The Western Conference wild card picture is a mess right now. Truly, with a little less than half the season to go, anything can happen. Is Dallas good, or not? Are the Edmonton Oilers a playoff team? Are the Arizona Coyotes a playoff team? Not much is out of reach right now.
Which brings us to the Colorado Avalanche. Currently occupying a wild card spot, the Avs have hit the skids of late, but they can still win games by piling up goals on opponents like the Rangers and Maple Leafs in recent days.
The top trio of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen is one of the best in all of hockey, but what happens after that? It’s quite clear that secondary scoring will determine whether or not this team can make the post-season class in spring.
Against Ottawa on Wednesday, the Avs lost 5-2 and the only forwards who hit the scoresheet were MacKinnon and Rantanen. Monday in Toronto however, Colorado netted a 6-3 win that included a hat trick from Carl Soderberg. Performances like that are what the Avs need more of the rest of the way.
It’s worth noting that Soderberg, the veteran center, was pretty decent for the Avs last year (after a horrible 2016-17) and Colorado ended up making the playoffs. This season, he’s nearing the 20-goal mark already and making an impact everywhere on the ice.
“He’s been real solid for us,” Landeskog said. “He’s that rock you need in the lineup that you can slot in wherever. He plays on the PK, plays on the power play, big guy that can move up and down the ice and he has scored some real key goals for us.”
Coach Jared Bednar went with a different look against Toronto, putting Soderberg on a line with J.T. Compher and Colin Wilson, after the Swedish pivot had previously been with Matt Nieto and Matt Calvert. Though the previous combo had been steady, the coach was looking for a spark.
“If you look at his numbers offensively and Alex Kerfoot’s numbers – they’re similar,” Bednar said. “We’re just seeing if there is a different look there, maybe find some chemistry.”
It worked against Toronto and the line dominated possession in Ottawa, but didn’t get the puck in the back of the net. Those math victories won’t mean anything if the Avs can’t post actual wins consistently from here on out, because the team’s goaltending is not good enough to bail them out most nights.
As for that top line…well, there isn’t much more they can do. The only debate about them right now is whether Rantanen or MacKinnon should get the Hart Trophy votes. And the fact teams know they’re coming hasn’t made a lick of difference. The line’s combination of speed, power and skill is just too overwhelming, even when they are facing top defensive pairings and shutdown forwards.
“No doubt you get more attention,” Landeskog said. “Especially when you’re on the ice with Nate and Mikko – I don’t think you’re sliding under anybody’s radar anymore. But with Nate and Mikko out on the ice it opens other things up and if anything, it just pushes us to be better because we know we’re going to get their best. It’s a fun challenge every single night.”
Now it’s time for the other Avs to step up. Soderberg has shown that he can do it and the more effective his line can be, the better. Kerfoot’s shooting percentage has fallen back to earth after last year’s unsustainable 23.4 percent clip (which tied him with Vegas’ William Karlsson for best in the NHL among skaters who played regularly), but he is still contributing. And of course, they’re chasing some potent teammates.
“I think we have decent secondary scoring,” Soderberg said. “It’s just that our first line is so good, it looks bad for the rest of us.”