Semyon Varlamov

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Colorado Collapse: What’s eating the Avalanche?

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Typically, the U.S. Thanksgiving break serves as a solid benchmark in the NHL for which teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For this year’s Colorado Avalanche, a peek at the standings on the final day of November would prove that Colorado was tied with Nashville in points atop the Central Division. But since Dec. 1, the Avalanche are 7-15-3 (17 points), which is the worst mark in the league. Here in early February, they’re on the outside looking in, two points back of Vancouver in the Western Conference wild card race, after the Canucks defeated them 5-1 on Saturday.

Here’s a deeper look at how the Avalanche problems have (ahem) snowballed:

Top Heavy

Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen make up arguably the best line in the game. Entering Colorado’s matchup with Vancouver over the weekend, the trio had combined for 199 points (79 goals, 120 assists) after all three had been named All-Stars. But head coach Jared Bednar split them up for the Canucks game, looking to spread a bit of the wealth. Alexander Kerfoot started on the top line in Landeskog’s spot along with MacKinnon and Colin Wilson, while the Avalanche captain played left wing on the second line with Carl Soderberg at center and Rantanen on right wing. It lasted less than 20 minutes, as Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen were reunited by the end of the first period after Colorado had fallen behind 2-0.

Since the start of December, Landeskog (26 points), MacKinnon (30) and Rantanen (31) have combined for 87 points. During that span, all other Colorado forwards have combined for 69 points. Outside of the big three and Soderberg – who has a career-best 17 goals this season – the Avs have struggled to produce up front. That lack of depth will make it difficult for them to turn things around and make a playoff push.

Power Play

Through Nov. 30, the Avalanche had the best power play in the league, with the man advantage clicking at a whopping 31.4 percent, or 27-for-86 in 26 games. In the following 25 games since Dec. 1, Colorado has 20 power play goals, despite 18 more power play opportunities (20-for-104). While it is unreasonable to expect that the Avs would have continued their torrid pace from earlier in the year, the dip in production on the man advantage helps explain why Colorado’s overall goals per game has slid from 3.73 through November (tied for best in the league with Tampa Bay) to 2.92 since.

Goalie Struggles

Colorado has allowed three or more goals 33 times in 51 games, so defensive structure has certainly been an issue this season. Still, the Avalanche has also failed to get big saves from either of their goaltenders. Since early December, Semyon Varlamov is 4-8-2 with an .875 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average. That save percentage is the worst among all netminders who have played at least 10 games in that span.

Philipp Grubauer – who was signed during the off-season to a three-year, $10 million deal – hasn’t been any better with a 3-5-1 record, an .878 save percentage and 3.68 goals against average during that same stretch.

After regulation

Get this, the Avs are 1-7 in overtime this season and 0-1 in shootouts. Those are precious points they’ve left on the table in a conference with playoff spots ripe for the taking.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Avalanche, also owns the Los Angeles Rams. On the bright side, if the Avs get just three points, they’d be back in the playoffs.

The Buzzer: Lightning back in first, Varlamov hurt, Ducks gain ground

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Players of the Night:

Cedric Paquette, Tampa Bay Lightning: Paquette scored twice and added an assist as the Lightning thumped the New York Rangers 7-3 on Friday. Paquette had five shots on goal and the Lightning threw 50 at Ondrej Pavelec to regain first place in the Atlantic Division. Tampa matched its regular-season record for points with 108.

Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier, Colorado Avalanche: The duo (but mostly Varlamov) combined for the first combined shutout in Avs history on Friday. Varlamov made 30 saves in 53:31 before he was injured in a collision with Chicago Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco. Bernier finished the game, making three more saves to complete the blanking.

Rickard Rakell, Anaheim Ducks: Double R scored the OT winner to give the Ducks a 2-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings, putting the Ducks into the first wildcard in the Western Conference, one point back of L.A. The Ducks have a game in-hand on their California counterparts.

Highlights of the Night:

Domingue’d

Hello, Andrighetto:

MacKinnon saves:

Juke and jive:

Rakell’s OT winner was special:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Hurricanes 4, Capitals 1

Maple Leafs 5, Islanders 4

Lightning 7, Rangers 3

Avalanche 5, Blackhawks 0

Ducks 3, King 2 (OT)

Golden Knights 4, Blues 3 (OT)


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

Semyon Varlamov helped off ice after collision

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Uh oh.

Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov had to be helped off the ice in the third period on Friday in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Avs were leading 4-0 when Blackhawks forward Tomas Jurco blew a tire trying to put a deke on Varlamov. Instead of stopping the puck, Varlamov got drilled in the left leg by Jurco, who slid into him with some force.

As good as Nathan MacKinnon has been for the Avalanche, Varlamov’s play has also been instrumental in getting the Avs into a playoff spot (barring the outcome of the Anaheim Ducks-Los Angeles Kings and St.Louis Blues-Vegas Golden Knights matchups on Friday). The Avs shutout the Blackhawks 5-0 on Friday to move into the first wildcard spot in the West.

Jonathan Bernier would assume the starting role if Varlamov’s injury rules him out for any length of time.

Bernier hasn’t been great lately, posting a .900 or better in just one of his previous five appearences.


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

The Buzzer: Kadri nets a hatty, Andersen stops 54, Varlamov shuts the door

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

Players of the Night:

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs: Kadri continued his torrid pace as of late, scoring a hat trick and recording five points in a 6-3 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Kadri has seven goals in his past 10 games.

Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs: The Blue Jackets put 57 shots on Anderson. He stopped 54 of them. Yes, 54 saves – a career-high. Unreal.

Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche: Varlamov turned aside 43 shots, including five on the power play, to help the Avalanche to a 2-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens. It was Varlamov’s first win since Dec. 29.

Highlights of the Night: 

Andersen doing his thing:

Korpisalo, the Maple Leafs killer (not quite on Wednesday) but my goodness this save:

Sticking with the nice save theme:

Kadri’s hat trick goal, and quite the pass from Marner:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Blue Jackets 3

Avalanche 2, Canadiens 0

Panthers 4, Canucks 3


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

The Buzzer: Henrique back in Jersey, McAvoy channels Howe

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Players of the Night:

Adam Henrique, Anaheim Ducks: Henrique had a goal — a beauty of a goal — and an assist in his return to New Jersey, just three weeks after being dealt there. His Ducks didn’t get the last laugh though. The Devils had a solid third-period comeback to win 5-3.

Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins: Who doesn’t like a Gordie Howe hat trick? McAvoy certainly liked his tonight. He scored the game-winner, assisted on two goals and fought Pierre-Luc Dubois to cap off the feat.

Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings: Quick stopped 36-of-37 to end the Philadelphia Flyers six-game winning streak and ended the Kings’ three-game losing streak. The Kings have been very good this season and Quick has been front and center in that.

Highlights of the Night:

For this one, we start by going back to New Jersey and we go back to Henrique’s sensational goal against his former club.

Jesper Bratt scored this cheeky yet wicked wrist shot for the Devils tonight:

Brian Elliott didn’t have much luck against the Kings tonight, but he produced quite the glove save:

Factoid of the Night:

MISC: 

Scores:

Kings 4, Flyers 1

Devils 5, Ducks 3

Bruins 7, Blue Jackets 2

Avalanche 4, Penguins 2

Oilers 5, Sharks 3


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