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Avalanche Thoughts – At The Olympic Break

Thoughts on where the Colorado Avalanche stands at the Olympic Break.

The Colorado Avalanche have 79 points after 58 games, good enough for 3rd in the Central Division.

Let me just re-type that since it was a sentence that I never thought I would type before the season started.

The Colorado Avalanche have 79 points after 58 games, good enough for 3rd in the Central Division.

Heading into the year, I knew this team was better than they’ve played over the years and that a poor coach held them from reaching their full potential. I’m not saying that Patrick Roy is the only reason that this team is playing so well, but once the attitude changed behind the bench, it also changed on the ice.

Roy set the tone in the first game when he nearly crushed Bruce Boudreau with the glass partition that separates the benches. The culture changed with that moment. This coach wouldn’t be bullied and neither would the team. When things got tough, instead of turtling up, they would fight back.

There have been struggles, which you’d expect from such a young team with a rookie head coach, but the struggles haven’t destroyed the team like they have in years past. They’ve almost always managed to bounce back after a bad performance with a victory.

All that said, I never expected this team to be comfortably in a playoff position with 24 games left to play. After the Olympic break, all the Avs need to do is play .500 hockey and there’s still a good chance that they’ll make the playoffs. Honestly, if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, they may as well relocate back to Quebec because I’m not sure they’ll be allowed to show their faces in Colorado ever again.

Everyone on the team has contributed and while early success could be attributed to the stellar play of guys like Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson, their play has leveled off a bit and other guys have stepped up.

In particular, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Tyson Barrie have really shined. Since January 1, 2014, MacKinnon and Landeskog have 20 points, which is tied for the 3rd most in the league. MacKinnon has done it by putting the puck in the net, 12 of those 20 points have been goals, while Landeskog has been assisting on a lot of those goals, racking up 14 helpers in that span. Heading into the break, Landeskog is on a 9 game point streak while MacKinnon has points in 8 straight.

With Alex Tanguay out of the lineup, MacKinnon and Landeskog have been on the same line for most of the year and they are clearly benefitting. Once Tanguay returns, it’ll be interesting to see what Roy does with the lines since Tanguay has had good chemistry with Paul Stastny and Landeskog in the limited number of games he’s played. As I’ve previously written, the Joe Sakic and Roy are going to have some tough decisions to make once everyone is healthy and one big decision they’ll have to make is whether or not they trade one of their forwards for defensive help.

MacKinnon is almost a lock to win the Calder trophy for the league’s top rookie at this point. He’s the only rookie with 20 goals and his 44 points are 7 better than Tyler Johnson, who sits in second place in rookie scoring. The most amazing thing about MacKinnon is that he got off to a very slow start. He only had 2 goals in his first 17 games, which means he’s had 20 goals in the 41 games since. He gets better with every game despite lacking consistency with his linemates. I’m pretty sure that MacKinnon has played with every single forward in the Avs lineup at one point or another this year. That speaks to his versatility and skill.

While MacKinnon and Landeskog have been strong up front, Tyson Barrie has really stepped up on the defensive end. Barrie was in and out of the lineup with Stefan Elliott last season and not really got a chance to prove himself. One of those two guys was supposed to replace the offensive ability to Kevin Shattenkirk when he was traded to St. Louis, but neither man stepped up thanks in large part to never getting consistent ice time. This year, Roy has given that ice time to Barrie and he hasn’t disappointed.

Barrie has 22 points in 41 games including 7 goals. He’s slowly but surely gaining confidence with each passing game and Roy has let him loose. Barrie pretty much has free reign in the offensive zone and can often times be found below the face-off circles as he tries to create scoring chances for the team. He reminds me a lot of Sandis Ozolinsh with how he creates scoring chances on the rush and roams in the offensive end, always looking for the puck. He’s also been strong defensively as well, accumulating a plus/minus of +15, which is good enough for second best on the team.

Along with those three, Semyon Varlamov has continued his outstanding play and earned himself a new five-year contract worth $5.9 million per year. He’s third in the league with 28 wins and ninth in save percentage. Most importantly, he gives the team a chance to win every game and when he does have a bad game, he always bounces back in a big way.

It’s been a very surprising season for the Avs and the fans and it’s not over yet. I believe that come March 5th, the NHL trade deadline, the Avs are going to make a big move. They have too many skilled forwards and not enough playing time. Even though it’s a good problem to have, especially if injuries occur, I think Sakic and Roy will try and move one of them for a top four defenseman. While the defense has been better than pretty much everyone expected it to be, they still give up too many shots and have a tendency to make bad plays in their own zone. Management isn’t going to blow up a young team for a “win now” approach, but they will make the right moves to increase their chances to win now and still have a solid foundation in the future.

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  1. February 14, 2014 at 11:03 am

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