In case you missed our not-very-impressive marketing blitz, the Avalanche Blogger Roundtable is back and, thanks to some funny pills we ordered from a random spam email, it's bigger and better than ever. Once again, the goons at Mile High Hockey will be the launching pad for the different questions (oh wait, I'm one of those goons, aren't I?).
Shane started things of yesterday, massaging some great answers out of us. Tomorrow, Tapeleg will host question 3 at Jerseys and Hockey Love. And today, Dario and I have the proud honor of hosting question #2. So, without further rambling...
What's the biggest hole or weakness going into this season?
Justin - The Avalanche Guild: Back-checking, or the defensive support given by the forwards, is the biggest weakness heading into this season. Back-checking is defensive awareness in all three zones and Colorado's forwards were overall a very weak defensive-minded set of players last year. When a responsible forward has a defensive component to their game, they become major assets because they are taking on a non-offensive responsibility, which does one very important thing - it supports the defensemen!
Putting defensive pressure on forwards speeding through the neutral zone (following a turnover) forces the other team to make hasty or hesitant decisions with the puck, which takes pressure off of the defensemen and allows them to play more physical and with better positioning! But all too often last year, Avalanche defensemen had to deal with all three forwards entering the zone with too much speed and ease, which put a ton of pressure on them and the Avs' goalie.
Ultimately, back-checking comes down to WANTING to help out on the defensive end of the ice. Responsible defensive forwards also need a physical component to their game, but players like Wojtek Wolski, Marek Svatos and Tyler Arnsaon seriously lack that, thus they rarely showed defensive responsibility. That aspect, to me, is our biggest weakness heading into the season.
Jay Vean - The Avs Hockey Podcast: Speaking of the team, based on last season's performance, injuries or no injuries, the biggest weakness is going the power play. I really hope the team shuts me up on this one though. One 5 on 3 goal all year long and being in or near the basement in power play efficiency obviously isn't going to cut it this season.
As far as a player that's a hole my choice is Tyler Arnason. When he chooses to play hard, which was late last season and into the first round of the playoffs, I don't having him around. Any other time he's just hard to watch. Just plain too many insignificant shifts and minutes. I hope that changes this season as well, but I'm not expecting that at all.
Jori - Colorado Avalanche Prospects: The Avs lack a bona fide defensive minded center that is capable of winning key faceoffs. Tyler Arnason is not the answer, yet Francois Giguere apparently doesn’t see a problem. I’m not sure if TJ Hensick is the answer either as he is still developing, but there isn’t a better option currently within the system.
Shane - Colorado Avalanche Talk: Goaltending? No, that’s not it. Grit? No, that’s not it either. A solid defense? I believe they have that. Better special teams? Yep, those definitely need some fixing.
But what I really want the Avalanche to provide this season is proper bookends to their games.
They shared the league lead with Philadelphia by scoring 93 2nd period goals but were a miserable 28th in the league with 53 first period goals and a less-than-mediocre 19th with 74 third period goals, not to mention a brutal 4th in the league in first period goals against.
"Score first and score often" should be their motto this season. Because when they did score first last season, they trailed only Detroit with an 81% winning percentage.
David Driscoll-Carignan - In The Cheap Seats: The top 6 Avalanche defensemen going into the season have combined for 72 powerplay goals in 3,308 career games - or about 1 every 46 games. John-Michael Liles leads the group with 21 in his career. Not one has managed 10 PP goals in a season - in the NHL or the AHL.
The Avs really need a guy who can quarterback the powerplay - someone who can push the puck to an open player or fire it towards Ryan Smyth in front. It's gotten so bad that the team has taken to using Joe Sakic on the blueline and that's just not the best use of his skills. Liles has talent, but he's better as a complimentary player (his best season came in 2005-2006, when he was paired with Rob Blake). I think Blake is one of the more overrated players in hockey, but his 126 career powerplay goals could sure come in handy. I think Jordan Leopold may surprise us by in that role this year, but I still suspect this is an area that's going to be a trouble spot overall.
