Just a few days ago, the Colorado Avalanche were on top of the Northwest division and held the #3 seed in the Western Conference. Those were the days. After two consecutive losses and wins by just about every other team that matters, the Avalanche are hanging on as the 8th and final playoff team in the West, 4 points ahead of the Nashville Predators.
The Avalanche played well against the Minnesota Wild but ultimately could not get enough pucks past Nicklas Backstrom. The Wild won 3-1 giving Minnesota - not the Avs - sole possession of 1st place in the division. Colorado was in this game until the very end, but could not find a way to get the equalizer on the board (Stephane Veilleux iced the game with an empty netter with just over 6 seconds left).
Although the Avalanche did score on the PP - Joe Sakic with a patented wrister from the slot - I feel that special teams was again the deciding factor. The Avs had three powerplays in the opening frame, including almost 40 seconds of a 5 on 3 and could not score. In fact, they barely registered any shots, and the Wild had three good shorthanded scoring chances to boot. In over 10 minutes of PP time during the game, the Avs had just 9 shots. In tight games like this - and it had all the energy and emotion of a playoff game - special teams are going to be the difference. Enough is enough. The powerplay has to improve or our return to the postseason is going to be extremely short-lived.
And if we want to reach the playoffs at all, I think goaltending coach Jeff Hackett needs to have a little heart to heart with Jose Theodore. Both Minnesota goals scored on Theodore involved screens and one involved a deflection. As well as Theo has played lately, he still seems utterly unable - or unwilling - to fight off screens or to react to deflections. I'm not saying either of the Wild goals were shots he should have stopped, but I do have to ask how other NHL goalies are able to manage to make stops on similar shots. Are there magic beans involved?
Peter Forsberg returned to the lineup and, for the first time since rejoining the team, played against a team that had done its homework. The Wild roughed up Forsberg all game long, which threw him off of his offensive game as he focused on the physical stuff. Foppa didn't manage a shot on net, and it was his sloppy drop pass as time was expiring that killed off our final scoring chance. Forsberg received no help from the officials, though. This isn't exactly new - refs have been turning a blind eye for years while players pummel Foppa into the boards. Just because it's old hat, though, doesn't mean that it's not frustrating to see Brent Burns riding Forsberg with both arms wrapped around him or Nick Schultz crosscheck him into the boards, all just a few feet away from the useless Mick McGeough. Incredibly, Mick saw none of the mugging, but did manage to see him "dive" after he was interfered with by Miko Koivu (not that he saw the Koivu penalty - that had to be called by the far ref, a ref making his NHL debut). Mick finally made a call for Forsberg at the 13:51 mark of the 3rd when he nabbed Pierre-Marc Bouchard for hooking; although it was nice to get a call, that was one of the few times there was not a penalty on the play - Forsberg just lost an edge. Great game, Mick.
While I'm talking about physical players, I think it's worth mentioning Ryan Smyth. Smyth has been back for two games now. On Saturday, he played on two different lines. Tonight, he played on three. He started with Arnason last night, then was quickly moved to the 4th line (!) with Ben Guite and Ian Laperriere before moving up to the Stastny line in the 3rd period. While injuries have certainly been a factor in Smyth's disappointing season (he's going to end up with his lowest point total since 1999), I think Quenneville's inability to settle on where - and how- he wants to play Smyth has been an even bigger factor. Very few players have been shuffled around this year as much as Smyth has.
Two others on the Q shuffle: Jaroslav Hlinka and Wojtek Wolski. Both players were scratched in favor of playing Cody McLeod and Cody McCormick. Now, I think both Codys have some usefulness. Lately, I think McLeod has been the better of the two, although McCormick had more impact last night. But, do we really need both? As lowayne pointed out this morning, Wolski is 4th on the team in scoring. Are the Codys really better options for the 4th line than Wolski? Wouldn't it make more sense to dress one, play him on the 4th line with Guite and Lappy and then, you know, put some guys with some scoring ability with Arnason? Am I crazy?
Lines and game notes are here.
- It's difficult to find any online documentation, but I believe Sakic tied Wayne Gretzky for 12th on the all-time PP goal list with his goal. I know Darren Eliot mentioned when we played Atlanta, but there was no mention by Vs last night, nor did I see any mention in the AP or either the Post or the RMN. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. Or maybe it's not that big of a deal.
- Tyler Arnason won just one faceoff. He was 17% in the game.
- The Wild outhit the Avalanche 30-15.
- The graphic says we're 42 goals behind last year. We're actually 44 behind; I don't have graphics prepared beyond -42.
The Avalanche are idle until Thursday, when they visit the Calgary Flames. Tonight, the Flames visit the Blue Jackets, Washington visits Nashville and the Oilers host the Coyotes.
Avs Talk (sometimes I think Shane and I share a brain)
Mile High Hockey (Joe and I don't share anything, because of the risk of infection)