Andre Burakovsky

Colorado Avalanche
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Colorado Avalanche: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Colorado Avalanche.

Pavel Francouz the surprising star in net

If you were to look at the Avalanche roster at the start of the season and had to pick out an area of concern, goaltending might have been the easy choice.

Philipp Grubauer is a solid starter, but is he a championship-caliber goalie? After him, their top backup was the relatively unproven Francouz who entered the season with just two appearances in the NHL and only one season of professional hockey in North American. Given his age (29) and lack of an NHL resume, there had to be at least a little bit of a question mark regarding their goaltending depth.

Francouz has, instead, turned out to be one of the single biggest surprises on this year’s roster.

In 34 appearances he owns a 21-7-4 record with a .923 save percentage and was outstanding as the starter when Grubauer was sidelined due to injury. His overall play has been so good that the Avalanche already signed him to a two-year contract extension. He and Grubauer have turned out to be an outstanding duo and the underrated star of this year’s team.

Injuries have been a major disappointment

When it comes to performance it is really difficult to find a disappointment on this year’s team. The stars have been great, the scoring depth was addressed in a meaningful way over the summer with some great additions, the goaltending has been better than expected, and the young defensemen have excelled and are already blossoming into stars.

Instead of anything relating to performance, the biggest disappointment this season has been the bad injury luck.

Obviously that is not anyone’s fault, but it has kept us from really getting a sense of just how good this team can be when it is at full strength.

The injury list this season includes…

  • Andre Burakovsky for 12 games
  • Cale Makar for 13 games
  • Mikko Rantanen for 28 games
  • Gabriel Landeskog for 16 games
  • Nazem Kadri for 19 games
  • Erik Johnson for 11 games
  • Matt Calvert for 20 games
  • Grubauer did not start a game since the middle of February

That is not only a lot of games, it is a lot of games for significant players.

Even with all of that the Avalanche have still been one of the league’s best teams and certainly builds some excitement for what their ceiling is when everyone is in the lineup.

Tyson Jost has not really taken a big step forward

If you did want to reach for a performance related disappointment Jost might be the player to look at. It is tough to say that because on one hand he is still only 21 years old and has a ton of talent. So the potential is absolutely there. On the other hand, he has also already played 200 NHL games and has not really shown significant improvement. After that many games it might be time to start wondering if this is the player that he is — a 10-goal, 20-point depth forward. Not saying he can not be more than that, and players do develop at different paces, but we are no longer talking about a small sampling of games here.

He was mentioned in trade rumors leading up to the deadline and it definitely seems reasonable to conclude that he could be moved at some point in the future.

Ryan Graves has been a great complement for Makar

The Avalanche have the potential for an outstanding long-term defense with Makar (the current Calder Trophy front-runner as the league’s Rookie of the Year), Samuel Girard, and 2019 No. 4 overall pick Bowen Byram. That trio, their talent, upside, and contract situations help make them one of the most important parts of the team’s core moving forward and will be the foundation of a potential championship team in the very near future.

There is another player that has emerged as part of that defense this season, and that is the 24-year-old Graves.

He has spent a significant portion of his season playing alongside Makar to help form an outstanding pair.

In close to 500 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season the Avalanche have completely dominated the shot attempt and scoring-chance metrics and have outscored teams by a 31-17 margin with them on the ice. While it is easy to conclude that a lot of that is due to Makar carrying the duo, Graves has also excelled when playing next to Ian Cole.

Basically, no matter who he plays next to, it works.

For the season, Graves has nine goals and 26 total points and is a league-leading plus-40 while playing close to 19 minutes per game.

He may not be the impact player or star that Makar is, but his play has been an outstanding development this season.

More:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Colorado Avalanche

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Colorado Avalanche have had one of the NHL’s most dominant top lines for a couple of years now thanks to the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. When they are on the ice together and playing at their best they can be borderline unstoppable.

They carried the Avalanche to a playoff appearance a year ago and a Round 1 upset over the No. 1 seeded Calgary Flames.

They are the foundation of the team and a massive part of what makes them a playoff team.

But for the Avalanche to become a Stanley Cup contender — and potential Stanley Cup champion — they needed to address their biggest Achilles heel over the summer.

Secondary scoring.

It is not unfair to say that the 2018-19 Avalanche were a top-heavy team.

When none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio was on the ice last year they were outscored by a 95-76 margin and controlled just 48 percent of the total shot attempts.

With the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog on the ice they outscored teams 46-29 and controlled more than 54 percent of the total shot attempts.

It is great to have an amazing top-line that can win games for you on any given night, but they are not going to be able to win games for you every night. The Avalanche had to address that over the summer.

And through a series of shrewd moves, they did.

