is going to feel sorry for us or any other team that runs into injury troubles or COVID-related absences. It is what it is.”