Will the real Colorado Avalanche please stand up?
by Bruce Wilkie
Which is the real Colorado Avalanche? Is it the team that ran off a six game winning streak, including beating New Jersey, Buffalo, Calgary and Nashville? Or is it the team that lost to Minnesota, Dallas and the New York Rangers and has now dropped four of five?
The five games remaining before the Olympic break may provide a clue.
Starting Saturday February 6th the Avalanche play four straight at home, hosting Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix. They end pre-Olympic play in Los Angeles on February 13th.
In their last 7 home games the Avs are 5-2. With Vancouver on their 14 game Olympic road trip now is the time for the Avalanche to take advantage of a schedule that is now heavy on home games to keep even with and possibly pass the Canucks in the Northwest Division race.
And the Avs can’t forget about Calgary. The Flames have turned things around since ending their nine game losing streak and entered play on February 6th only two points behind Colorado in the Northwest Division.
The Avalanche have been able to stay at or near the top of the Northwest Division despite a brutal early season schedule that had them leading the NHL in road games played until mid-January. Coming up on the three quarter mark of the season, the Avs can’t afford to continue their recent slump if they have any hope of post-season play. Their play in their five games this week could tell the tale of the 2009-10 season.
-Three Avalanche rookies had big games against Columbus February 2nd. Brandon Yip scored two goals, Ryan O’Reilly scored two short handed goals and T. J. Galiardi had four assists as the Avs routed the Blue Jackets 5-1 in what would be Ken Hitchcock’s final game behind the Columbus bench.
-The Avs have three of the NHL’s top 10 rookie scorers. Matt Duchene leads the NHL with 38 points, Galiardi is 8th with 24 points and Ryan O’Reilly is 10th with 20 points.
-Brandon Yip is hot, scoring 15 points in his 20 NHL games. He is 19th among rookie scorers. Yip missed the first two months of the season with a hand injury suffered in a preseason fight.
-Injured forward Milan Hejduk has resumed skating, but will likely not return to action until after the Olympic break.
-Marek Svatos returned to play last week.
-Ruslan Salei has missed all but one game this season, but hopes to return in time to play for Belarus in the Vancouver Olympics.