  • After years of trade rumors and speculation, the Avalanche finally completed a Tyson Barrie trade and sent him (and Alexander Kerfoot) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Nazem Kadri, giving the team a bonafide second-line center that can play a shutdown role and score 30 goals. He was on track to score 30 goals again before his recent injury. Dealing Barrie was made possible by the emergence of young blue-liners Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and the selection of Bowen Byram with the No. 4 overall pick (acquired in the Matt Duchene trade).
  • They took advantage of Washington’s salary cap crunch and acquired Andre Burakovsky for two draft picks and Scott Kasmachuk. After being unable to fully reach his potential in Washington, Burakovsky is currently the Avalanche’s second-leading scorer.
  • They dipped into the free agent market and signed former Sharks forward Joonas Donskoi to a multi-year contract. While his offensive numbers were never going to make him a star, Donskoi has always been a strong possession-driving two-way player. He is having a career-year offensively for Colorado.
  • In what was perhaps their most under-the-radar signing, they signed Valeri Nichushkin to a one-year, $850,000 contract. After going through the most uneventful season in NHL history (0 goals, 0 penalty minutes in 57 games) he already has 11 goals in 51 games for the Avalanche.

Those four moves have helped turn the Avalanche into a true contender in the Western Conference.

They enter Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Los Angeles Kings with the second-best record in the Western Conference, just three points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues with still two games in hand.

Even with Thursday’s loss to the Washington Capitals, they are also 8-2-2 in their past 12 games.

All of that added depth has paid off in a big way this season, especially as they had to deal with early season injuries to Landeskog and Rantanen.

The Avalanche are so much deeper this season that when none of the MacKinnon-Rantanen-Landeskog trio is on the ice they are outscoring teams 79-42 and controlling 52 percent of the total shot attempts. It is not even a comparison to what they managed a year ago, and there is no way the 2018-19 roster would have been able to overcome extended absences for two of their big three the way this year’s team did.

The trio of Kadri, Nichushkin, and Burakovsky had recently formed a dominant second line that out had scored teams 11-1 and controlled possession. Kadri being sidelined for the time being obviously takes that option away, obviously, but the option to reunite it when he returns will be there.

There is also the potential to keep adding to the roster as the Avalanche approach the NHL trade deadline with the second most salary cap space available in the NHL to add whatever they think they need to put them over the top.

It may not result in a Stanley Cup this season, but the Avalanche are positioned to be one of the powerhouse teams in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

It starts with the trio of stars on the top line.

But the pieces they added over the summer to complement them are what can help take them to where they want to go.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals return to winning ways; Ovechkin remains at 698

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Alex Ovechkin still has 698 goals. But the Washington Capitals returned to their winning ways with a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against the Colorado Avalanche.

T.J. Oshie scored a go-ahead goal late in the third period to help the Capitals snap a two-game losing streak. Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson erased a two-goal deficit and Braden Holtby recorded 32 saves in Washington’s first part of a three-game road trip.

Andre Burakovsky and Mikko Rantanen found the back of the net, but Colorado’s five-game winning streak came to an end.

Race for first in Metropolitan

The chase for 700 goals is a significant moment in Ovechkin’s career, but the larger objective for the Capitals is to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

Home-ice advantage and playoff seeding are always important during a treacherous journey through playoff hockey, but Washington’s recent slump allowed Pittsburgh to slide within striking distance for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins currently sit in second place, trailing the Capitals by five points and have played two less games.

Caps’ goalie competition continues

Ilya Samsonov and an expiring contract have opened the door for Holtby to lose his position as the Capitals’ undisputed starting goaltender after this season comes to an end.

Samsonov has seamlessly made the transition to the NHL with a 16-4-1 record in 23 appearances this season. However, he has not led a team through the rigors of a postseason or proven he can handle the emotional roller coaster ride of a grueling playoff series.

The Capitals have not been afraid to yank Holtby after a subpar performance in the playoffs, but the 30-year-old netminder backstopped the Capitals to a championship in 2018.

There are questions in the crease that will be tough to answer after the season, but the Capitals’ best chance at winning this season is with Holtby between the pipes.

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Burakovsky finding his fit with Avalanche after summer move

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It became clear last season that Andre Burakovsky did not have a future in Washington. The winger was in the final year of his contract, but the team owned his rights as a restricted free agent. But inconsistent production and the Capitals’ need for salary cap space fueled a trade to the Avalanche.

After five seasons of inconsistencies, Burakovsky’s trade to Colorado and his one-year deal was a classic change of scenery move. The Capitals had other priorities heading into the 2019 off-season and it was clear it was time to move on.

In Colorado Burakovsky is taking advantage of the chance that he couldn’t keep hold of in Washington. Through 51 games he’s recorded a career high 40 points. His 17 goals is tied for the highest total in his six-season NHL career. 

