DENVER — Well, this was fun while it lasted. And if this Avalanche season continues down the drain, smart folks know that for the first time in a long time, there should be some sweet hockey ahead for the boys.
But it was right about the time Erik Johnson crumpled to the ice in a pile of pain that Colorado’s intentions at the trade deadline should’ve been made clear. They must be sellers, if anything at all, not buyers.
Nathan MacKinnon, Semyon Varlamov and now “EJ”? If not for bad luck, the Avs would have no luck at all. And what’s worse than the hat trick scored by Edmonton ringer Connor McDavid in a 4-2 Oilers win on Sunday at Pepsi Center? Well, that would be the hat trick of tough-luck injuries sustained by the Avalanche through the course of an otherwise endearing season — to the roster’s top forward, top goalie and top defenseman. Oof.
“A couple of injuries on the back end could hurt more than the loss tonight,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after the Oilers ended the Avs’ 10-game winning streak on home ice.
That’s saying something, too, because the Avs desperately needed a win and two points in this one. Treading water in a stretch of 13-of-16 games away from their beloved stomping grounds, the Avs dropped one they couldn’t afford to. On the same day Johnson was helped off the ice and into the X-ray room, Colorado’s aspirations of a return to the playoffs came back negative.
Immediately after the game, Bednar had no update on the status of Johnson, who appeared to suffer an injury to his left arm or shoulder during a collision in the third period. The Avs on Tuesday also lost another defenseman, Anton Lindholm, to an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Bummer, too. The burgundy faithful were out in force on Sunday. Over 18,000 poured into Pepsi Center with hopes of a season revival as stud 23-year-old MacKinnon returned from an eight-game absence due to a shoulder injury. (The Avs went 4-4 without their lone All-Star.) Instead, they were treated to and burned by a sensational show from McDavid, 21, whose empty netter completed the hat trick.
“We lose one of our best defenseman and he plays against McDavid, so it’s tough,” MacKinnon said.
Also tough? Envisioning how the Avs can scoot their way back into the playoff picture in a Western Conference that eats its own. With consecutive road games at Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary next on the docket, the Avs tumbled three points behind the 8 spot in the West. Losing Johnson for any length of time would be a painful but fitting capper to a season that’s heading south in a hurry. The trade deadline is Feb. 24. If the Avs were burning to make a move to strengthen their push for a playoff berth, the latest bad break should throw a bucket of water on that fire right quick.
Sunday revealed too many bad habits that reminded of — gulp — last season.
"There's no excuse for the third," Bednar said of a period in which the Avs were outworked, out-hustled and outshot, 15-6.
"We stopped skating," he added.
General manager Joe Sakic kickstarted this return to relevancy by scoring a haul of seven players in return for Matt Duchene. His eye was on the future. After a devastating home loss and, perhaps, another injury to a key player, their vision must stay there. Here's the plan, man: Kiss the 2018 postseason goodbye. Any trade action should be directed at 2019 and beyond.