Not to detract from the incredible (and incredibly fun) start to the 2013-2014 Colorado Avalanche season, but, let's face it, none of the Avs' impressive 14 wins have come against anyone who matters. Don't blame the team; we haven't had an opportunity to beat an opponent with which we will inevitably be fighting for a playoff spot. But that all ends Thursday when the Avalanche travel to St. Louis to face the currently third place in the Central division Blues. So far, the Avalanche have bounced back from their two losses impressively, sparking six and two game winning streaks respectively. Sparking a new winning streak would definitely be a good idea considering the schedule we've got coming up.
Anyone with a pair of eyes and access to the internet can see the importance of the team's remaining games in November. Also interesting to me is who we have played so far.
Eight of our 14 wins have come against non-conference opponents. That fact took me aback when I first read it: more than half of our wins have come against the East? How is it that we've played so many out-of-conference games so far? I don't know, but we have, and though those 16 points are nice, they aren't nearly as valuable as points we could get at the hands of conference and division foes.
Speaking of which, who else have we beat? We've collected 4 of a possible 4 points agains the Pacific, which is nice, but the Ducks -- who we successfully hunted on opening night -- are probably going to have a pretty tight grasp on a divisional playoff birth, especially if their play of late continues. If the Avalanche find themselves in a wild card race (and let's hope we don't), points stolen from Anaheim will be about as useful as points stolen from Washington. There's a chance Calgary could be in the wild card hunt but…bahahah, ok I can't finish that sentence with a straight face.
So what about opponents in our newly beloved Central Division? We've collected 8 out of a possible 10 points against division opponents, and only allowed said divisional foes to collect 3 points against us. That sounds pretty damn good until you realize we haven't yet played the two toughest teams in the division yet. Yes, the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks are the heirs-apparent to the Numbers One and Two seeds in the Central, and by month's end, we will have finally faced off against them both, the Blues twice.
If all goes as the pundits have predicted, and the 'Hawks and Blues do sew up seeds 1 and 2 while the Pacific is packed with wild card contenders, the real battle will come down the Central Division Playoff Birth Number 3. While it is very nice that the Avs have beaten the Jets in regulation, gained 4 points against the Stars whilst only allowing 1, and split thus far with the Predators, (err, okay, maybe that last stat could be more convincing), we haven't even gotten a look at the Minnesota Wild in their first full season with their two Ninety-Eight Million Dollar Men. Our End-of-the-Month Home-and-Home Damn-I-Just-Ate-A-Lot-of-Turkey Bonanza could prove incredibly important.
The Avalanche sit atop the Division at this writing with 28 points in 17 games played, but Chicago (28 pts, 18 PG), St. Louis (25 pts, 15 GP), and Minnesota (24 pts, 18 GP) are right on their tails and chomping at the bit to take a bite out of the unlikely division leaders. The Blackhawks are a pedestrian 1-2-1 (3 pts) against Minny and STL, and still manage to tie the Avs in points; the Blues are 2-0-0 (4 pts) against said opponents, both wins coming against Chicago; and the Wild have split 1-1-0 (2 pts) with the 'Hawks, having yet to sing the Blues. While no one else is too impressive, they've at least gotten their feet wet and stayed competitive, while the Avs are still an unknown entity.
I don't want to be a negative Nancy here, and I certainly don't mean to invoke the almighty "must-win" anytime soon, but if the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee was seeding the NHL playoffs today as they do the 64+4 team tournament in March, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Avalanche given a lower seed, or even snubbed entirely, due to its unimpressive answers to the "Who have they beaten?" question. Don't get me wrong: I still believe in this team as much if not more than I did before the first drop of the puck and I still proudly chant "Why Not Us?" But the Blackhawks, Blues, and Wild all want to answer exactly why not, and they have five opportunities to do so before the calendar flips to December.