December Not a Merry Month for the Avalanche

The month of December did not leave the plethora of Christmas joy that fans of the Colorado Avalanche were hoping for, though it didn’t exactly leave a huge lump of coal, either. Just looking at the schedule it was obvious that the Avalanche were going to have some challenges ahead of them, only six home games all month plus road trips to some of the best teams in the Western Conference. So, how did the month play out?

Wins Harder to Come By

To this point, with only the New Year’s Eve game against Columbus left, the Avalanche are 4-5-4 in the month of December, which is clearly their worst monthly showing to date. Is my review of the month of November, the Avalanche were going to need to post eight to ten wins in order to keep pace with the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, that has not happened, but things aren’t exactly as bas as they seem. The Avalanche have still done enough to keep a lead in the standings on everybody else in the Division and still have three games in hand on the Minnesota Wild, who figure to be Colorado’s biggest competition for the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the Central Division.

On the plus side of this, while clearly going through the most difficult portion of their season to date, the Avalanche can still manage to come out of this difficult stretch with a .500 record for the month with a win on New Year’s Eve. While .500 isn’t really where anybody wants to be, in the grand scheme of things, coming through that portion of the schedule at the .500 is a good thing. This team faced a lot of adversity throughout this month and managed to come back and steal a couple of points where they easily could have had none. At the same time, they also let a few leads slip away and gave away points they weren’t giving away early in the season.

Plusses and Minuses

(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

On the plus side of things, Matt Duchene has found his game, once again. He had struggled after returning from injury, not scoring any goals in his first seven games before catching fire and even earning third NHL star of the week honors. Erik Johnson has also started finding his scoring touch to go with what has been very solid defensive play all season long. The Avalanche also have gotten some good news regarding Alex Tanguay. Patrick Roy believes that Tanguay will play again for the Avalanche this season, but hasn’t set a specific timetable yet. Getting Tanguay back in the lineup would be a huge boost to the Avalanche.

On the minus side, the Avalanche have been inconsistent in their scoring. It seemed that, during the month of December, only one line at a time ever really had things going. For a while, the John Mitchell line was the best line, by far, then Matt Duchene’s line really got it going again, and finally Paul Stastny’s line has put together a few good showings towards the end of the month. Early on in the season, the Avalanche were getting scoring from everywhere, at the moment they are only getting scoring from one place at a time. The power play and penalty kill both took major hits during this month. Part of the trouble with he PK was the injury to Jan Hejda, which could have been much worse, that kept him out for a few games. Once Hejda got back, the PK has balanced out a bit. The power play, however, looked atrocious for much of the month. In the last week, the Avalanche have managed to get some good production from their power play again, which is a good omen moving forward.

Injuries have been another negative this month. The worst of which came during Colorado’s penultimate game of the month to P.A. Parenteau. Parenteau is currently fourth on the team in scoring and, while he has struggled with turnovers this season, will still be a big loss for this Avalanche team.

What Does The New Year Hold?

January sees the Avalanche playing 14 games, once again. The Avalanche start the month off by continuing a long home stand that runs to a total of seven games, tough only five of them are in the month of January. These games are against Philadelphia, San Jose, Calgary, Ottawa and the New York Islanders. Only the San Jose Sharks have more points in the standings than the Avalanche do right now. Most of these are also Eastern Conference teams, and the Avalanche have had good success against the East this season, currently 8-3-0. If the Avalanche take full advantage of this home stand at the start of the month, it could propel them to another great month.

The Avalanche play a total of eight home games in the month of January, and must take advantage of their home ice. Their road trips, which does include some trips to the a few more Eastern Conference teams, will not be a walk in the park. Games in Minnesota, Chicago Dallas and Tampa Bay should provide the Avalanche with a good challenge outside the somewhat friendly confines of the Pepsi Center. This month will be a challenge for the Avalanche, who will still need to overcome some injuries, but could also do a lot to help jump start the Avalanche after what was a less than successful month.