How the Avalanche Can Win the West (Or at Least Make the Playoffs)

The Colorado Avalanche went into the All-Star break with a very disappointing loss to the Minnesota Wild. The outcome wasn't the worst part - it was that the Avs had a chance to make a statement but failed to bring their, uh, "A" game. Colorado has 31 games left and, at 54 points, figure to need 42 more points to secure a playoff spot. 17 of their remaining games are against a team currently in a playoff seed, leaving 13 against outside-looking-in teams. 10 of those 13 are against the 5 worst teams in the league - Anaheim, Buffalo, Carolina, Edmonton and Columbus. They currently 3-3 against those dreggy teams; that will not cut it. It's almost a 50-50 split in terms of home and road; in fact it will be 15 of each after the Avs play in Edmonton on Tuesday.

So, what's working and what needs fixing? Well, let's take a look at how the Avalanche compare against the 14 other Western Conference teams. Colorado is 11th in the conference in scoring, averaging 2.43 goals a game. And they are 13th in goals allowed (2.82). And if that doesn't put you in a happy place, consider that the Avs have allowed 20 more goals than they have scored; only one Western Conference team - Columbus - has a worse goal differential. Okay, the Avs have an anemic offense and some inconsistent goaltending. Not news.

Digging a little deeper, the Avs rank 6th in the conference in shots per game and 7th in shots allowed. Both of those numbers are a bit surprising to me, and in both categories the Avs are about 2 shots per game better than last year. So, with shot totals like these, why aren't the Avs putting up better numbers? Perhaps this is where you have to single out specific players. Semyon Varlamov has played some great hockey, but hasn't gotten the job done enough between the pipes. And, 6 million dollar man Paul Stastny is second in team scoring with 30 points. NINETY-NINE players have more points than that this year, including 7 defensemen and 3 rookies and 2 players from the friggin' Minnesota Wild. Oh, and Matt Duchene, I hope you got a chance to take in the All-Star game while rehabbing that injury. Did watching John Tavares in the game sting? How about the fact that he has double your point total right now? Double. Come back pissed off, young man. We need you.

At first glance, the Avs' powerplay is humming along nicely - 4th in the conference. But only 2 Western teams have had fewer chances, and the Avs' dreadfully bad home PP (13.6%) is a head-scratcher. And the PK? Well, it is better than last year and there have been some great stretches. At the end of the day, though, only Columbus in the West has allowed more PP goals. Not good.

One other thing the Avalanche need to change: 2nd period play. The Avs are -4 in goal differential in the 1st period, -4 in the 3rd and +2 in Overtime. In the 2nd, they are -14. Not sure exactly what is causing the team to suck so much more in the 2nd than the others - you wouldn't think the longer change would be a negative for such a young team

There you have it. The Avalanche need Varlamov to play better or J.S. Giguere to play more. The Avs' star forwards - Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk - need to start putting some points on the board. It wouldn't hurt to get some more production out of David Jones and T.J. Galiardi as well (yeah, Gally is playing well...but he still has just 14 points). Here's an odd stat: the Avalanche 8 forwards with at least as many goals as assists. For whatever reason, Avalanche forwards don't seem to be registering a lot of assists. This is troubling. I have a moderate amount of confidence that Varly can turn things around; and if he can't, Giguere should be able to carry the load. But this team has been in an offensive funk all season long and I'm just not sure that's going to change. It's time for the Avs' still-pretty-young guns to load the six shooters with live ammo. That's what they need to do to make it in the West.

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