Stop me if you've heard this one before. Just a couple of weeks ago, I praised the Avs for the way they've remained competitive despite the myriad of injuries they've suffered. One of the big reasons, I offered, was because of the consistent play of the Avs "Steel Wheelers" - the centers:
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.
Well, the holy trinity is still rolling, but 3 of those 4 other impact players were not in the lineup for the Avalanche last night. And yet, the Burgundy Brigade keeps on rolling and is on pace to match last year's point total. Who will I be praising today? Those magnificent D Cups, especially Liles and Kevin Shattenkirk.
We all know what kind of a season Liles is having. He has a blistering 26 points in 30 games. He needs just 5 more points to match last year's total and 14 to make a few of us roundtable experts look like fools. Impressively, 17 of those points are at even strength (3 goals and 14 assists) which is a big reason that Liles' is a team-high +13 on the season.
For much of the early part of the season, Liles was the lone offensive bright spot on defense. Through the first 14 games of the year, the Avs' defensemen had combined to contribute 2 goals and 22 assists - 24 points in all. Not a terrible number, but almost half of those points - 11, actually - were from Johnny Hot Pocket. He needed some help.
Enter Kevin Shattenkirk. On November 12th - Game 15 - Shattenkirk scored his first NHL point, assisting on a goal by David Jones as the Avalanche iced the Blue Jackets 5-1. In the 16 games since (including that game), the Avs' defensemen have scored 11 goals and 32 assists for a total of 43 points. Of course, instead of Liles being the main contributor, it's now Liles and Shattenkirk as the main contributors. The pair have 31 of those 43 points, including 10 of the 11 goals. After that, there's a "bit" of a drop off - Ryan Wilson and the since-departed Scott Hannan are tied for 3rd with 6 points. That's not to say that the other guys haven't contributed, but the scoring is definitely falling to two players.
Having two guys who can provide an offensive spark instead of one is making an impact. Instead of floundering by losing players like Chris Stewart and, more recently, Milan Hejduk, the Avs' offense has actually gotten better. Going into that November 12th game, the Avs were averaging 3.29 goals a game and were converting 20% of their powerplays. Impressive. After last night, the team was up to 3.53 goals a game (tops in the league) and 22.1% on the power play. Impressiver.
I've been watching a lot of the opponent's feeds lately, and I can tell you that Kevin Shattenkirk has gotten a lot of rave reviews from the other broadcasters. Even with the 11 games he's missed this year, he's on pace to score 59 points (Liles is on pace for 71). That might be tough to maintain, but I do think Shattenkirk is the early front runner for the Calder Trophy (you can put that on the mantle next to the Adams Trophy that Joe Sacco should have won last year). He's been that good.
And, thanks to help from guys like him, so have the Avs.