The Colorado Avalanche look like a different team than they have much of the season. The Avalanche just wrapped up a four-game home stand that saw them go 3-1-0 and reclaim the final Wild Card slot in the Western Conference playoff picture. Far more important than just the record, the Avalanche have been playing their best hockey all season in the last stretch of games. A combination of things have led to this recent surge but one thing is certain; the Colorado Avalanche appear ready, willing and finally able to make the final push and make the playoffs.
Trade Deadline Additions
The Avalanche didn’t really look like a team that was going to be very active at the trade deadline. The Avalanche were clear about not wanting to “mortgage the team’s future” at the trade deadline, which had many people, myself included, expecting the Avalanche to possibly dump some dead weight. The Avalanche did far more than just trim some dead weight, adding Shawn Matthias, Mikkel Boedker and Eric Gelinas to the lineup, while sending out a rather minimal return. The Avalanche “lost”: Alex Tanguay, prospects Conner Bleackley, Kyle Wood and Colin Smith, and a few middle/late-round draft picks. Joe Sakic deserves a ton of credit for these trades.
Both Shawn Matthias and Mikkel Boedker have been outstanding additions to the team, adding different elements that have really given the Avalanche a huge boost. Matthias is gritty and physical, but also possesses some pretty fantastic skating ability and a tenacious attitude that can extend offensive zone time and turn chaos in front of the net into goals.
Boedker finally gives Nathan MacKinnon a winger with similar offensive ability and, most importantly, somebody that can keep up with him when he really gets going. Boedker also has a nose for the net and fantastic hands to help boost the team’s scoring. Both players contributed immediately to the offense and have rounded out the top nine amazingly well.
Real NHL Depth
The Avalanche had pretty good depth to start the season, or at least much better depth than they have had in several years, but it was clear that there was still a bit lacking in this department. The trade deadline acquisitions mentioned have really rounded out the team’s forward lines a great deal, giving the Avalanche three line that can legitimately play all 200 feet of the ice, and boy have they. Before the trade deadline, it seemed like the Avalanche were only really able to count on one line each night to be the line that created the offense and had extended offensive zone time. Since the trade deadline, all four lines have been able to contribute, especially with the most recent combination of lines from Patrick Roy. Not only is each line creating chances, each line is scoring, too.
Another point of depth often overlooked is in the crease. Over the past two seasons, the Colorado Avalanche have had to rely almost exclusively on Semyon Varlamov to have any hope at stringing wins together. Calvin Pickard now gives the Avalanche a backup goalie that is completely capable of coming into the game at tough points, either within a game itself or in a part of the schedule you would normally give to your starter. There is really no need to ride Varly to exhaustion anymore, and Patrick Roy has made use of Pickard a few times this season in order to give Varlamov some extended rest time to refocus. Pickard has earned the trust of the coaching staff and his team, and you can see that the Avalanche are just as confident with Pickard in net as they are with Varlamov.
When the playoffs come around, special teams are of the utmost importance. Win the special teams battle consistently and you can win series. The Avalanche penalty kill has been outstanding since about mid-February. Where the Avalanche do need to improve more is on their power play. The Avalanche power play is another part of their game that has had a bit of a roller coaster year; it is either so hot that it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the Avalanche will score at least one power play goal each game, or so bad that the Avalanche simply seem fortunate if they are able to break into the zone and get it set up. Consistency needs to be the key for the Avalanche special teams. Currently, the penalty kill has that consistency, and it is showing.
The Colorado Avalanche control their own destiny in the race for the Western Conference playoffs. This is a challenge that the Avalanche likely wouldn’t have been able to rise to in recent years, with the exception of their magical 2013-2014 season. But their team has a different look now. They look hungry, energized, driven. They look like a team that is tired of being counted out of everything at the start of the season. They look like a team that isn’t going to rely on their sheer talent, but a team that is going to outwork their opponent and leave everything they have that night on the ice. Finally, the Colorado Avalanche look like a playoff team.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast