Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Midseason Review

The Avalanche are at the midway point of their season and as everyone expected, they are in 1st place in the Northwest division with a 23-12-6 record for a total of 52 points. This also puts them at 3rd in the Western Conference. Here's a look at the make up of this season's Avs squad and what has made them successful.


The top line of Wolski, Stastny and Stewart was assembled earlier in the month and has been one of the top lines in the entire league. Stewart is the story of that line as he started the season on the 3rd or 4th line before being sent down to Lake Erie. He has kicked it up since being recalled now sitting 4th on the team in scoring (11-14-25). Wolski (15-23-38) is having a breakout season and is turning into the force we have been hoping for when he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2004 draft. After a slow road start, Stastny (9-30-39) has picked it up and is currently the Avs' leading scorer.

Milan Hejduk (15-11-26) has been the same consistent Milan Hejduk we have seen over the past decade. Currently he is sitting 3rd on the team in scoring and still very responsible in his own end. He has been wearing the A all season and has proven to be a leader to the rookies (young and old) on the team.

Speaking of rookies, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly certainly have not disappointed. Duchene (11-14-25) started the season off slowly but has been on a tear of late moving into 2nd in rookie scoring, only 3 points behind John Tavares. O'Reilly (5-13-18), although not scoring as much recently, has been probably the best defensive forward the Avs have had all season. TJ Galiardi often goes unnoticed when looking at the young forwards but he has also shown a very good defensive awareness as well as some offensive upside.

Lets not forget the role players. Whoever Sacco throws in the lineup to mix it up, they have all known their roles and have done them very well. Matt Hendricks and Chris Durno are in their 1st seasons but are too old to be considered rookies. Cody McLeod has been playing just as he has ever since he first got the call a few years ago. He has been a great replacement for Ian Laperriere. Recently recalled Brandon Yip has fit in well in Sacco's system. Darcy Tucker has made a complete turnaround from his miserable season last year. All of these guys have brought a lot of speed and energy and have worn down opposing forwards.


The top pairing of Scott Hannan and Kyle Quincey has been the best pairing the Avs have put out all season. Hannan has been a totally different defensemen than he was since coming over here. Quincey has brought a nice blend of toughness, speed and offense to the back end and has really made the trading of Smyth forgettable.

Captain Adam Foote may have lost a step but he makes up for that by the leadership he brings to the locker room. He still plays a pretty physical in your face type of game. Other Avs veteran defenseman, John Michael Liles, started the season out very well, especially on the power play, but after suffering his injury he has been a totally different player. He earned himself a benching in last night's game against Ottawa.

The big story on the blue line has been the emergence of the young guys Kyle Cumiskey and rookie Ryan Wilson. We've seen Cumiskey's blazing speed over the past few seasons but this season he is actually getting ice time and is running with it. He is moving the puck out of the zone well but his defensive game could still use some work. Ryan Wilson has been a tremendous surprise. The kid was undrafted and was considered a throw in in the deal that sent Jordan Leopold to Calgary last season. He's been playing a really simple defensive game and is really effective with it. He is the hardest open ice hitter we've seen in awhile and he sits in the top 10 in scoring by rookie defensemen.


This has been the biggest improvement over last season. The signing of Craig Anderson has been the best offseason signing by any team, and at that price, he's been an absolute steal. He's already started more games than he's ever started in any other season. He is a big guy and plays huge in the net. He moves really well and will often snow angel to cover the puck. Andy has been the team's #1 star for the season.

When Andy gets a night off, Peter Budaj has been terrific. He's got a 2.22 GAA and .927 sv%. When called upon, he gives the Avs a chance to win every game. Something that was not the case last season. One thing's for sure, Budaj may not be a very good #1 goalie but as a backup, he's one of the best out there.


Another huge improvement over last season is the coaching staff. Joe Sacco is making a case for the Jack Adams trophy. On paper, the Avs roster looks like a last place club but Sacco gets the most out of all of his players and really pushes a strong game on both sides of the ice by all of his players. He's been key in getting Wolski to the level he's currently at by benching him earlier in the season. Sylvain Lefebvre is a huge upgrade over Jacques Cloutier. Last season's defensemen were basically just shot blocking pylons who did not hit. Lefebvre stepped in and has really let the D play their games, especially Scott Hannan who has been doing what we expected him to do when he came over from San Jose. Steve Konowalchuk has been working really well with the young guys. You can always see him talking to the Duchenes and O'Reillys when they get off the ice telling them what they did good and bad on their shifts. He has made all our young guys better.

