The Colorado Avalanche will resume the 2014-2015 season on Tuesday night against Central Division opponent the Nashville Predators. Only 34 games remain in the season and the Avalanche are currently 4th in the Central with 50 points and sit three points out of the final wild card playoff spot. While the young core of this team has struggled in the offensive part of the game some 0f the Avalanche unknown players will need to step up if the Avalanche wish to make this years post season.
From 2006 to 2013 Nate Guenin spent nearly his entire hockey career bouncing around the AHL. He played only 12 games as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers over a four season span. Then two games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by three games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and finally 15 games with the Anaheim Ducks. All of the games played sometime between the 2006-2007 season to the 2011-2012 season. Guenin was signed by the avalanche prior to the 2013-2014 season and has really been a staple in the Avalanche lineup playing in 110 regular season games and 7 playoff games in the past season and a half.
Guenin’s play is often scrutinized by fans via social media and analysts during intermission breaks but Roy continues to have him in the lineup. The Avalanche have been considered week on the defensive end for several seasons but on a roster with guys like Eric Johnson, having a career season but now said to be out an extended period of time with a knee injury, veteran Jan Hejda and rising star Tyson Barrie, Guenin continues to be in the lineup. In 142 NHL games Guenin only has 4 goals so his offense is not what keeps him in the lineup. The one goal he has this season was one that can be described as the puck having eyes but it was the first goal for the team in a game that the Avalanche won so it was far from meaningless.
As the Avalanche come down the stretch they will not be able to lean on the goaltending efforts to win them hockey games. Barring a trade for a big name defenseman Guenin should remain in the lineup game after game. If Guenin can tighten up his play and limit mistakes he will be one player that could come up big for the Avalanche as this season comes to a close.
The left handed left winger has spent his entire NHL career with the Avalanche after not being drafted. In 8 seasons Cody McLeod has played in 515 games including all 48 so far this season. McLeod currently is 3 points shy of 100 and has accrued over 1000 penalty minutes. In the games leading up to the All Star weekend McLeod was given time both on the power play and late in the game with the goalie pulled by coach Patrick Roy. Normally playing on the fourth line as a medium sized enforcer some believe Roy was sending a message to his young core that had been struggling offensively buy putting McLeod out in key game situations.
McLeod has proven over his career that he is a reliable, mostly mistake free, player and Coach Roy has taken notice. If McLeod can continue his enforcing duties and stay healthy he may play a huge role in the Avalanche roster moving forward. With Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan McKinnon and others being streaky at times, McLeod may be seen playing up and down the lineup. McLeod will probably never be a 20 goal a season guy, his career high in one season is 15, but he will go to the dirty areas like the front of the net and the corners and pay the price to make a play.
When the season began the Avalanche seemed to be set between the pipes. Semyon Varlamov was the undisputed number one coming off a season where he was the largest reason the team made the playoffs and was honored as a finalist for the Vezina trophy, best goaltender in the league. At last years trade deadline the avalanche acquired Reto Berra from the Calgary flames for a 2nd round pick to replace Jean-Sebastian Giguere who would retire at the end of the season.
Varlamov has spent a good portion of the season battling a groin injury and the Avalanche felt confident they had a player capable of holding the fort until his return. However Berra struggled and AHL call up Calvin Pickard came in in relief and then ultimately became the number one in Denver. Varlamov becoming healthy but the Avalanche in a tight spot and the decision was made to send Berra down to the AHL, he cleared waivers in order to get there. Being sent down did mean that Berra was able to get playing time which he desperately needed certainly from a confidence level. The highlight of Berra’s stint in the AHL was the empty net goal he scored followed by his, in a way, unique celebration.
Varlamov will be leaned on heavily down the stretch to finish out the season but nobody can tell the future. Berra is likely to get at least a couple starts in the remainder of the season and if playoff chances are still alive Berra will have to step up and show he is worth the three year contract the avalanche signed him to before ever playing a game for them. If Berra gets a chance and plays well it may secure his future with the club, if not, well then the Avalanche have some decisions to make.
The Avalanche are going to be in a dog fight for the rest of the season to make the playoffs. The Western Conference is full of power house teams especially the Central Division. The Avalanche will need to step up as a team which includes the young super stars to be as well as the depth guys who may be asked to do more then what they are used to or comfortable with. If guys like McLeod, Guenin, and Berra can expand their play and be shut down players against other teams top players the Avalanche may just save their season or it may be too little too late.