Gabe Landeskog is all about the Avalanche.
Captain. Crusher of blood and guts. Elite skater. Unconventional offensive threat. Even a brawler if necessary.
And it was all on display during the Avalanche’s first round playoff sweep against the St. Louis Blues.
Broken nose and all, Landeskog was much more than a left winger on the front row. He was the spirit of a team that crushed the 2019 Stanley Cup champions.
“He’s huge for this team. He’s the team captain, the leader, ”Avs winger Andre Burakovsky said of the No.92, who broke his nose earlier this month in a game at Los Angeles. “The way he played, the way he presented himself in every game, is a sign of a true leader. He showed the way from the first game to the fourth. It’s amazing to see him play.
In the opener against St. Louis, Landeskog netted a goal, an assist and a bout for a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, then topped it off with an assist on Nathan MacKinnon’s empty goal in the 4-1 win.
The line centered on MacKinnon, with Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on the wings, combined for three goals, 10 points, 16 shots and a plus-8 rating.
Perhaps more importantly, Landeskog set the tone for the series by dropping gloves with Brayden Schenn midway through the first period of a scoreless game and beating the Blues center on the ice.
“He’s getting us into the fight, he’s having an exceptional game, both on the verification side and on the production side,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “He takes some comments from St. Louis, takes it personally, and he was there to prove a point. He was the leader of our group.
“Our front row had some great first nights and the rest of our team followed suit. Excellent leadership, both in the room and especially on the ice to set an example and set the tone for the series.
Landeskog did more of the same in Game 2. His fierce pre-check on Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly led to an Avalanche roll and goal 35 seconds into the game. Landeskog finished the streak with two goals – both on redirects in front of the net in Games 1 and 4 – and six assists for eight points, one behind MacKinnon’s nine record team.
Avs backup goaltender Devan Dubnyk, acquired from San Jose before the trade deadline, had seen it all from Landeskog before. The 35-year-old veteran hated playing against him because of it.
In six seasons from 2014 to 2020, they were enemies when Dubnyk was the Minnesota Wild’s No.1 goalie. Much of Landeskog’s play is a frontal presence in the attacking zone, and Dubnyk couldn’t stand it when Landeskog planted his rear right in front of his mask.
They have had several heated dusts over the years.
“He’s one of the best in the world,” Dubnyk said of Landeskog’s overall play as a power forward. “Me and him have joked now about always getting into battles, because he goes to the right areas and he’s a handful for goalkeepers to manage around the back of the net.
“That’s why he and I used to always go in there.” Luckily we cleared things up on that one and now I’m on the other side.
Dubnyk has only been with the Avs for a little over six weeks. But he’s already realized how great the Avs are.
“Every day he does the right things, he says the right things at the right time, and then the best part about it is he goes out and does it every game,” Dubynk said. “This is the most important part. It’s good to be a good leader and say the right things, but when you have a guy saying things and going out and doing it every shift, you can see the guys jumping on his back and the to follow.
Philipp Grubauer, the No. 1 goalkeeper of the Avs, agrees.
“Amazing captain in the hall and on and off the ice,” said Grubauer. “Everyone on that line is doing the right things – these guys are our leadership, basically, our workhorse, our engine, they lead us.
The Avs made Landeskog the second pick in the 2011 draft after the Swede arrived in North America at the age of 16 and played two years as a major junior for the Kitchener Rangers of the Hockey League. ‘Ontario. He was captain in his second year with Kitchener, the club’s first European captain. It was pretty clear at the time that he was a natural leader.
Bednar replaced Patrick Roy as head coach of the Avs in 2016 when Landeskog entered his sixth NHL season at 23. Landeskog was named captain in 2012 by Roy’s predecessor Joe Sacco, becoming the youngest captain in NHL history at the time at age 19. , nine months and 13 days.
Bednar has seen strong growth at Landeskog since, but nothing more evident than his work in the awkward zone in front of the opposition net.
“The presence on the net is an area in which it really developed during my stay here. The numbers on his deflection goals, his screen goals, that he’s been involved in have increased every year and now that’s a staple of his game, ”Bednar said. “This whole line has grown together and there is a familiarity there and they are complementary to each other in the way they play and part of that is Landy’s ability to access the net and create traffic.
“It has become one of the front lines, if not the front line, in the league. These guys being the leaders on the ice, I think (Landeskog) has become more comfortable as a leader in our locker room and it has become clear over the last few years that it’s all about winning – not just being a good team and getting into the playoffs. As our team progressed Landy was the guy who pushed this forward and really tried to keep our team at a new standard.
A game against Vegas now awaits Landeskog and the Avalanche, and with it the opportunity to do something he’s never done before in his 10 seasons in an Avs pullover: pass the second round of the playoffs in the Stanley Cup.
This is the toughest test yet for a championship-aspiring team, but also their best Cup-winning opportunity since the last Presidents’ Trophy victory two decades ago.
And no one feels this urgency more than Landeskog, the Avs captain who has been there every step of the way as the franchise slowly climbed to the top of the NHL.
“With every season that goes on and every playoff series you’ve taken out, your hunger and (desire) goes up even more,” Landeskog said last week. “I think that’s the difference between our group. We are even more eager this year, much more competitive, I would like to say. Obviously we were competitive last year as well. You realize that you are so lucky.