About six weeks ago, we checked in with the Avalanche as they were about to begin a stretch of 17 out of 22 games at the friendly (if half-empty) confines of the Pepsi Center. This was going to be a key point of the season for the Avs, as the final part of the season is going to feature a lot of road games and it would be tough to make up lost ground. The Avalanche entered that stretch in 4th place in the Western Conference, tied with Vancouver at 38 points and well ahead of Calgary (31) and Minnesota in the NW.
It hasn't exactly gone swimmingly. 19 games into it, the Avalanche have gone 8-9-2 and have slipped from 4th to 9th and now sit 15 points behind the Canucks and just 1 and 2 ahead of the Wild and Flames, respectively. One December 17th, the Avs had a Goal For to Goals Against differential of +12. The Avs are now -4 in that category, as they've averaged just 2.5 for and 3.5 against during this big stretch.
Not exactly awe-inspiring.
The danger here is that the Avalanche haven't exactly been a terrific post-All-Star / Olympic break team lately. Last year, the Avalanche were 8-10-3 after the Olympic break as they limped to the final playoff spot. The year before that - the disastrous 2008-2009 season - the Avalanche were 9-22-4 in the
Ti4T Ti4H Ti4D campaign. This year's club can't be that bad, right? I mean, that team had numerous injuries, suspect defense, terrible special teams and inconsistent goaltending. This year's team...well...uh-oh. After 50 games in 2008, the Avs record was 23-26-1 and they were still in the running, just 6 points out of playoff contention. The wheels fell off, though, and they fell off hard. This year's team is just 2 wins and 5 loser points ahead of that team at the same point. That doesn't mean they will collapse like that club did, but it is a reminder that a perilous collapse is not unprecedented at this point in the season.
Thankfully, neither is a strong finish. In 2007-2008, the Avalanche went 18-11-3 after the All-Star break. They actually started the final stretch a little sluggishly, going 8-6-2 in their first 16 games. Then they signed some guy from Sweden and finished 10-5-1 with him on the roster. Any experts out there still want to ask why the Avalanche would consider signing Mr Despicable? The year before that, the Avs went 20-12-3 after the break, but couldn't make up the 3 point All-Star-break deficit, missing the playoffs by one point (and with the fatal blow dealt by that same despicable Swede).
The point of all of this? With 32 games left, a lot can happen. In the last 19 games, the Avalanche and Blues have each dropped 5 spots in the standings, while Chicago has gained 5 and the Wild and Coyotes have each gained 4. The only two teams who haven't moved at all in the standings since before play on December 17th are the Ducks and Oilers. With 32 games left - and all but two in the Western Conference - the Avalanche still have time to define their season. Let's hope that's a definition we're all going to be happy with.