Tapeleg - Jerseys and Hockey Love: After seeing what was going on at the Frozen Fury game, I would say the biggest hole was in front of the crease, where Kings players seemed to be partying it up.
I think its going to be the third line. With two lines of scoring, and a serious pest line, the team is going to need a solid third line to maintain a little continuity while everyone else catches their breath. After that comes the power play, which has been such an issue, the Avs have looked in to whether or not they are allowed to turn down power play opportunities.
Mike - Mile High Hockey: I know it's a cliché, but with the Northwest being this airtight, the Avs need to be better on the power play than last year. I’m not sure that is possible with the current lineup. I still don’t see a true PP quarterback at the point, and we all saw how the man advantage looked last season when the O was run from down low. Hopefully Liles, Clark, Leoprone, and/or Salei will be a tad better than serviceable in that role. I think the team’s stellar even strength numbers will take a small hit this season with the change in offensive philosophy. That difference HAS to be made up on the power play. Another extended kitten holocaust will put the Avalanche on the outside looking in come playoff time.
GEO - The Avslova Factor: I might be making a mountain out of a molehill, but the goaltending could be a slight problem this season.
The Avs know they have enough talent to be able to fix the power play. If Svatos isn’t producing, put in Wolski. If he’s not doing the job, put in Hejduk. That’s fine. But what about the crease? If Budaj isn’t doing his job, we’re left with Andrew Raycroft, a guy who hasn’t performed well since his rookie season. In a division featuring Kiprusoff, Luongo, and Backstrom, it would be nice to have a guy who could be counted on each and every night.
Sure, Budaj deserves a shot. And who knows? He may even earn my allegiance and become the starter this team has been missing since the retirement of Patrick Roy. However, if he can’t get it together, the Avs become a very average team.
However, I will get behind Jibbles.
Dario - In The Cheap Seats: The Avalanche have a very deep defensive squad, perhaps a top 3 defense in the entire NHL when you break down 1 through 6. However, none of them have shown the ability to run a powerplay. Just look at the Western Conference defensemen quarterbacking the powerplay; Lidstrom, Zubov (Robidas), Burns, Phaneuf, Niedermayer and hell even Jovanovski had 8 goals and 19 assists on the PP last year. The point defensemen have to get involved on the PP unit. Salei, Liles and Clark offer opportunity there but Leopold is the real savior. As long as he avoids all contact.
Joe - Mile High Hockey: I can't believe I have to give a serious answer to a topic about "Holes." Really?
I've been contending for a while that the weakest link on the team is the offense, and I'm still pretty sure of it. Andrew Brunette may be a pretty slow skater, but he was always a consistent scorer for the Avs, and his departure puts a lot of weight on young players who don't have the experience or "offensive awareness" that he does. Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos are great players, but they've been inconsistent in ways Brunette never was. And what about injuries? If somebody gets hurt, like Stastny, Sakic or Hejduk, you've got an offense relying on Ryan Smyth and a bunch of noobs. That's not a recipe for success, even if those young players are really talented otherwise.
I kind of view the Avalanche offense as a stack of Jenga blocks with half the middle already taken out. Remove one or two more pieces and the game is over.
Jibblescribbits - Jibblescribbits: I think our scoring forwards physicality, if that makes sense. We have some talent on offense, Stastny, Sakic, Wolski, Svats Machine, Hejduk. But the only forwards who can play physical and score are Smytty, and maybe Tucker. That's why I hope Davey Jones has a breakout season because his fore checking and aggressive play would be extremely helpful.
Also third line center. Arnason is a better player than we give him credit for, but he is just out of place on this team. Hopefully Hensick can beat him out.
Well, there you have it. Thanks to Mile High Mike for once again for organizing this crazy thing. Also, thanks to Bethany from Bethany's Hockey Rants. She started the Hockey Bloggers Network this summer, and we used that site to co-ordinate our world domination plan little ego project. Finally, thanks to the newbies - Jay, GEO and Aaron (who unfortunately got a little too caught up in real-world stuff to contribute to all the questions) - for taking part this year. It's great to have some fresh meat for the circle jerk!