Wild Wild West
It’s tough being a team in the Western Conference of the NHL, and the Colorado Avalanche are well aware of it. Currently, the team is sitting at 10th with 60 points. On any given day, that could change, dropping or propelling them by a four spot margin. The top five teams in the West are pretty set although with a good run and a little help from San Jose, the Kings could become the Pacific Division leader. 6th through 12th, however, are bound to be a race to the end with the Avs right in the middle of it. Considering four of the team’s top six forwards have been underperforming this season, that’s not a bad place to be. Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, David Jones and Matt Duchene are all below their averages in terms of production. The team has mostly relied on a promoted third-line center in Ryan O’Reilly and rookie Gabriel Landeskog to get things done. With Duchene set to return from injury soon and the other three heating up lately, Colorado could end up ranked 6th for the post-season.
Taking Home the Hardware
Two Avalanche players have been in recent discussions for end-of-the-year awards. Not surprisingly, Landeskog is getting some Calder love. Despite not being the top offensive rookie of the bunch, his overall play and impressive stats in areas that usually take rookies some time to develop may win the judges over. Landeskog is 6th in rookie scoring, but he leads in shots on goal, take aways, and plus/minus. He’s also relied upon heavily by Avalanche coach Joe Sacco in all situations. He’s in the top four of forwards of the team in time on ice: total, even strength, short-handed and power play. He also leads the team in hits and shots, while being second only to Ryan O’Reilly in takeaways. Speaking of O’Reilly, he’s the other Av in the trophy talks. His defensive play, both on the forecheck and backcheck, has garnered some Selke attention. He ranks third in take aways, behind superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews. He’s 9th in the league for the number of face offs he’s won and 10th for face offs taken. He also regularly faces the toughest competition and consistently wins defensive zone face offs. The only knock against him is the amount of time he plays in offensive situations as compared to defensive ones. For example, he plays more time on the power play than on the penalty kill. This has little to do with his abilities, however, as he was one of the top short-handed players in both his rookie and sophomore seasons. Who would’ve thought that offensive production could be a bad thing?
Honoring our Protectors
The Avalanche recently held a Military Appreciation Night. It was touching and powerful as the Avs organization did a wonderful job throughout the night. It started with the players donning camouflage jerseys during warm ups. Immediately prior to the game, there was a ceremony that celebrated members of each of the branches and a special award given to Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, a Medal of Honor recipient. Joe Sakic presented him with an autographed camouflage jersey which sported Giunta’s name. The night also included personal videos by service men and women, as well as their loved ones. In addition, a group of military recruits took the Oath of Enlistment during the second period intermission, swearing to serve and protect our country.
Matt Duchene starting skating again after suffering a knee injury on December 30, 2011, in a game against the Phoenix Coyotes. His first couple of days back were spent skating on his own before his teammates hit the ice for practice. However, he has had three full practices while wearing a non-contact jersey and joined the team on their recent road trip through Canada. He is expected to return to the line up within the next week or so. Both Peter Mueller and Ryan Wilson have missed games recently due to illness.
The Avalanche take on the Vancouver Canucks tonight in the first of three road games. The team faces off against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday, February 17th, and the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday, February 19th, before returning home for one game against the Los Angeles Kings on February 22nd. Then it’s back out on the road again, starting with the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 24th.
Cheryl Bradley is an Assistant Editor and Staff Writer for SBNation’s Mile High Hockey, covering the Colorado Avalanche. Cheryl also is on the Board of Directors for the Avalanche Guild, an organization that partners with the Avalanche to support local youth and adult hockey in Colorado.