Colorado Avalanche – At the quarter mark, a tale of two seasons.
A case can be made for describing the Colorado Avalanche as the surprise of the 2009-10 NHL season. The consensus of preseason predictions had the Avs finishing 14th out of 15 in the Western Conference and 29th out of 30 in the entire league, ahead of only the NHL’s real-life soap opera, the Phoenix Coyotes. Yet as the end of play on November 19th, Colorado’s record was 13-6-3, good enough for 1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference and tied for 3rd in the NHL overall standings.
After approximately one quarter of the season (22 games) has passed, here are comparisons between this year’s Avs and the troupe that earned the 3rd pick in the 2009 draft.
2008-09 vs, 2009-10 – 1st 22 games:
After 22 games, last year’s record was 10-12, good for 20 points. This season, 13-6-3, good for 29 points.
Through 22 games the ’08 Avs scored 50 goals while allowing 63. In ’09 they’ve scored 65 and allowed 59.
Perhaps the most unusual statistic is the shot count. Through those 22 games, the ’08 Avs took 631shots while allowing 613. In ’09, Colorado has taken 567 shots and has allowed an amazing 728. (That stat alone shows how valuable goalie Craig Anderson has been).
To get an accurate idea of where the 09-10 Avalanche team really is, you need to split the first 22 games into two halves.
2009-10 1st 11 games vs. 2nd 11 games:
After the first 11 games the Avs had a 8-1-2 record. They had scored 37 goals and allowed 24. In the second 11, the Avs record was 5-5-1. They scored 28 goals while allowing 35.
There are several possible explanations for this season’s Jekyl-Hyde results:
-Injuries. Like most NHL teams, the Avs have had their share of injuries. Darcy Tucker, whose resurgent start helped the Avs to their hot beginning, missed 8 games with a concussion. T.J. Galiardi, whose hustle and hard work stood out, just returned after missing 9 games with an ankle injury. John-MIchael Liles is back after having been on the injured list twice with a shoulder injury. Cody McLeod missed 6 games with an eye injury. Milan Hejduk missed 2 with a bad back. And team captain Adam Foote has missed the last 3 games with a jaw injury. In all, Colorado has only 8 players who have played in every game.
-Wear and tear on goalie Craig Anderson. While “Andy” has been a giant part of the Avs success this year, he sometimes shows signs of fatigue. That’s understandable, considering that he’s played almost 90% of the team’s minutes this season. Most of that imbalance can be attributed to his stellar play, but a large part is due to a lack of faith in backup goalie Peter Budaj. Budaj’s 4.29 goals-against average and his .855 saves percentage prove that viewpoint correct.
-Bad habits. When the Avs are playing well, they are a hustling, hard-working group that plays as a team. When they are not:
-The Avs don’t shoot enough. They overpass, giving up a good shot for one more pass to make the perfect play that rarely happens.(Paul Stastny and Wojtek Wolski are often guilty of this).
-The Avs get caught flat-footed on defense and let their opponents set up in front of the net. This leads to giving up back door passes that result in easy goals.
-When the Avs get a lead, they fail to protect it. They work hard and apply pressure to get a lead, then sit back and let the other team bring the game to them, allowing the opponent to get back in the game. This type of play was common under former coach Tony Granato, and while it was not happening earlier this season, it is appearing too often lately.
One quarter of the way through the season, the following observations can be made:
1) Colorado is not as bad as most predicted they would be. Barring injury to Craig Anderson, it’s likely that the Avs will make the playoffs.
2) The Avs are not as good as their 8-1-2 start indicated. At this time, they are a good (not great) team. They have some talented young players with huge potential, and with only a few high-priced players on the roster, the Avs should be able to keep their nucleus of young talent together and this team should continue to improve now and for the next few seasons.