These are all the bright spots of the year so far. However, this team still has some gaping holes that it needs to work on if they're going to have any kind of playoff success now or in the future. The biggest area of concern is the play when they have a lead. As we saw in the game against Anaheim, they sat on a 2-0 lead only to lose the game 4-2 in the last 8 minutes of the game. They can't sit on leads. They just don't have the talent or defense to do that. If the team can just play all 60 minutes of the game, we will be much more dominant.

Another tough task coming up tonight against the beat up but still in the hunt Detroit Red Wings. Happy New Years to everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Welcome back Three-or-more

Tonight Alex Ovechkin and co. come into Pepsi Center for a tilt with the Avs. Starting goalie for the Caps will be former sieve...I mean goalie Jose Theodore. It will be Jose's 1st trip back to Denver since leaving the Avs for the Caps where he, again, couldn't hold onto the starting job.

Theo showed some brilliant displays of goaltending in the last half of the 2007-08 season to help the Avs make the playoffs and then continued to stand on his head in the 1st round against the Wild. Before that though, he wasted nearly 6 million dollars of salary cap space riding the pine for Peter Budaj.

Then this past February, Theodore spoke with the media as if he was the reason for the Caps great record and then had some small shots to take at the Avs organization and their position in the standings. Well, later that night, Theodore and the Caps fell to the Avs on home ice 4-1. Adam Foote was even able to score on Jose. Suddenly, according to Dater, Theodore doesn't speak to the media on game days now.

Hopefully Theodore will play as good in his return to Denver as he did in his return to Montreal after he was traded to the Avs. Whatever the outcome, it is sure to be a very exciting and entertaining game with these two teams' youth, speed and talent.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Avs wrap up 5 game road trip

The Avs finished off their 5 game road trip the same way they started it, with a shutout victory. This was another successful road trip for this young team as they finished up 3-1-1. The whole road schedule is now half way over.

The first game of the trip was a 3-0 victory over the Lightning. Matt Duchene caught fire in this game as he ended up with 2 goals for his first multigoal game of his young career.

Duchene again was a huge story two nights later in Florida despite the Avs losing to the Panthers 6-5 in a really entertaining game. The Avs trailed by 2 goals almost the whole game. Duchene scored his 2nd of the game with just under a minute left in regultation to bring the Avs to within 1. With the net still empty, the Avs put heavy pressure on the Kittens and TJ Galiardi tied the game only seconds before regulation ended.

The season turned scary during the overtime as Keith Ballard, who nearly decapitated his goaltender Vokoun in their previous game, went hard into Craig Anderson and Andy had to leave the game with a neck injury. Budaj came in for the rest of OT and the shootout where only 1 goal was scored by Steven Weiss (who also had a hat trick in the game) for the winner.

The next night in Pittsburgh, Budaj had a really solid game despite the 4-1 outcome. Galiardi had scored in the 2nd period but the play was prematurely whistled dead so the goal did not count (even though the puck crossed the line before the whistle went). That wouldve given the Avs a 2-1 lead but instead it clearly took a lot out of the Avs and they then let Pittsburgh take a 2-1 lead as Sidney Crosby made a nice feed to Bill Guerin who put it by Budaj who had no chance at making the save. Crosby and the Pens got some help padding their stats by netting 2 empty netters in the final minutes.

Budaj got his 2nd straight start in Columbus in another solid performance by the boys in burgundy. They got off to a 2-0 lead which normally is like an Avs loss waiting to happen. The Jackets got 1 past Budaj and that looked like the comeback was about to start but then just after that, Wojtek Wolski made a nice pass (while also taking a hit) to Chris Stewart who took a wrister that squeaked past Steve Mason. The Jackets did get 1 more but the Avs still managed to hang on to the win.

Finally last night the Avs received another great effort by Budaj who recorded the shutout against the Blues. Chris Stewart was a beast in the game as he scored 2 goals and 1 assist for his 2nd career 3 point game. The line of him, Wolski, and Stastny was the best line all night and Coach Sacco played them every chance he got. Matt Duchene capped off the night with his beautiful wrister through Chris Mason to make it 4-0 in the 3rd.

Some other highlights and notes from the trip:
-Matt Duchene was named NHLs 3rd star of the week last week.
-Paul Stastny quietly moved into the top 10 in both points and assists.
-Wojtek Wolski is on a 7 game point streak where he has 10 points in those 7 games.
-Wolski also moved into 16th place on the scoring list.
-Wolski-Stastny-Stewart might become the Avs true #1 line after their performance against the Blues.
-Andy was sent back to Denver before the game in St. Louis to meet with team doctors. He may be ready for the game against the Wild.

The Avs return home tomorrow night when they host the Wild who has had the Avs number all season. The game will be on Versus so as long as you dont have Directv, like me, you'll get to see it.