(Photo credit: Lisa Gansky)
A year ago the Colorado Avalanche were losing games left and right on their way to the worst season since moving from Quebec to Colorado in 1995.
They couldn't find the back of the net, scoring a league-worst 166 goals; they finished with a goal differential of -112; and the team's best player, Nathan MacKinnon, finished with just 53 points in 82 games.
To top it all off, they didn't even win the draft lottery and ultimately ended up picking fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. It made sense why there weren't high hopes entering this season.
But sometimes, those with nothing to lose end up performing the best.
A surprising run
Up through the Christmas break, things were going okay for the Avalanche. They were a .500 team who had recently traded away former third-overall pick Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators. Sure, they were on pace for more points than the 48 of last season, but that wasn't saying much.
However, a switch flipped for Colorado on December 29 during a 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was as if all three parts of the game — offense, defense and goaltending — all started to mesh together for the first time since the organization last made the playoffs in 2014.
MacKinnon was finding his groove, Tyson Barrie was playing like a top defenseman, and the goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier was stopping nearly everything thrown their way. Everything was clicking on their way to an unexpected 10-game winning that that thrusted the Avalanche into the playoff picture. And while it could've been expected that the team would simply fall off shortly after the streak ended, Colorado never went away.
Making a move
After the winning streak came to an end, there were definitely some bumps in the road. The Avalanche saw themselves lose four of the next five games after it ended, but it didn't send them crashing back down to the bottom of the standings.
Instead, the team kept fighting and kept pace with the teams ahead of them in the Western Conference playoff race. It wasn't until recently that the Avalanche truly started to make a move up the standings ladder.
The team has points in eight straight games, and have gone from outside the playoffs to the first wildcard spot in the West and just three points back of third-place Minnesota in the Central as of the end of play on March 13.
With 82 points in 61 games and 42 in his last 25, MacKinnon continues to make his case for the Hart Trophy while players like Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog take some of the pressure off the former first-overall pick with consistent outings.
The aforementioned Barrie is also getting help on the back end from the likes of Nikita Zadorov and David Warsofsky. It's as though everything is once again coming together just like it did during the 10-game winning streak.
Things are clicking for Colorado, and there's no doubt that if it wasn't for the Vegas Golden Knights, the Avalanche could very well be the biggest surprise of the season.
But though things are looking up right now, Colorado can't afford to rest on its laurels as Anaheim and Calgary sit just two points back. Luckily, they have games in hand on the teams chasing them giving them the opportunity to take care of business and get to the playoffs in a year where no one expected them to even come close.