Colorado Avalanche Playing Well, but Erik Johnson Needs to Get on Board

Chris HoffmanContributor IIIOctober 24, 2011

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 01:  Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche in action during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Arena on April 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Avalanche defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Much has gone right for the Avalanche through eight games. They find themselves with a 6-2 record, being the winners of all six road contests they’ve played.

The team’s power play, at 29.2 percent, is second in the NHL only to the mighty Washington Capitals. Colorado’s goaltending and defense are much improved from last year, anchored by a very impressive Semyon Varlamov and veteran J.S. Giguere.

There are things that must improve, though, and one of them is the play of Erik Johnson.

Offensively, Johnson has been a contributor. He has five assists in eight games played. It’s the other side of the ice that has fans worried. Johnson currently finds himself ranked among the bottom-dwellers of the NHL plus/minus ratings at minus-six.

The Avalanche have shown grit and tenacity in several last-minute, come-from-behind wins this season. Most recently, they tied the game in Chicago at 4-4 on a beautiful shot from Gabriel Landeskog with 1:48 left in the third period en route to an overtime victory. The untold story to that epic game is that Landeskog’s heroics might not have been required if it wasn’t for the sloppy play of Johnson, whose terrible turnover in his own slot led to an easy Michael Frolik goal that got the Hawks back into it early.

Johnson has shown that he has phenomenal potential to be a top defenseman in this league. His style of play has been compared to legendary blueliner Rob Blake, who made a name for himself with his bruising hip checks and dangerous offensive abilities.

It was that version of Johnson that the Avalanche were hoping to receive when they paid such a steep price with Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. He has shown moments of that kind of brilliance on the ice. His leadership in the dressing room has him rumored to be in the running for the Avs captaincy.

However, the kind of unfocused, sloppy play we’re seeing from Erik Johnson in his own end isn’t going to earn him any kind of jersey letter upgrade. 

The Avalanche need him to be the leader of an upgraded defense and make sure that Semyon Varlamov faces less rubber than his previous Avalanche counterparts. So far this season, we haven’t seen what the team needs from the former No. 1 draft pick.

So the question remains—will the real Erik Johnson please stand up?


Chris Hoffman is a featured Avalanche columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a lead writer for Avalanche Insider. Follow him on Twitter @AvsInsiderChris. This piece originally appeared on Avalanche Insider.