“I think I have been fitting in pretty good with this team. I like everyone and everyone is good to me, so that helps,” said Burakovsky this week via the Avalanche website. “Feeling comfortable here, coming to the rink every day, you are looking forward to it and that wasn’t something I had in the past. It was not always the best time to go to the rink, but like this year I just want to go see the boys all the time.”

[COVERAGE OF AVS-WILD BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

It’s not just Burakovsky, who has 12 points in his last seven games, having a resurgent year on that second line. Valeri Nichushkin has bounced back from zero goals in 57 games last season in Dallas to 10 in 47 games in Colorado. Factor in veteran Nazem Kadri’s presence and 19 goals, and you have a line that’s been together for a month adding to the team’s depth up front. Also of note: none of those three players were with the team a season ago.

“I think we have the keys that we need to have a successful line,” said Burakovsky. “We got Val, he is like a horse out there. It is tough to get the puck from him, he is working really hard and making plays and he is having a really good year too. Obviously Naz, making all the plays and is so, so good with the puck and finding open lanes and just give it to us.”

As the Avalanche enter Sunday’s meeting with the Wild (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN) they sit only a few points behind the Blues for the Central Division lead with games in-hand. The division race will be something to watch down the stretch, especially in a year where many are expecting Colorado to take another big step forward.

With much of the focus on the top dogs in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche will need Burakovsky to continue delivering scoring depth. It will not only pay off for the team, but also for the soon-to-be restricted free agent.

Chris Cuthbert and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul., Minn. Liam McHugh hosts studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin remains red hot; Beauvillier lifts Islanders in OT

Three Stars

1) Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

The Russian superstar is on an incredible pace and added his third hat trick of 2020 on his quest to reach 700 career goals. Ovechkin recorded a natural hat trick in the final six minutes and 10 seconds as the Washington Capitals erased a one-goal third-period deficit in a 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Ovechkin became the second player in NHL history to reach the 40-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, trailing only Wayne Gretzky’s record of 12 seasons. Players have often struggled when approaching a momentous milestone in their career, but Ovechkin has 14 goals in the previous seven games as he prepares to join an illustrious group.

2) Anthony Beauvillier, New York Islanders

The 22-year-old forward opened and closed the scoring in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars Tuesday. Beauvillier started the night with a beautiful backhander 90 seconds into the game. Jordan Eberle delivered a perfect pass which allowed Beauvillier to get behind the Stars defense. In overtime, Brock Nelson forced a neutral-zone turnover and set up Beauvillier for the overtime winner. No. 18 has five goals and four assists in the previous seven games.

3) Andre Burakovsky, Colorado Avalanche

Burakovsky has proven to be a wise offseason acquisition by Joe Sakic and continued his strong season with a career best four-point performance in the Colorado’s 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Burakovsky picked up his 17th of the season with a wicked wrist shot in the opening period. He also dished out three assists including a deft pass to set up Nikita Zadorov in the second period. The Avalanche were looking to add scoring depth to complement their top line and Burakovsky has helped fill the void.

Other Notable Performances

  • Joe Thornton became the 14th player to score 1,500 NHL point with two assists.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves and improved to 14-0-2 in his last 16 starts.
  • Kieffer Bellows recorded his first career point in his NHL debut.
  • Tuukka Rask picked up his fourth shutout of the season as the Boston Bruins extended their winning streak to four games with a 4-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks.
  • Cale Makar set the record for most points by a rookie defenseman in Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques history with 27th assist and 38th point this season.
  • Antti Raanta recorded his second shutout of the season in the Arizona Coyotes’ 3-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk netted the only goal in the shootout in the Montreal Canadiens’ 5-4 win against the New Jersey Devils.

Highlights of the Night

It is hard enough to control a bouncing puck off the boards, but Mathew Barzal was able to place his stick between his legs and score a third-period equalizer in the process.

Zach Werenski fired a wrist shot past his former teammate Sergei Bobrovsky to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 1-0 overtime victory against the Florida Panthers.

Bloopers of the Night

Samuel Girard knew where the puck was, but nobody else on the ice had any idea until it was too late.

Anybody have an idea where Alex Stalock was going early in the first period? Fortunately, the Wild survived the phantom delayed penalty.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Vancouver Canucks 0

New York Islanders 4, Dallas Stars 3 (OT)

Colorado Avalanche 6, Buffalo Sabres 1

Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Vegas Golden Knights 2

Montreal Canadiens 5, New Jersey Devils 4 (SO)

Washington Capitals 4, Los Angeles Kings 2

Columbus Blue Jackets 1, Florida Panthers 0 (OT)

Anaheim Ducks 3, Ottawa Senators 2 (SO)

St. Louis Blues 6, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Minnesota Wild 3, Chicago Blackhawks 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 2, Winnipeg Jets 1 (OT)

San Jose Sharks 3, Calgary Flames 1

Arizona Coyotes 3, Edmonton Oilers 0


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.