The Colorado Avalanche have been bitten by the injury bug big time. At first, it seemed as though they were weathering the storm of injuries quite well.
As of late, however, the Avs have desperately been missing two specific players who bring a lot to the table. Both Chris Stewart and Cody McLeod (the Highlander) have been out of the lineup, and they have both been cleared to return to action for tonight's game against the Minnesota Wild. Both of these provide a much needed jump to the Avs.
Chris Stewart's loss has been very obvious, ever since he broke his hand against the Wild a little more than a month ago. You really can't replace a guy like him. He's big, he's strong, he has a cannon for a shot and he's the guy who goes and stands in front of the net on the power play.
He also provides great energy and leadership to this young team. At the time of his injury, he was the Avs' leading scorer, with 11 goals and 14 assists. Matt Duchene has definitely stepped up since Stewart's injury, but bringing this type of a player will help make the opposing defenses make a choice. Do we stop Stewart, or Duchene?
Stewart's presence also solidifies the line combinations. Ever since his injury, it's been a huge mystery who will be on Paul Stastny's line. It has been a juggling act that has really hurt the production of Stastny's line. With Stewart back, they'll be placed back on the same line and will hopefully have the same chemistry that made them a lethal combination in the past.
Cody McLeod provides something that has desperately been lacking for the Avs, especially in the last two-three weeks. Intensity. Cody McLeod is the guy who the coach puts on the ice when the team needs a jump in momentum. McLeod will go find somebody and drop the gloves with them to get some life into his team. He's the one who will start a fore-check off with a huge hit.
His intensity is one of the things that has made the Avs so resilient. When he finally gets out and hits somebody, the Avs manage to sneak back into games that they were falling out of. Lately, that hasn't been the case. Without McLeod's intensity, they have been rolling over instead of fighting in games.
In fact, the last time the Avs had a fight in a game was Dec. 23rd, when Ryan Wilson got into a fight against the Wild after making a huge hit when pinching at the blue line. Going back for one month, that has been the only fight for the Avs, and their play has shown that lack of intensity.
With both these players coming back, one would definitely hope for a jump in the level of play. Those types of energy players always have a lot of individual jump when the get back in the lineup after any type of long layoff, and hopefully it will rub off on the rest of the team, because the Avs are going to have to be fighting, tooth and nail, to get a playoff spot in a VERY close Western Conference.
Here's hoping that Stewart and McLeod's return gives them what they need.