DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 25: The Colorado Avalanche celebrate a goal by Ryan Stoa #29 of the Colorado Avalanche against the Dallas Stars in the first period at Pepsi Center on September 25, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Stars 3-0. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
"Colorado Avalanche" and "playoff race". It's nice to type those two phrases together and not have to add some negatives like "aren't in" or "haven't been involved in" somewhere. The Avs are in the playoff hunt, thanks to a terrific 9-2 record since not firing Joe Sacco. Today, the Avalanche sit in 8th in the Western Conference.
That's the good news. There's some not-so-hot news as well. First, the Avs are a little ahead of the field, having played more games (41) than any other team. The two teams immediately behind them in the standings - San Jose and Dallas - have 6 and 4 games in hand respectively.
Eighth is nice, but the Avs are just on 90-point pace. No Western team has made the playoffs with 90 points post-lockout. Two teams have made it with 91 and two have with 92, but 90 hasn't cut it; really, any Avalanche fan should be able to tell you that 95 doesn't always cut it. Since the lockout, 96 has been the automatic entry point in the West - every team to get to 96 points has made the postseason.
The schedule is a bit of a mixed bag as well. Since they've played the most games to this point, they will have more days off the rest of the way than any other team. That's good. The bad news? They'll be doing a lot of traveling, as they finish with 23 road games to just 18 home games. Right now, they are in a stretch of 11 out of 14 games on the road. Later they play 6 out of 7 on the road. Recently, the Avs are playing well enough to win anywhere, but it will be a challenge for Sacco to keep the boys focused for 60 on some of those tough road trips.
Finally, while the Avs have been playing well, they will need to be even better in the 2nd half and losing Matt Duchene for a month isn't going to help. The Avs are getting terrific goaltending lately and have inched up to 19th overall (13th in the West) but are still struggling to get consistent offensive production having scored 2 goals or less a whopping 19 times already this year. Colorado is 23rd overall in scoring, although oddly that's good for 10th in the less-wild wild West. Duchene's 12 goals will be missed and another big injury up front could be catastrophic.
In short, the Avalanche have been playing very well but will need to continue this strong play. I think they can do it, I really do. But, there's still a whole half of a season to play (yeah, I wrote that) and if there's any team that can tell you how fast the wheels can come off, it's the Colorado Avalanche. Remember, these guys were 21-15-5 at the halfway point last year, 2 points ahead of this year's team. Let's just say going 9-29-3 in the second half this year probably isn't going to be enough.