Avalanche Thoughts – The Start Of Something?
My thoughts on the Colorado Avalanche ending the Chicago Blackhawks streak and what it means for the team.
Every week starting in January, the Los Angeles Lakers proclaimed that, “the season truly starts today.” And then they’d win a game or two against bad teams before losing to a top team.
Maybe the Colorado Avalanche season truly started on Friday night with a 6-2 victory over the previously unbeaten Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks streak had to end sooner or later. Wednesday night, the Avalanche gave them all they could handle but fell short in the final minute. Friday night, the Blackhawks jumped out to an early lead, but the Avs stormed back to tie things after one and put the game away in the second with four goals. This wasn’t a “lucky win” where the Avs just squeaked by on a couple of lucky bounces. This was a 60 minute effort where the Avs showed that they were the superior team.
What does it mean though?
Winning is nice. Ending something as big as a a 24 game point streak is nice as well. But it means nothing if the Avalanche don’t capitalize on this momentum.
For the past three games, the effort has been there. Unfortunately, prior to Friday, they were 0-2. On Friday the effort finally paid off as they thumped the best team in the league. Now they have to keep giving the same effort, because they’re still a below .500 team that is four points out of a playoff spot.
Despite the flaws of the team and my anger with the coaching staff, I’ve always maintained that this is a good team.
Matt Duchene is quickly emerging is a star in the league, leading all western conference scorers in even strength points. He’s not just putting up points, he’s doing little things as well like winning faceoffs, killing penalties, and hustling to loose pucks. He had four points on Friday, none better than his assist on a Jamie McGinn goal where he hustled to beat out an icing call, fended off two Hawks defenders, and then made a perfect backhand pass to a wide open McGinn in front of the net. Duchene made a statement in the off-season by taking a team friendly contract, putting in the extra work, and wanting to prove himself worthy of a big money extension. So far so good.
In his fourth game back, Ryan O’Reilly is starting to look like himself again. Say what you will about how he and Avs management handled the contract dispute. No one can deny that when O’Reilly is in the line-up, the Avs are a better team. He had a goal and two assists on Friday, but the biggest play he made was hustling to hold a puck in at the blue line on the power play and getting it P.A. Parenteau along the wall, who quickly found Duchene, who found Paul Stastny for a slot tip in and the Avs first goal. O’Reilly didn’t register an assist, but without his hustle, that goal never happens. O’Reilly continues to be a puck hog, and it looks like he’s added some extra muscle that makes him stronger on the puck, which makes him even tougher to play against.
Paul Stastny has also elevated his game as of late as well, giving the Avs a three headed monster at center that most teams would love to have. I still have my complaints about Stastny and his consistency, but when he shows up, he’s tough to play against and he can put points on the board.
Gabe Landeskog has been surprisingly quiet since returning, but he’s still playing his usual psychical game, which at least makes him stand out when he’s not scoring. Parenteau and John Mitchell continue to be worth every dollar the team is paying them, as they’re both putting up good numbers offensively and Mitchell has also proven his worth in the defensive end.
I still think coach Joe Sacco is using the wrong line combinations as Landeskog should be playing with O’Reilly since those two worked so well together last year, but everything worked out on Friday.
My only complaint about the offense is David Jones, who is getting paid four million dollars and has been invisible on the ice for the majority of the season. He’s registered three goals this year, which is the same as Cody McLeod. He’s also -9, which is last on the team with Greg Zannon. When he wants to use his size and speed, he’s very tough to play against, but it doesn’t seem like he’s done much of that this year. It’s not like he’s not getting the chances either. He’s been playing with Stastny and Landeskog and he also registers plenty of power play time. Jones can’t keep disappearing in games if the Avs are going to be a consistently good team.
With Erik Johnson back in the line-up and Ryan Wilson returning soon, the Avs are very deep on defense. The problem is Sacco not knowing how to utilize those defenseman. Shane O’Brien was a healthy scratch for the majority of the season even though he plays a gritty defensive game, is great at jumping up in the play offensively, and always sticks up for his teammates. When Wilson returns, it’s likely that O’Brien will find himself in the press box again as Sacco has some sort of vendetta against him. On Friday, Stefan Elliott was a healthy scratch even though he’s been the teams best offensive defenseman and brings much more to the table than Ryan O’Bryne, who is good for at least penalty and two defensive zone turnovers per game.
This team has the talent to be good. It’s just a matter of playing a 60-minute game every night and capitalizing on every chance. That hasn’t always been the case under Sacco, which is why I constantly, and still do, lobby for his removal. I’ve seen this team blow too many games in the final minute, fail to score a momentum changing power play goal, or take a bad penalty at the wrong time under Sacco to think that one game is going to change everything.
But if ever one game was going to turn around a team and a season. It would be the game on Friday. The Avs have five of the next six games at home. They need to win at least four of those home games, starting on Sunday against San Jose, if they hope to make a playoff run. If they don’t, I expect major changes following this stretch and heading towards the trade deadline.