The heavyweights for the Colorado Avalanche get a lot of attention. It’s not that Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar don’t deserve that attention, they just get a lot. However, after weathering a stormy patch where the Avs won just two of their seven games to close October and start November, it was the bottom six that pulled Colorado out of the doldrums.
Since getting hammered 8-2 by the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 11, head coach Jared Bednar tweaked the lines and the Avalanche have been on a bit of a tear. The club has won three of its last four, outscoring opponents 22-10 in those games. The bottom six has accounted for nine goals and 10 assists in those contests – pointing at more familiarity and improved depth for one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
Avalanche’s Fourth Line Starting to Click
Bednar has been creative with some of the lines early in the season, but it appears he’s found a good combination lately. Some chemistry is starting building between the fourth line of Andrew Cogliano, Fredrik Olofsson, and Joel Kiviranta. That trio has scored five goals and added three assists over the last three games, including a three-game goal streak by Cogliano.
The line was integral in the 8-2 thrashing of the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 15, scoring three goals over the final two periods to help put the game away. Cogliano and Kiviranta scored goals just 21 seconds apart in the third period of the win, with Cogliano’s goal kicking off his scoring streak. Kiviranta had a goal and two assists in that contest, giving him four points on the season in just four appearances with the club. Odds are that he’ll continue to see more ice time with the fourth line.
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Cogliano has also been sharp during his goal-scoring streak. One of those was a short-handed tally, and he’s making the most of his opportunities. He has just seven shots on goal this season, putting his shooting percent at a whopping 42.9 percent. While that number isn’t likely to hold up, it’s a good indication of him picking his spots, as he’s only attempted 15 total shots on the season. Cogliano is a 17-year veteran, bringing experience and savvy to his linemates. Kiviranta has played more than 56 games just once in his young NHL career, while Olofsson has appeared in just 44-career games. If they can keep clicking, it’ll be good news for their development as well as the Avalanche’s depth.
Colton Emerges as Dependable Force
Ross Colton has been particularly steady since coming to the Avalanche in an offseason trade. The 27-year-old center has six goals and two assists this season and is delivering chances on the power play as well. Those numbers aren’t going to win him the Art Ross Trophy, but that’s not what the Avalanche need from him. Colton was brought in to anchor that third line, giving much-needed depth at center after they brought in Ryan Johansen in a separate trade.
However, the six goals through 17 games puts Colton on pace to set a career high in goals. His previous best was 22 goals in 79 games during the 2021-22 season. He also added 17 assists for 39 points that season, and both of those numbers are also career highs. Colton is also generating a lot of chances and his 43 shots on goal put him on pace to shatter his previous career high of 159. His shooting percentage of 14 per cent is also his best in a full season.
The most important thing Colton has been able to provide is consistency in the lineup, which is a big reason why the Avalanche inked him to an extension before he even played a game for them. He’s played in every game this season, and that’s something that isn’t new to him as he’s missed just four contests over the past two seasons combined. With the rotating door of centers last season, Colton has provided some solid consistency behind MacKinnon and Johansen. He’s proven to be available every night, and that should make the bottom six a continuing force through the remainder of the season.
Avalanche Finally Get Much-Needed Depth Scoring
Last season showed that the Avalanche wouldn’t be able to make another deep playoff run by relying on just a few players. The depth at center was shaky all season, and it was completely exposed in the first-round playoff loss to the Seattle Kraken. The series went seven games, but only three players – MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Artturi Lehkonen – were able to score multiple goals. Of the 19 goals the Avalanche scored in that series, Rantanen scored seven.
Of course, Makar, Rantanen, and MacKinnon are amongst some of the NHL’s best once again. Makar leads the NHL in assists with 23, while all three of the Avalanche stars are in the top 13 in NHL scoring. Rantanen’s 11 goals are just three off of the league-leading pace of 14 by Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets. Even with those heavy hitters, the Avalanche needed more depth to replicate another Stanley Cup run.
Valeri Nichushkin is also returning to his form from the past couple seasons, scoring five goals in his last four games. The bulk of that has been propelled by the emergence of the offence in the bottom six in the past four games, a bottom six that taking some pressure off of the formidable top six. Overall, the bottom six rising to the top is making the Avalanche look as dangerous as they did in their surge to the Stanley Cup in 2022, and if they continue to contribute, the team might be in line for another memorable postseason.