The Colorado Avalanche finished off their October schedule with a come from behind victory over the Winnipeg Jets, Sunday night, and, just as everybody expected, the Avalanche sit on top of the Central Division with a 10-1-0 record. Wait, what?! This team that the experts predicted to, once again, sit on the bottom of their division has put together the best start in franchise history? I don’t think anybody could have seen this type of start coming, but let’s have a look at what happened.
A Month About Winning
The Avalanche got the season started off with a bang with a route of the Anaheim Ducks that became far more about Patrick Roy’s near destruction of Bruce Boudreau than the Avs’ actual destruction of the Ducks. From that moment on, we’ve seen an Avalanche team that has come together as a unit and has started to believe in themselves. The Avalanche rattled off six straight wins to start the year, which had Patrick Roy tie the NHL record for most wins in a row to start an NHL coaching career. The first loss of the season came at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings which was greeted by a resounding, “Well, now we’ll really see what this team is made of.” The Avalanche responded to their first loss of the year by rolling off four straight wins, capped by the victory against the Jets.
The Avalanche are 5-1-0 at home, and are 5-0-0 on the road, including impressive wins in Boston, Toronto and Pittsburgh. Last season, the Avalanche had a grand total of 16 wins in the 48 game season and totaled only 39 points in the standings. The Avalanche now have 10 wins and 20 points, just to give you a bit more perspective.
The record is obviously improved from a season ago, but just the fantastic record doesn’t give you the whole picture of just how much this team has improved. The most notable area where the Avalanche have improved is in goal. Semyon Varlamov is having a career year in every sense of the word, putting up career numbers in goals against average (1.76) and save percentage (.945). There were a lot of questions surrounding Varlamov coming into this season, but he finally seems to be proving that he can handle the load of being a number one goaltender in the NHL.
Not to be outdone, Jean-Sebastien Giguere is revitalized underneath his old goalie coach, Francois Allaire. Giguere has won all three of his starts, has two shutouts, and has allowed a grand total of two goals.
The Defense, as a whole, has shown marked improvement, despite not making a lot of personnel upgrades. The Avalanche are only allowing 1.46 goals against per game, which is down from their dismal 3.12 goals against from a season ago. That 1.46 goals allowed per game is currently tops in the NHL. The penalty kill is another huge area of improvement. Last year the Avalanche were only capable of killing penalties at home, this season the Avalanche have yet to give up a power play goal while on the road. At 92.3%, the Avalanche have the best penalty kill in the NHL. Offense has improved as well, but there has been no larger improvement for the Avalanche than on the defensive side of the puck.
Who is Rolling
The Avalanche goaltenders are not the only people playing out of this world, to have the kind of success they have had in October, a lot of people need to be pitching in, and Matt Duchene is doing just that. Matt Duchene had a fantastic season last season, but the team’s gigantic struggles made him easy to overlook. Right now, it’s impossible to ignore the amazing start that he has had. Through 11 games, Duchene has nine goals, which is tops on the team right now. This has Duchene on pace for a Steven Stamkos like 67 goals this season. Duchene also has four assists, which brings him to a team leading 13 points through 11 games and puts him on pace for a 97 point season. Duchene is having the type of season that earns guys a lot of new hardware for their trophy cases and it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up.
The Paul Stastny line has started to make a strong push in the last few weeks. As we speak, the line of Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Alex Tanguay are all tied for second on the team in scoring with eight points. Both Landeskog and Tanguay have three goals and five assists, and Paul Stastny has two goals and six assists. It has been a long time since the Avalanche had two dangerous lines like this, and the fact that both the Matt Duchene line and Paul Stastny line are producing at this rate should scare a lot of teams.
Jan Hejda is having a fantastic season for the Avalanche this year, and may be one of the most underrated players on the team right now. Hejda is currently leading the Avalanche in ice-time per game, at just over 22 minutes per game, he leads the team in hits with 26 and is second on the team in blocked shots with 25. Hejda is having a fantastic year and has been a fantastic compliment to Erik Johnson on the top line.
Will the Winning Continue
First off, I don’t think that anybody should expect the Avalanche to continue winning at the same kind of pace they are currently winning. Though, at the same time, nobody expected the Avalanche to start the season the way they did. Of course the Avalanche will face adversity and lose a couple games in a row at some point, that happens to everybody, but nothing that has happened suggests that they won’t be able to deal with that like a winning team this year.
November is going to be a big month for the Avalanche. The Avalanche play 14 games in the month of November, eight of them are on home ice. Every team likes to be dominant on their home ice, and the Avalanche seem to finally have that winning feeling on home ice again. If the Avalanche can win most, or all, of these home games, they’ll be in fantastic shape. Let’s also not forget that the Avalanche still have yet to lose a game on the road. That will change in November, but if they can stay .500 on the road or better for the month, then we should expect to see the Colorado Avalanche still sitting on top of the Central Division.
Speaking of the Central Division, seven of the 14 games for the Avalanche in the month of November are divisional games. So far, the Avalanche have won both divisional games they have played, and must continue this success through November.