The Colorado Avalanche began Phase 3 of the NHL's Return to Play Plan on Monday at near full strength on the Pepsi Center ice.
While a four-month pause certainly wasn't ideal, the Avalanche stands to benefit from the break as it allowed the group to recover from injuries. At the time of Colorado's last game prior to the pause on March 11, the club had seven players on its injured list.
"I think for a lot of teams, this unfortunate break kind of benefitted us the most. Everybody kind of got the time to rejuvenate, and we got all of our injured guys back so that's definitely a plus that came out of this," said defenseman Cale Makar.
The Avs powered through a host of regular season injuries that led to 223 total man-games lost. Among the injured players that missed significant time included Andre Burakovsky (12 games missed), Matt Calvert (19), Philipp Grubauer (20), Erik Johnson (11), Nazem Kadri (19), Gabriel Landeskog (16), Makar (13) and Mikko Rantanen (28). In total, 20 players were out at some point during the main campaign with an ailment, and only Samuel Girard and Matt Nieto were the lone players to appear in all 70 contests in 2019-20.
Of the eight players that were out in early March, seven were full participants in practice on Day 1 of training camp on Monday, with forward Colin Wilson being the only one to not make an appearance--he's been out since getting injured in practice on Oct. 28 and soon having surgery. Head coach Jared Bednar told the media on Monday that Wilson was not yet ready to return to play, and he couldn't comment further per the NHL and the league's players' association policy on injury reporting during Phases 3 and 4.
Despite the rash of injuries the team faced during the season, Colorado still earned the league's third-best record and was only two points out of the top spot in the Western Conference with one game in hand at the time of the pause.
"The good thing from [the regular season pause] is we were pretty banged up at the time so we're going to be healthy going into the playoffs, and whoever can get going the fastest and get their pace high and play with some tempo is going to be tough to beat," Johnson stated.
Colorado hit the ice with pace on Monday, led by its top line of Landeskog, Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon, reunited in practice for the first time since Feb. 17 when Rantanen suffered an upper-body injury during a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the amount of time that both Rantanen and Landeskog missed during the season, the trio played far fewer games together this year than what they did in the two campaigns prior.
"It's nice," forward Mikko Rantanen said of playing with his old linemates again. "Everybody's healthy, everybody's feeling good, so it's fun to be back together and playing with Nathan and Landy. Obviously, we've played a lot of games together and have good chemistry, you know, and we know each other really well on the ice."
This week marks the first time since Feb. 9 that the Avs have been preparing for play with a completely healthy roster. The club will start its playoff journey on Aug. 2 against the St. Louis Blues in Edmonton, the Western Conference hub city.