After a rough night all around against the Coyotes, the Blue Jackets will get right back to work against the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night. The Avalanche are having a difficult time themselves this season, sitting 12th in the West and one spot ahead of the Coyotes. With two straight wins and six in their last 10, the Avalanche have found their way back to .500 on the season.
The analytics experts expected somewhat of a regression to the mean from head coach Patrick Roy’s young squad after last season’s surprise run to the playoffs. That run was highlighted by Colorado’s knack for late game heroics and stellar goaltending from Semyon Varlamov, off-setting some of the worst possession statistics in the league and pushing Colorado to a Central Division title.
Things have indeed evened out this season, with the Avalanche sitting last in the Central and 27th in the NHL in 5-on-5 Corsi For (CF%) percentage, one spot ahead of the Blue Jackets. Still, Colorado is loaded with young talent. Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Nathan MacKinnon, all under the age of 23, are explosively skilled and represent the future in Colorado. All three are seeing their numbers dip from last year with the team struggling overall, but all three are threats whenever they’re on the ice. Leading the way offensively are two players that are a bit more grizzled; veterans Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla rank first and second for the Avalanche in scoring.
The Avalanche and Blue Jackets met on Apr. 1 last year, a 3-2 overtime win for Colorado at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets held a 2-0 lead heading into the third period of that contest, but in their trademark fashion, the Avalanche found an answer late in regulation.
With just under five minutes remaining and the Avalanche trailing by a goal, Landeskog stood in the low slot and, as he was falling to the ground, got a stick a MacKinnon centering feed to tip the puck past Sergei Bobrovsky. At 2:39 of overtime, it was Landeskog again, this time trying to feed MacKinnon with a centering feed. That pass went off the leg of Jack Johnson and through Bobrovsky to give Colorado the win.
Colorado is a similar matchup for the Jackets to the one they just faced in Glendale. The Avalanche have struggled this season in part because of a dip in goaltending. Mike Smith was very strong for Arizona and Varlamov can have the same impact on a game for Colorado. A Vezina finalist last season, Varlamov is currently far off his 41-win pace from a year ago. He’s won seven of his first 19 starts and surrendered five goals or more on four occasions. Still, Varlamov has won three of his past four starts and has the raw ability to steal a game. The Blue Jackets cannot let him ease into the game on Sunday night, and instead, must pepper him right away and try to create some traffic.
Ryan Johansen beat Mike Smith at the tail end of the Jackets’ loss to the Coyotes, a goal that didn’t mean all that much to the outcome of the contest but may be important in the larger scope. Johansen had a handful of good looks against Arizona and showed some strong chemistry working with Jeremy Morin and Scott Hartnell. It’s no secret that Johansen has been having trouble finding the net, with only three goals in his last 14 games and one of those an empty-netter against Minnesota. He’s been generating much better chances in recent games, and the Blue Jackets hope his second goal in two games will be the start of a breakout. He has points in six straight games, and the Blue Jackets need his impact to continue to grow if they're to keep climbing.
Cover the points!
The Blue Jackets want to turn the page on their loss in Arizona, but a good lesson to carry with them is that a mobile defense can do damage. Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were easy to find on the score sheet Saturday night, but the entire Coyotes defense played a part in dominating possession for Arizona. Coyotes defensemen accounted for 14 of Arizona’s 34 shots and 25 of 63 total shot attempts. The Arizona forecheck pinned the Jackets for long stretches, with five of the Jackets’ defensemen averaging over 50 seconds per shift and Jack Johnson averaging a minute. With offensively gifted D-men like Erik Johnson (10-10-20) and Tyson Barrie (3-20-23) in Denver, the Blue Jackets can’t be burned like that again.