The first 31 games of the season have been all but spectacular for the Colorado Avalanche. The young club stomped the NHL with their franchise best record since 2000-2001 when they won their 2nd Stanley Cup. A roster that spewed out; Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Ray Bourque, Adam Foote, Alex Tanguay and many more stellar Hall of Fame players, and those that will never be in the Hall certainly helped. A shocking loss in game 7 of the post-season seems to have the young Avalanche club failing to live up to their hype, failing to score, and the worst of the worst, failure to win games.
Since the last cup win, Colorado has either missed the playoffs or been knocked out in round 1 eight times. Currently they are on pace to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. The Central Division Champions are now the worst team in the Central Division, thanks to the surprising play of the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators.
One dagger in Colorado's hip this season has been the plaque of injuries and the inability to keep a healthy lineup. During the off-season, Colorado signed free agent Jesse Winchester. Jesse was injured in the pre-season where he sustained a concussion and has yet to play a single game. Although he seems to be fairly healthy, his only issue now is at the Pepsi Center, when he practices the lights at the arena seem to bother him even though he is healthy and okay almost anywhere else. When asked about this Coach Patrick Roy laughed it off and said, "I have never seen this, but everyone is different with injuries." Jesse Winchester is a 6 year NHL vet who has played majority of his career with the Ottawa Senators, in 285 career games he has 70 points and 159 penalty minutes. He is known more for being a penalty killer and a 4th line grinder.
Along side Winchester, Patrick Bordeleau has yet to play a game this season, though his is not a power house scorer, he is a huge component to the 4th line. Bordeleau, a 6'6" giant drafted in the 4th round by Minnesota in 2004, opens the gates to allow Avalanche grinder Cody McLeod to be more involved in the play. Bordeleau takes the fights and penalties for the team and stands up for his stars. Not that Cody McLeod doesn't, he leads the team and probably the NHL with 9 fights and 98 in his career. I used to rip on Brody for being such a terrible pick up and what not, but once he is out of the lineup you can really see his impact, especially on the bottom two lines. Getting him back would be a benefit for the Avs and it should be happening soon.
Since the season started, Colorado has dropped like flies. Ryan Wilson's season ended after just three games, Wilson injured his shoulder which required surgery. Ryan Wilson will be a UFA at the end of the season, if he can find a way to stay healthy, Wilson could be a great defensive pick up for many teams. A position the Avs are short on due to their consistent drafting of Centres is at Wing, and the Avs lost Winger Jamie McGinn probably for the season when he underwent back surgery on December 10th. McGinn ended last season with 19 goals and 19 assists, in 19 games this season Jamie had only 4 goals 2 assists and a -9. Marc-Andre Cliche, a huge penalty killer for the Avs has missed 6 games with his current injury, although Cliche could be in the lineup Saturday, December 20th against the Buffalo Sabers.
John Mitchell, another huge piece to the Avalanche penalty was injured on November 29th, not only is Mitchell a key PK guy, he has an amazing shot and his face-off skills are in need in the Avs defensive end. It is speculated Mitchell will return on the Avs current 3 game road trip, but not certain. Ben Street, a call up from the Lake Erie Monsters, was only in the line up due to injuries. Ben played in two games before sustaining a hand injury, with the Avs hopefully getting healthy, Street will more than likely be reassigned to Lake Erie upon his return. Dennis Everberg, a surprise opening night roster guy, injured his shoulder in November against the Washington Capitals, the rookie has 1 goal and 4 assists this season and has been back in the Avalanche lineup for a few games, him staying healthy and playing hard could see him stay in Colorado, although, players coming back could see the rookie assigned to Lake Erie, but only Roy can make that choice. With his decent play in 16 career games, anyone can argue that it is his roster spot to lose.
Most notable has been Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, a runner up for the Vezina, Varlamov proved to the NHL that he is a top elite goaltender but this season has many right back where they started. Semyon Varlamov cannot stay healthy. The Washington Capitals had plenty of young goalies to choose from and they chose to send Varly to Denver for some quality draft picks and many assumed the major reason was his inability to stay healthy. This season Varlamov has suffered three groin injuries, causing him to miss a handful of games. Semyon Varlamov is not expected back on the Avs three game road trip, though his return could be soon.
Although injuries are killers and daggers to any club, that is not the Colorado Avalanche's biggest issue. Their biggest issue in the last 31 games has been their lack of scoring. Last season the Avs averaged just a hair under 3 goals a game at 2.99 - they scored the late, big, clutch goals that won those key games. On top of that they found a way to win, 28 games Colorado won of 52 were one goal games, the difference in 56 points! After being top 5 in scoring, Colorado has dropped to the bottom 10 and are averaging 2.42 goals a game. This season Colorado has lost 14 one goal games while winning only 5, if that number is reversed, Colorado has an extra 28 points which boosts them from 26th in the NHL to number 1 in the NHL. Not saying that they would be 14-5 in those one goal games, but that is how close the Avalanche have been from being number one in the entire league, even over Sidney Crosby and the 49 point NHL leading Penguins.
