Funny moment in Jared Bednar’s press briefing on Sunday at the Bell Centre. A colleague from Denver reports to the Avalanche head coach the comments made the day before by his Maple Leafs counterpart, Sheldon Keefe. “When the MacKinnon trio comes on board, with Cale Makar and Devon Toews, the caliber of play… it’s not the NHL, it’s another league! “, Keefe said.
Bednar’s reaction: “That’s what I’ve been saying for years. Now that it’s from someone else, do you believe me? »Hilarity ensued.
The Avalanche pilot did not need to hear it from a rival to realize what he has at hand, particularly on offense. He uses his first line excessively, a situation which greatly benefits Jonathan Drouin, we will come back to that.
The Avalanche’s top line plays as often as Rush plays at CHOM.
This average is pushed upwards by numerous extreme episodes. Since the start of the season, it has happened 90 times that an attacker has played 25 minutes or more in a match. More than a third of those performances (31) came from Avalanche players: Rantanen (10), MacKinnon (9), Nichushkin (9) and Drouin (3).
On January 8 against the Bruins, this excessive usage reached new heights: Rantanen spent 30:23 in the box, and MacKinnon, 30:22 The NHL has been measuring usage time since the 1997-1998 campaign , these are the two highest playing times ever recorded for forwards.
Bednar assures that he knows very well what he is doing. The coach says he consults the usage time statistics during intermissions. “I go by feeling,” he explains. Some matches, we need them more. There is constant communication on the bench. Sometimes I even have to hold Nate!
“But we are used to it, we know that they are comfortable at 22 minutes, they have been at this level for five or six years. They take care of their bodies, so that helps. Some nights, we have injuries, guys who are not doing well, the match is close and we are counting on them. Other nights, we play with the lead, the other trios are doing well, so we give them less. But if we overcharge them for a game, we will have days like today where they only come to the arena for their recovery. »
This means that this Monday evening, fans will often see the numbers 29 of MacKinnon and 96 of Rantanen. Maybe also Nichushkin’s 13, if he is able to return to the game after missing Saturday’s game in Toronto.
It’s a reality that Martin St-Louis knows well, having recorded two of the six highest averages in history for an attacker in one season. He had in fact exceeded 24 minutes per match in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. Only Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Jaromir Jagr and Rod Brind’Amour finished a season with higher numbers.
“If I played 26 or 27 minutes, I didn’t know it in my first shift, that I would play 26-27. I was playing the game, and if you play it right, usually you play more minutes,” he recalled.
And as a coach, he was entitled to a rehearsal on Saturday, with the visit of the Oilers, another team which is wearing out its first line. Montreal had Connor McDavid on their hands for 26 minutes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for 25 minutes and Leon Draisaitl for almost 24 minutes.
Unlike Edmonton, however, the Avalanche generally concentrates its forces within the same unit. However, a trio that plays so many minutes poses a challenge for the opposing coach when it comes to determining matchups.
“You can’t think you can defend these guys with just one player. It’s collective, recalled St-Louis, Saturday morning, before the duel against the Oilers. In your decisions when they are on the ice, you must be alert and disciplined. You have to be careful of being too tempted to make a play. If it doesn’t work, it usually comes back the other way. You can’t restart their attack. You must be disciplined. »
We talked about it, but Jonathan Drouin also happens to benefit from this division of work. Since December 7, he has crossed the 25-minute mark three times, a number he probably reached with the Halifax Mooseheads, but never in the NHL. On January 8 in Boston, the former Canadian even spent 28 minutes on the ice.
This use allows him to arrive in his old city with the wind in his sails. In his last 15 games, he has 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists), for 24 points in 41 outings since the start of the season. On Saturday, in Toronto, it was his goal that started the Avalanche’s comeback, which transformed a 0-3 deficit into a 5-3 victory.
Neither Drouin nor his illustrious linemates participated in Sunday’s very optional training, for which there were only six skaters. It was therefore impossible to speak to them about this. But Bednar praised Drouin’s “dedication,” while giving some of the credit to MacKinnon, his former Halifax teammate.
“They have a great relationship,” Bednar said. Nate is very demanding of himself and his teammates. Drou has a good enough relationship with him to accept this criticism and give feedback, and that helps him push himself. It’s a healthy relationship. It’s good for both. It gives Nate a mentoring role, and Drou understands that and has elevated his game.”