Belated Mid Season Recap (Avs on a roll).
February 2nd, 2012
I know we're a bit past the mid season mark, but I figured it's better late than never!
2011-2012 has been an exciting year for the Colorado Avalanche. After 54 games, the team sits at 31-16-7, good for 70 points( 1st in the Northwest division, and 2nd in the conference). They’re currently 3 points ahead of Vancouver, but hold two games in hand and have a lock on the tie breaker with a 3-0-1 record against the Canucks this year. By my count, it should take them no more than seven games to eclipse last season’s total of 80 points.
Let's look at how we got here:
The off season didn’t start with such optimism, as the Avs missed the playoffs last year despite leading the NHL in scoring for the first half of the season. The top line of Stewart, Stastny, and Jones (yes, David Jones played an entire season) put together some impressive numbers the last couple weeks of the season, but it was too little…way too late.
Then came the summer to remember. First, Peter Forsberg, who played in 21 of the Avalanche’s final 28 games, collecting 6 goals and 19 assists, signed for one more year with the team . Craig Anderson was given another 2 year deal, despite his "off year". But General Sherman wasn’t done there. He shocked everyone the day before the draft by trading the team’s 1st round pick (13th overall), TJ Galiardi, Brandon Yip, and Jonas Holos to Chicago for the rights to UFA Brent Seabrook (who quickly signed a 5 year $30M contract).
After a so-so pre season, the Avs came flying out of the gate. Who would have thought that the addition of one player to the soft defense would change so much? The top pairing of Seabrook and Quincey has been nothing short of awesome. The Avs haven’t had a shut down pair like this since probably 2001 (you know who). Liles and O’Bryne have had some great chemistry as well, and Shattenkirk has played well with his rotation of partners (Wilson, Hunwick, Gaunce…etc). The confidence has spread to Craig Anderson, who has enjoyed a solid year (25-13-5, 2.59 .916) as well as rookie backup Calvin Pickard (6-3-2, 2.88 .906). The offense has certainly returned, and not just due to the return of Captain Forsberg (55 points in 43 games). Linemates Duchene and Hejduk are both on pace to eclipse 40 goals, and the "second" line of Stastny, Stewart, and Fleischmann (and sometimes Jones) are keeping pace.
The Avalanche also represented well in this year’s All-Star game, as Stewart, Forsberg, Liles and Duchene all represented the burgundy and blue. Some other positives to note: Stewart leads the team with 33 goals (4th in the NHL), Stastny had a 14 game point streak earlier in the year (before missing 4 games with a lower body injury), winger David Jones is on pace to score 30 goals (despite playing heavy minutes on the THIRD line). Ryan O’Reilly is among the league leaders in +/- with a +22 (oh, and his 11 goals have certainly helped—4 of them game winners!).
Coach Sacco and his staff have done a terrific job rebounding this team, instilling confidence in the young players—even the guys who played a few games at the beginning of the season before they were sent down (Better luck next year, Stefan). I guess he took the ol' military training approach--gotta tear them down before you build them up! Perhaps a bigger impact has been new Assistant Coach Adam Foote's improvements to the PK (why didn’t you help them LAST year?!). Of course, only dealing with 34 man games to injury (an Avalanche record?) hasn’t hurt…pun intended. That number might be a lot higher if Peter Mueller hadn't sadly announced his retirement in the off season (still really bummed about this one--but he seems sadistically happy with his position as Colin Campbell's replacement).
Let's look at where we're headed:
The Avs enter this weekend with a home and home against the Detroit Red Wings, who should be no problem for the Avs—they have owned Detroit this season, outscoring the Wings 13-2 in two games. It should also be noted that the Wings will be without the services of Todd Bertuzzi, who was recently injured in a freak hot-tubbing accident with teammate Tomas Holmstrom. Both are expected to miss the rest of the regular season. Said players would probably miss the playoffs as well, but with Detroit’s current record (17-28-8), I’d say the playoffs are a long shot at this point. It’s really too bad Detroit traded their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round picks this summer to try and replace the retired Lidstrom (I always knew Byfuglien was an overrated defenseman). A series sweep would certainly bolster the Avs’ chance of making the post season. However, at this point, that wouldn’t be such a difficult task as the Avs would currently only need to carry a .333 win percentage to have an 85% chance of making the playoffs…but let’s go in on a hot streak, okay boys?
All that being said, it’s safe to say the Avs are really starting to show that promise we’d all hoped for. We’ve endured some growing pains with this team, but thankfully the management never panicked, and now it feels like the window for a championship is beginning to open. Go Avs!