The month of November was a big month for the Colorado Avalanche. After the hot start they had in October, the Avalanche had to continue putting together wins if they were to be considered anything more than a flash in the pan. While the Avalanche weren’t able to keep up the six win to one loss ratio they had set early in the season, Colorado was still able to do what they needed to do to remain towards the top of the Central Division.
Keeping On Pace
At the end of last month, I said that the Avalanche needed to be able to hold serve on home ice and win most, if not all, of the games played in Denver. With one game left to play at home, the Avalanche are 4-3 at home in the month of November. Not ideal, but at very least the team won’t be less than .500 on home ice. I also said that the Avalanche would need to be at least .500 on the road in order to stay towards the top of the division. In the six road games the Avalanche played in November, Colorado was 4-2. Unfortunately, the Avalanche weren’t able to be as dominant on home ice as they would have liked, but they have done enough to remain in third in the Central Division. I don’t expect the Avalanche to be in the hunt to win the division, as this is still very much Chicago or St. Louis’ division to lose, but the close you are to those two teams in the standings, the better chance you have at guaranteeing yourself a playoff spot. As of now, the Avalanche are doing just that.
Finally Dealing With Adversity
The Avalanche had absolutely everything going for them in the month of October. Everything went their way and they had to deal with little, if any, long-term adversity. That type of adversity finally came to pass during November. Colorado has had to deal with a few injuries that have required the team to rely on its depth in order to be successful. Injuries to Alex Tanguay, Paul Stastny, Ryan Wilson and Matt Duchene have tested the teams depth on defense and with the forwards. All in all, the Avalanche have done a good job responding. Patrick Roy has juggled lines and still managed to come up with combinations that get the job done. The Avalanche are 8-5-0 this month, despite losing players that are very important to their lineup.
The Avalanche also experienced their first losing streak this of the season. The Avalanche had a three-game losing streak in the middle of the month with losses to Carolina, St. Louis and Florida, prompting many of the Avalanche fan base, and much of the Denver media to ask if the Avalanche were ready to begin another free fall. The Avalanche responded by winning four of their next five games, including three straight wins. Wins that included a 5-1 drubbing of the Chicago Blackhawks, giving Phoenix its first loss at home and a dominating performance against the L.A. Kings that only seemed close because of the outstanding play of Ben Scrivens. The Avalanche tasted the adversity that many people thought would send the team back into a downward spiral and overcame them.
Improvements Still to be Made
The Avalanche power play needs a serious makeover. The power play had been finding success early in the season, but it has hit a serious bump in the road of late. The biggest issue the power play is having is entering the zone, they just can’t find a clean entry for some reason. It almost always ends up being one guy trying to skate in as four others are just standing at the blue line. The most effective teams are able to go streaking into the zone by forcing the penalty kill to respect their speed and passing ability. Right now, nobody has to respect the Avalanche power play, they just put four guys at the blue line and intercept whatever misconstrued entrance attempt there is.
Then, if the Avalanche do happen to get the puck in and get the power play set up, nobody looks comfortable. The team just looks too anxious when handling the puck and have issues getting shots at the net. The players look like they are trying to make the perfect play instead of just taking the play that is there. The Avalanche really need to learn from the goals that they scored against the Minnesota Wild on Friday night. Each of the goals were scored by just putting the puck at the net and creating havoc in front of the net. Nothing pretty about it, and they should use that philosophy more on the power play.
Looking Ahead to December
The month of December will bring more challenges for the Avalanche. They will play 14 games, but only six of them will be at home. This will be the most traveling that the Avalanche will have faced thus far in the season. Things will start off with the familiar western Canada swing as they visit their old division rivals in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. If the Avalanche can continue their road success, they should be able to win five or six of their road games, which will set them up for success. Having only six home games means that you need to win them all, or at least five of them, in order to keep pace in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Colorado will host Phoenix, Minnesota, Dallas, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Columbus during December. Five, or even six, wins is doable with this schedule. The team needs to be able to stay focused and healthy throughout this month, which will be a big challenge with so much time spent on the road. Colorado is only at home for more than one game twice during this month.
Divisional games will always be important, but especially since Colorado’s divisional games are mostly against the teams beneath them in the standings, it makes winning those games much more important. If you want to stay near the top, you can’t let the teams beneath you beat you and gain ground. It’s important to keep the separation in the standings. An eight to ten win month for the Avalanche is what they need to be shooting for to keep pace with the Blackhawks and Blues.