Predators at Avalanche, Game 14 Preview

Doug Pensinger

If you were looking for a glimmer of hope after Saturday night's extremely disappointing meltdown on Saturday to the Oilers, you probably aren't going to be all that impressed with this paragraph. The Avalanche hosting a stingy Predators team today at the Pepsi Center (day game alert!). The Preds are the lowest scoring team in the league right now, but they also have the lowest goals against and Pekka Rinne has 3 shutouts in his last 5 starts. To make matters worse, the Avalanche have lost 9 straight games to Nashville, and most of them haven't even been close. Nashville has scored an average of 4.3 goals in those 9 games while the Avs have just 1.8; only two have been decided by a single goal. Gulp. It's been 3 years since the Avalanche last beat Nasvhille - back in January of 2010, Brandon Yip scored the winning goal, assisted by Darcy Tucker and Ryan Stoa. I like it not, I love it not.

But that's it from me for the gloom and doom. Instead, I would like to highlight a few things that are going well for the Avs this year, despite the less than optimal record (5-7-1). Any list of positives has to start with Matt Duchene, who has been more or less Phat Duchene all season long. Duchene's 14 points had him tied for 14th in the league in scoring as of Sunday, but Duchene's offense is only part of the story. He's winning 53% of his draws and is currently 5th in the league in takeaways - a category Ryan O'Reilly led the league in last year. Only two forwards are averaging more shifts per game than Phat Matt - TJ Oshie and David Backes. This is the dominant, game-in-game-out consistent factor that we thought the Avalanche were getting in 2009. His line has been without a point in just 3 games this year - the three shutouts the Avs have suffered. He has been the Avs' most valuable player this year and he's the main reason that the Avs still have a tenuous shot at respectability this year.

But he hasn't been alone. His linemates Jamie McGinn and P.A. Parenteau are both putting up career highs in points per game this year. One other Avalanche is doing that as well - John Mitchell. Mitchell and Cody McLeod have been the only true bright spots at forward beyond the Duchene line. And it is definitely worth noting that Parenteau and Mitchell were both cap-friendly signings this summer. I could be wrong, but I believe the only 2012 free agent currently with more points than Parenteau right now is the Islanders' Brad Boyes. And it's early, but already Aaron Palushaj looks like a nice waiver pickup for the Avalanche. Since I'm in the sunnyside up portion of the preview, I won't mention the struggles of some other hi-profile forwards.

That will also make the section on our defensemen kind of short, but over the last three games Tyson Barrie has looked extremely promising. And if Saturday's game did one thing, it was to remind us that Erik Johnson may not be the offensive force that we thought he might be, but he very quietly has become a defensive anchor for the Avalanche and his presence is sorely missed in the lineup.

I'm not sure what the Russian word for "irony" is, but I'm sure Varlamov was muttering it at some point on Saturday. Going into the game, the Avs' had scored 27 goals in Varly's 10 starts and 10 goals in J.S. Giguere's starts. Giggy gave up 3 goals in each of his two starts, and the Avs won them both. Meanwhile, the Avalanche have lost every single game that Varly has given up 3 goals or more. And, of course, the Avalanche finally scored 4 goals for Varlamon Saturday...and gave up 56 freaking shots in the process. On Thursday, Giguere faced 29 shots in a shootout win over Minnesota. Varly saw 23 shots in the first period alone on Saturday. That, Semyon, is irony. Varlamov is seeing about 30 shots a game with only 4 goalies are seeing more rubber right now - Ryan Miller, Evgeni Nabokov and, continuing the ironing theme, Craig Anderson and Devan Dubnyk. And that's with 3 Avalanche defensemen among the top 25 shot blockers in the league (Johnson, Jan Hejda and Greg Zanon's beard).

Okay, so that may not have been the most positive preview possible, but I really gave it a good try, didn't I? Go Avs!

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