To set the stage on how the Avalanche dropped consecutive games against two teams languishing in the bottom five in the league and four out of six overall, the stage needs to be set.
The Avalanche into the holiday break were scheduled six games in nine nights including two back-to-backs with travel and four games in six nights to conclude the stretch. Mark Barberio was and continues to remain on Injured Reserve, he was not an option. The Colorado Eagles were at home practicing the entire week for two games at home on Friday and Saturday.
1 Continue managing the development system in such a way that no player is prepared or desired to step in to the NHL and play an appropriate depth role.
2 With zero healthy extras at forward, on Monday swap out AJ Greer who played an average of six minutes in three games for Sheldon Dries, who then played one game of 5:48. Once Alexander Kerfoot shows he is back from injury after one game played on Wednesday assign the only healthy extra forward in Dries to play a game in the AHL on Friday and head into a back-to-back with travel again carrying zero extra healthy forwards. What could go wrong?
3 After also assigning the only extra healthy defenseman Mark Alt back to the Eagles on Monday continue to play with only six defensemen on the roster until Nikita Zadorov gets a lower body injury during the game against Montreal on Wednesday.
4 Call up only Anton Lindholm on defense who has dealt with his own injury and uneven play in the AHL this season but choose him presumably because he’s the only one left they haven’t tried this season who has NHL experience with over 60 games played.
5 Despite that experience proceed to play Lindholm only an average of seven minutes in the two games he plays in which pushes Erik Johnson to 27 minutes after Sam Girard misses the second half of the third period following crashing hard into the end boards and just under 22 minutes on average. Tyson Barrie and Ian Cole also climb up to 23 and 21 minutes respectively.
6 Colin Wilson incurs a shoulder injury on Friday night against the Blackhawks meaning the Avalanche need to get Dries back to Denver after playing a game in Loveland and on the team plane before it departs for Arizona that evening so that he can play for the Avalanche on Saturday.
7 Discover Saturday morning that Dries injured himself in the previous night’s Eagles game in the AHL and need to call up yet another forward to have 12 healthy forwards for the game in Arizona. Greer is thus called up and needs to fly commercial to get to Phoenix for a 5pm local time start.
8 Meanwhile it is also discovered that Semyon Varlamov can’t make his scheduled start that evening so Pavel Francouz gets called up from the Eagles to travel in to Arizona with Greer that morning.
9 Put Philipp Grubauer in net for back-to-back starts and his third in four days despite having Francouz available who has played well in the AHL, hasn’t started in a week and is presumably a future option in net in the short term for the Avalanche.
10 Watch the team play their final game in this stretch completely out of gas with Grubauer not sharp as he could have been and giving up four goals on 16 shots and then getting pulled. After inserting Francouz in the game halfway through, the team rallies around him to tie the game in the third period but it wasn’t enough, their fate had already been sealed. Back-to-back losses and four out of six in this stretch.
In a any goal against or loss there are always several factors and blame to spread around. Same thing with a poor stretch of play or a losing streak. Personal responsibility of the players is absolutely not absolved here. There also is another team who are paid for their talents to win hockey games acknowledged. Bad stretches happen, opposing goalies get hot, bad bounces, bad luck, whatever. That’s all true. But what can’t get dismissed is the Avalanche organization not giving the team the best chance to win.
During a known tough stretch in the schedule when injuries are beginning to pile up it is inexplicable and inexcusable why the team was left with zero healthy extras for the majority of the week and through the back-to-back. The Eagles playing at home is a convenient excuse but in reality it was just an excuse to carry as thin of a roster as possible and save a few dollars a day because it certainly didn’t help the Avalanche or Eagles win games and they still ended up with logistical issues.
The other issue is defaulting back to the trend of playing callups as little as possible. It’s understandable the NHL veterans are given trust and responsibility but a team is not functional when they are ridden into the ground. Is it a matter of preparation or talent level then the finger needs to get pointed to that area of the organization.
If this is not an appropriate time to give real prospects and the third goaltender NHL experience then why would later on down the road even closer to the playoffs would become a better time to invest NHL minutes into the future of the organization? If points matter that much now then give the team rested, practiced and prepared extras so that they can jump into the NHL lineup and give the Avalanche a better chance to win.