Honestly, who would have thought that the Avalanche could be 10-5 after the first fifteen games of the season? And who would have thought that they would be six points ahead of the Canucks, who hosts Colorado tonight at General Motors Place in Vancouver?
Sure, the current Avs looked better on paper than last season's disappointing squad, and the pre-season predictions were generally favorable, but did anyone outside the Avalanche faithful (namely, us) really see this coming? Calgary and Vancouver were supposed to be the hot dogs behind Minnesota, not the Avalanche. Instead, Colorado sits atop the Northwestern Division as the third team in the entire NHL to win ten games so far. They haven't lost in overtime. They've consistently come back from multi-goal deficits to win games they should have lost. Even the much-hated Coach Q Goalie Carousel has been successful, with both Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj playing very well.
The one wild card has been the horribly inconsistent play of the defense. Opponents skate circles around them in almost every first period of every game, but as soon as the second period begins, it's like a totally different group. They block shots. They intercept passes and shut down scoring chances. They hit big. It's like night and day between the two versions of the same six or seven guys sometimes.
That said, Colorado's goals-against total (often far more indicative of bad defense rather than bad goaltending) is 12th in the NHL and sixth in the West. That's literally not "half bad." And the Avalanche offense is so reliable (except for the first line, of course) that even allowing three goals in a game does not spell doom for them.
Tonight that heralded offense will face one of the premier goaltenders in the league, the bionic monstrosity known as Roberto Luongo. He had a huge night against Calgary yesterday, stopping 36 shots in a 3-2 victory for Vancouver. Though his team often suffers from a lack of scoring, they never suffer from a lack of netminding prowess. The Avalanche will have to overcome this. They failed to do so in the last meeting between the two teams, when the Canucks gave the Avs their only home loss this season back on November 3rd. Fortunately for Colorado, the Canucks have only played well on the road, and are currently 1-6 at home.
Jose Theodore will get the start in net for the Avs, consistent with the back-and-forth rotation Coach Q has gotten lucky with so far. Are we justified in fearing a Theodore meltdown that he seemed to endure repeatedly last season, or can we finally be confident that every start will be consistently good? This article by Adrian Dater is a testament to what a great teammate Theo is for Peter Budaj and the rest of the Avs, but does it make any of us rest easier when he gets the start? The jury is still out.
The game starts late tonight, 8 PM Mountain time, 10 PM Eastern. Unless something amazing comes up, I'll be dutifully live blogging the hell out of the game. Please, bring your keen insights and scandalous images (200 x 200) and join in on the fun.