Last season Colorado allowed an average of 2.63 goals against per game, which was tied with Vancouver for 16th. This season Colorado is the 5th worst in the NHL to this date allowing 3.13 goals against per game. Although, rookie goalie Calvin Pickard has helped to trim the number with his amazing play of late.
Colorado's feel good story this season has certainly been the play of 22 year old rookie goaltender Calvin Pickard. Pickard was recalled early in the season against the Ottawa Senators when starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov sustained his first groin injury. Calvin was put on a four plus ordeal, flying from Chicago to Ottawa, to play backup for Reto Berra. Though his entire career would change less than 3 minutes into the game. John Mitchell would crash his own net with Kyle Turris of Ottawa, causing Reto Berra to injure his neck. Pickard was tossed into the fire where he would allow 4 goals on 27 shots, since then, the kid has been a confidence boost for the team and the organization.
In 11 career games, Calvin Pickard has never been pulled, but has played in relief 3 times. His first recall saw two games, one start due to Berra's injury. He would go 0-2-0 allowing 7 goals on 56 shots. His second call-up, Reto Berra would start two games and be pulled before the 1st period ended in both. The rookie would post two shutouts allowing his team to win both comeback games, first time by any goalie in NHL history and Calvin would be awarded the #1 job as long as Varlamov was injured. Pickard played his heart out in a one goal loss to Chicago as he stopped 42 of 45 shots. Calvin would go 3-2-0 before being sent back down to Lake Erie for developmental reasons when Varlamov returned. After Semyon re-injures himself for a third time, Calvin Pickard would be called up once again and without hesitation, Patrick Roy would out the young goalie in over Reto Berra. In his third stint in the NHL, Pickard has played like a number one goalie and NHL scouts have noticed as 9 NHL scouts attended his game in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. In his last 4 games Pickard's record has not been too fair considering his team has not provided him with much goal support offensively. 1-1-2 record where two losses Pickard allowed only 2 goals on 82 shots, one he would lose 3-0 against Nashville (2 open net goals) the other would be an amazing 47 save overtime loss to the Penguins, where Calvin robed both Malkin and Crosby on the breakaway. Calvin and the Avs would also lose on overtime against the St. Louis Blues 3-2 where he would make 39 saves and a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets where he would make another 30 saves. 157 shots against in the last 4 games and the rookie has gotten 149. It is safe to say that Reto Berra may be on the Colorado trading blocks and Calvin Pickard could put up a training camp brawl with Semyon Varlamov for the number one position which could also see Semyon Varlamov as future trade bait.
No one knows how much of a Semyon Varlamov fan I am, I bought this cats jersey, met him twice, once for and autograph, once for a picture, shook his hand and flat out said, "You're my favorite Avalanche goalie all-time!" Yes, even over Patrick Roy, who I love dearly, I just love Semyon that much more...Weird? Probably haha. Seeing Varlamov leave Colorado would kill myself and many Avs fans, but if Calvin Pickard is as good as I feel he is, this kid will be Elite and will win the Avs a Stanley Cup. Unless they can trade him to say Carolina for this years 1st round pick, let the Hurricanes continue to fail and the Avs can land McDavid or Eichel... Yet, I think I rather have a future Elite goalie than ANOTHER centre in Denver... Although the "next great one" along side MacKinnon wouldn't be too shabby, trade Duchene in the future.... no no no! Don't put me on this path! I am not against Duchene, Varly, Pickard, McDavid..... I am just getting in my head.... Good game plans or not!!!
Anyways, that is my rant on the Avs this week. The goaltending by Pickard has been beyond amazing, he should be 3-1-0 but the lack of scoring has ruined the Avalanche. With Varlamov getting healthy, the Avs will likely send Calvin back to minors until Varlamov gets hurt again. Praying he does not, with the entire lineup getting healthy, maybe the Avs can bust out some wins and one goal wins more importantly and get on track. To keep pace with the NHL they need to start winning at minimum 2 of every 3 games, to start climbing Colorado needs to put together winning streaks of more than 3, more than once a month. If Colorado could win 3 for every 4, they are in a prime spot to start fighting for the #8 seed that they are only 10 points (5 wins) out of.
All I want for Christmas is a healthy Colorado Avalanche team that can win 20 of their next 25 (minimum) and make the playoffs. I want the team to stay healthy for the rest of the season, trade O'Reilly for huge gain and win!!! WIN WIN WIN!!!
----- Too much? o_O oh well
(Picture by: Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
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