Cale Makar must be exhausted.
The Avalanche defenseman, who leads the NHL in average ice time, set a new personal best Saturday in Colorado’s dramatic overtime victory in Edmonton. A whopping 33 minutes and 9 seconds. It’s the most for an Avs’ player since 2003 when defenseman Adam Foote went 34:33 against the Bruins.
Makar’s extended use is an unintended symptom of lengthy injuries to second defensive paring Bowen Byram and Josh Manson. Is Makar beginning to stress the workload?
“Not necessarily,” Makar said earlier this week from the Avalanche dressing room. “I just try and do the right things and make sure my body is ready. I feel like I’m managing it very well. You live and you learn.”
Some positive news: Relief might soon be on the way.
The Avalanche, after snapping a five-game skid, didn’t have a formal team practice Monday at Family Sports Center in Centennial. However, Manson and Byram were viewed skating with Avalanche skills coach Shawn Allard separate from the group, per reporting from Colorado Hockey Now.
Byram skating publicly for the first time is significant progress. He last played on Nov. 4, accumulating five points (two goals), while quarterbacking the team’s second power-play unit. The team initially underestimated Byram’s return timeline and a week-to-week injury lasted for several months.
Manson has been skating separately from the team for several practices after not playing since Dec. 1. The Avalanche miss his physicality and hockey IQ. Getting both players back in the lineup will allow Makar, a two-time NHL All-Star, to finally ease his minutes.
Opponent scout: Florida Panthers
Arguably the most underwhelming team nearing the midway point, given hype entering the season, is the Florida Panthers. They’re currently fifth in the Atlantic Division with more losses (19) than they had all last year as President’s Trophy winners.
“I think a lot will change,” Panthers’ All-Star winger Matthew Tkachuk told local10.com. “Lots of travel, lots of road games, lots of very tough opponents we’re playing. Hopefully, that brings our team closer together and hopefully we can bring that gritty, low scoring, desperate hockey type of games that we need to play right now. And win those low scoring games.”