After watching the Avs-Habs game tonight, 6 things have become apparent to me that I think have set the Avs apart from any team we've watched don the Burgundy and Blue over the past few years (especially last season).
1. No longer a fluke: Prior to tonight's game, many could argue the Avs 3-1 start didn't mean much. Not a valid argument anymore, however. Bell Centre was hostile. And it always is, especially on a Saturday night. Especially when the Habs are desperate for a win on home ice. Especially when they peppered 44 shots on Varlamov. And we still win. Avs are for real, end of story.
2. Varlamov: This one is obvious. Varly is a guy the team can trust between the pipes, and tonight against a hungry Montreal squad, he surrendered 5 goals but not one of them was soft (Pacioretty's pass to Desharnais, for example, was unreal). McNab mentions this a lot, but there's reason for it. Varly's athletic ability to move across the crease and stretch like he does is hugely important. He's an impressive young goaltender and I like Giggy's veteran presence to back Varly up. Should present itself as a great duo.
3. A legitimate 3rd line: The play of Landeskog-O'Reilly-Winnik has been phenomenal (although they were a combined -6 tonight). Since opening night against the Wings, the line has been more than solid, and honestly I couldn't single out any one of the line members because they've all been vital in the pairing's success, but I'll elaborate on Landeskog because, well, it's possibly a future franchise player we're talking about. He has held his composure through all 5 games and has stood out amongst everyone; not because he's an 18-year old rookie, but because his play is just that good. The way this line maintains the puck in the offensive zone on a consistent basis (especially tonight) is their biggest upside so far.
4. The play of Chuck Kobasew: He is gritty. I love his play defensively mostly but he has made some nice moves in the offensive zone and got one behind Price tonight. I think his play rubs off on Stastny and Jones and in turn makes them a little more aggressive.
5. Shane O'Brien: Although his roughing penalty led to a Habs goal, I like his attitude around the net. You touch Varly, you get hit in the mouth. I think he's under-appreciated and undeservedly got a bad rap in Vancouver and Nashville, and so far he's proving it through the first five games. That's all I've got on O'Brien. I just like his game.
6. The defense: The organization clearly wanted to shake up the defensive style of the Avs, and the switch has proved beneficial. All six defensemen are over 6' 1" and average out around 230 pounds (excluding Hunwick). No longer is there a guy like Liles or Shattenkirk or Cumiskey who is lackluster in the defensive zone but has good puck movement in the offensive zone, which is fine, because Johnson and Quincey are effective in that area and also solid defensively, which is what we need them to be. Because they're defensemen. Hunwick should see limited, and I mean very limited, ice time. There's no way he provides anything offensively that overrides any of the 6 players Sacco has played so far.
This is a fun team to watch, plain and simple. They work hard, and that's really what I love so far about them. I have no doubt that these first 5 games are not a fluke and will translate into a successful season.
My realistic predictions: Landeskog wins Calder (Although Luke Adam has really impressed thus far), and at WORST, the Avs lose in the opening round of the playoffs.
Expect great things. This is going to be a great year for Colorado Avalanche Hockey.