The Colorado Avalanche are, once again, off to a surprising start. They currently lead the NW Division and are on pace to break 100 points. The Avs are also on pace to score 287 goals - a 21% increase from the 237 they scored last year and the highest single season total since the 1995-1996 team (which, you might recall, won some sort of Cup thing).
The Avalanche are doing all this despite 90 man-games lost due to injury from a roster that already had some depth questions due to a ghetto offseason (and make no mistake, when you buy out a contract just to get to the cap floor, it is a ghetto offseason). The Avalanche have had 11 players miss time due to injuries at some point, including four of the six opening night defensemen, their starting goaltender and their top four left wingers. The Avalanche have already used 14 different line combos for their forwards and 12 for their defensemen and they are one of just six teams to have two goalies with 8 games played so far. The fact that they are again over-achieving is a testament to the underrated coaching by Skipper Joe Sacco. We've already been down that road before, though. More than once, actually. Instead I'm going to give praise to a group we may be already taking for granted: our spectacular centers.
Through all those lineup changes, one area has been extremely consistent. All season long, night in and night out, the Avalanche have been able to run with Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly (average age: 21 years old). None have missed a game this year, giving Sacco a rare island of consistency in a vast sea of rotating availability. There have been other impact players around every night - Chris Stewart, Milan Hejduk, John-Michael Liles and, yes, Scott Hannan - but the holy trinity represents the only position that hasn't required any reconstructive surgery this year. I think having that one position Sacco doesn't have to worry about - especially a key position like center - has really helped this team this year (last year too, as those 3 each played in 81 games). Every since the 2009 draft, you could pretty much use ink for the middle of your lines - Stastny (20 points) on the first line with Stewart and whatever left wing happens to be healthy, followed by Duchene (17 points) and Milan Hejduk with whatever other left winger happens to be healthy and then Ryan O'Reilly (7 points) anchoring that third line, this year with Dan Winnik and whatever other other left winger happens to be healthy. With the 4th line only getting about 10 shifts a game, you've got about 50 minutes of the game covered. As an added bonus, Phillipe Dupuis has stepped in very nicely as the 4th line center this year and he too has been a nightly fixture, playing in every game since being an opening night scratch.
We may not always be this lucky, and I'm not sure I even want to see how the lineup would be juggled if one of our centers goes down. For now, though, their health and consistency have solidified a crucial part of of the lineup and that's been a key part of the Avs early season success.