In one of the (many) quirks of NHL scheduling, you face divisional opponents 5 times a season, with one exception. One team, you only play them 4 times. For us, that one team is the Colorado Avalanche. Not only that, but we played them twice in 2 weeks back in November, and then not at all until now. It feels like a lifetime has passed since then. Somehow, the Avs have maintained a playoff spot, asserting themselves as an actual good team, and not just some kids getting off to a good start. It's looking more and more like they'll make the playoffs this year. The coaching of Patrick Roy wasn't worn them down (yet), and he may find himself waking up in Vegas with a Jack Adams for this season.
The Avs are really hot at the moment. They've won 4 in a row, and are 7-3-0 in their last ten games. The record of 41-17-5 has them ensconced in a playoff spot, and they're only 3 points behind the division-leading Blues. The schedule is pretty friendly, too - 7 of the first 10 games after the Olympic break are at home (as opposed to the Blues, who have only 3 home games in that span). Before the season, the Avalanche were considered a young team that was probably a year or two off from being a real contender; too many youngsters, and a rookie (albeit HOF player) head coach. They began with a roar, but that could be chalked up to merely a fast start. Could it last? Well ... the top three positions in the Central haven't changed much all year, and they are still in the mix.
There are a couple of things that you can see that contributed to this run. One of the more obvious choices is Calder front-runner Nathan MacKinnon . His assist in OT to cinch a win over the Wings was his 13th straight game with a point, a streak that no other 18-year-old has done before. The previous record was 12, by some guy named Wayne Gretzky. This teenage dream carries that streak into today's game. Part of me is happy to see records fall, but let's end it here and now, OK?
Their leader in overall points is Matt Duchene, 58 points from 20 goals and 38 assists. Next is captain Gabriel Landeskog with 52 points (19g, 33a) and MacKinnon (22g, 29a) with 51 points. Ryan O`Reilly leads the team in goals with 24, with 26 assists for 50 points overall. The top 5 is rounded out with St Louis product Paul Stastny's 47 points (20g, 27a). There's a substantial drop off from there, so this would represent the core of the Colorado offense. These guys are going to be a pain in the ass for quite some time. Stastny is the "old man" of the group at 28 - the others are 23 or younger.
As much firepower as that represents, though, I think the Avalanche have been relying even more on their goaltending. In the Western Conference, only one team has allowed more shots on goal than Colorado's 2054 shots in 63 games (Emonton* has allowed 2068, in 64 games played). In comparison, the Blues are tops in the Western Conference, with 1634 allowed in 62 games. Look at the Avalanche's previous 5 games, since the Olympic break:
- 03/06 against DET - 37 shots allowed
- 03/04 against CHI - 38 shots allowed
- 03/02 against TBY - 34 shots allowed
- 02/28 against PHX - 42 shots allowed
- 02/26 against LAK - 28 shots allowed
(* "no D" )
This is borne out in their #FancyStats, as well. Remember, the team's shot attempts (not counting blocked shots) are Fenwick events. If you allow exactly as many as you take, you'd break even at 50%. Obviously, you want to be above 50% as much as possible. In order to truly measure a team's performance, you filter out special teams play (5-on-5 play only), and focus on when the team is playing a close game (eliminating score effects). From ExtraSkater:
... and if you look at it in a rolling 10-game sampling:
That's putting a LOT of pressure on the goaltending. So far, the Colorado goalies have been up to the challenge, but I question how long this lop-sided percentage of shots-against can be supported. Semyon Varlamov has posted a 31-11-5 record, with a .925 Sv% and 2.47 GAA. His backup, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, has a 10-5-0 record, with a .915 Sv% and 2.57 GAA. The only move the Avs made at the trade deadline was picking up Reto Berra from Calgary for a 2nd-round pick. This was considered insurance for the playoff run, in case Giguere's back issues flared up again. He hasn't played for Colorado yet, but comes to the team with a 2.95 GAA and .897 Sv%. It looks like Varlamov gets the start today.
Final Verse: This is a real matinee performance, something that hasn't worked in the Blues' favor this year. Let's hope they are wide awake for this early start. The opening faceoff is at 2PM St Louis time. Take note that the Avalanche is the only team in the NHL that Ryan Miller doesn't have a win against. Let's do it today, eh? Also, today marks the 10-year anniversary of the Bertuzzi-Moore hit, so expect some cringe-inducing footage to hit the airwaves during the game. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW (with exceptions - check here), and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT will drop shortly before the puck does. Until then, gather here and start your day drinking. Here's a classic HNIC opening montage...