The best the NHL has to offer will be heading to Columbus this weekend for the 2015 NHL All Star weekend. This will include Colorado Avalanche defenseman Eric Johnson. The Avalanche find themselves in a situation where making the playoffs is not mathematically impossible but the team will need to be phenomenal down the stretch to collect the necessary points to play in this years post season.
When the Avalanche return form the All Star break, they will have 15 games between Jan. 27 and the end of February. 12 of these games are against teams in the Western Conference and 10 of those games are against fellow Central Division teams. The remaining three games will be against Eastern Conference teams which while important, do not hold the large point swings that losing in conference play can bring. At best the Avalanche will return to action after the break with a record that is only two games over .500.
The Avalanche concluded its season series against the St. Louis Blues on Monday with a 3-1 loss which dropped the Avalanche to 1-2-2 against the Blues this season. This 15 game stretch following the All Star break will feature games against all the other members of the Central Division.
The Avalanche will return from the break and face a back to back situation with the Nashville Predators. The Predators will most likely be without goaltender Pekka Rinne as he recovers from a lower body injury that cost him his place at the All Star weekend.
These teams have met only once so far this season which was a game back in December that resulted in a 3-0 shutout win for Nashville. Colorado and Nashville will also play each other in the last week of February and then will conclude the season series in April in a game that may mean nothing at all. By the time that game rolls around, if trends continue, the Predators will have already clinched a playoff spot and Colorado will be on the outside looking in.
Three times in 24 days in February the Avalanche will play the Dallas Stars. The Avalanche are currently undefeated against Dallas this season with a record of 2-0. The three games in February will be the final three times these teams will see each other this season barring an unlikely meeting in the playoffs.
The Stars have one of the leagues deadliest duos in Tyler Seguin and team Captain Jamie Benn. These two playing on the same line has them number one and two on the Dallas roster in points with a combined 92. In the two contests earlier this season these two teams combined for 14 goals, a 5-2 Avalanche win in December and then a 4-3 Avalanche win in January. Dallas is fighting for its playoff lives as well so these games are certain to be high intensity fast paced which is how both teams like to play. The Avalanche will have to keep Benn and Seguin in check to have any shot of winning this season series.
The Avalanche began the 2014-2015 regular season with back to back shutout losses to the Minnesota Wild. The heartbreak of the previous seasons playoff game 7 loss was brought back to center stage as the Avalanche had no answer for the wild. In the month of February the Wild and Avalanche will play twice each team with one game at home. The Wild have recently been in a free fall and find themselves now in the Central Division basement three points behind Colorado.
The Avalanche will have chance to even up the season series and must do so in regulation to both propel themselves into a better position and to keep the Wild from gaining any ground as they are the only team beneath the Avalanche in the standings. The disappointing season by the Wild was put in perspective by a video of Head Coach Mike Yeo during a Wild practice giving a curse riddled speech to his team about lack of work ethic.
Quite possibly the loudest home arena in the NHL is ready for the Jets to make the playoffs for the first time since arriving in Winnipeg. At just past the halfway mark of the season the injury prone Jets currently hold a playoff wild card spot and are fourth in the Central Division. This particular season series is fairly even in that the Avalanche record against Winnipeg is 1-1-1, however the one loss was a 6-2 thrashing back in December.
These teams will face each other once in February and then again in the Avalanche’s next to last game of the season in April. Winning both of these game and having a winning record against the Jets at seasons end may mean the difference between the Avalanche making the playoffs or not. Wining of course comes first but if the Avalanche can do it in regulation instead of playing from behind and winning a shootout like they did in December the standings would be affected greatly.
While the Avalanche hold a losing record against the Chicago Blackhawks this season, the last time these teams played will have Avalanche faithful talking for a long time to come. The Avalanche finally secured a win against Chicago riding goaltender Semyon Varlamov who stopped 54 out of 54 shots in the shutout victory. The guy they call Varly would admit after the game he was exhausted but he did what he had to do to secure the win. When these teams played earlier in the season Varlamov was injured and the net minding was split between backup Reto Berra and AHL call up Calvin Pickard. Both of the first two game were Blackhawks wins.
Only one of these vital February games will be against Chicago but the avalanche season will end with Blackhawks coming to Denver. If the Avalanche win both of these games they will again poses a winning record against a Central Division opponent. In order to do so the entire Avalanche team willl need to step up and help out the man who nearly single handedly won them the last meeting. It is safe to say while Varlamov needs to be good, it will be hard for him to have a repeat performance of a 50 plus shot shutout.
Season Coming to a Close
After the Avalanche play the Wild on Saturday Feb. 28 they will have three days off before the next game. The players will have a chance to rest and get healthy but the Avalanche brass will be hard at work as in this off time includes the NHL Trade Deadline on Mar. 2 at 3 P.M. eastern time. On trade deadline day the Avalanche will have played 63 games with only 19 remaining in a season that has been filled with injuries, inconsistent play, bad bounces and very little good luck. After this stretch of 15 games, with so many of them against Central Division teams the Avalanche should have a good idea if they will make or miss the playoffs this season.
This will certainly be the difference between the Avalanche being buyers or sellers on Mar. 2. Trade speculation has followed the Avalanche all season specifically in regards to Ryan O’Reilly. If the Avalanche get to the trade deadline and feel they are more likely out the then in changes could be coming to the roster. The Avalanche players have to realize what this stretch after the All Star break means and that how they play will dictate what the organization does moving forward. The Avalanche hold their own fate in their hands but are quite a ways behind the eight ball right now. Finding a way to string wins together could propel this team into the playoffs or have them playing meaningless games for nearly six week during March and April to end the disappointing season.
I am a University of New Mexico journalism student who has been watching NHL hockey since 1996 and I started playing hockey myself in 2003. I have covered both college soccer and volleyball in the past and I also contribute to a NASCAR news website.