The Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at the Pepsi Center in Denver and, well, who really know what the fuck to expect? When these teams played just 10 games ago, the Avalanche were firing on all cylinders. Earlier that week, they had hung tough with Detroit and Chicago in losing efforts and finally broke through the glass ceiling by blasting the 'Hawks 6-2. At that point, it looked like the Avalanche, finally healthy, were poised to make a second-half surge towards a playoff spot.
The joke was on us, it seems. The Avalanche followed up that huge win with a thrilling last-half-second OT win against the Sharks and then promptly fizzled. The Avs have now put in three ugly efforts in a row, losing each by at least 2 goals. Playoffs? Jim Mora is scoffing at you right now. The Avalanche have fallen to dead last in the West.
And, frankly, it is mystifying. The numbers are truly ugly. 20th in scoring. 25th ranked PP. 27th in goals allowed. 23rd ranked PK. 27th in shots allowed, which is incredible since they lead the league in blocked shots. The Avalanche have the second worst record in the league when leading after 1 period (3-2-1) and the worst record when leading after two (6-2-3). Leading is usually not an issue, though, as in 27 games the Avalanche have scored first just 9 times - fewest in the league.
That's really ugly, but it's also a bit confusing to me. When I watch the games, I see a team that should be doing better. The Avalanche have two guys in the top 20 for scoring (Duchene and Parenteau). It's been 3 years since they've had ONE (Stastny in 09-10) and 9 years since they've had more than one (2003-2004). The Avalanche have 9 players - 3 lines - with former 20-goal scorers and yet have been held to a goal or less in a 3rd of their games. To my eyes, this team should be scoring a lot more goals than they are.
The defense? Yeah, offensively they are a mess. Your leading scorer is Jan Hejda, with 7 points; 74 defensemen have more than that this year. No, it makes no sense that the team's second highest scoring defenseman, Tyson Barrie, is toiling in Cleveland right now...but the Avs are 5-6-4 with him and 5-7-0 without him, so lets not get too hyperbolic here. The team can't score, like 40-year-old-virgin can't score...to which I have to say "really"? Take a look at those heavy shots from Jan Hejda or Erik Johnson or even Ryan O'Byrne. Watch Matt Hunwick move the puck up the ice. No one is confusing these guys for Sandis Ozolinsh but am I the only one who thinks they have played well enough to put up more points than they have? Defensively, they have been a collective hot mess. And yet, we've all seen games where they've pulled it together for 60. Why can't we have more of that?
Semyon Varlamov. Yes, he's is working his ass off (only Ryan Miller has made more saves)...but when you watch him make those brilliant saves on the ice, don't you think we should see something better than 26th in the league in save percentage? I, for one, have higher expectations of him.
Maybe I am too much of a fan, but I really feel the Avalanche have the personnel to be a much better team in all facets of play, not tomorrow, not next year...today. Cup contender? No. But playoff team? Absolutely. And when they beat a team like the Hawks, I start to feel like I'm not crazy, that this really is a talented hockey club. And then they lay eggs and play bad hockey and I go back to scratching my head.
I have no idea what to expect tonight. Early half-assed hockey followed by a furious - and futile - rally? Or perhaps a great effort derailed by a couple of bad bounces? Or, a dominating win. We've seen them all in the last 10 days and there's simply no way to predict what we're seeing and I've given up on trying to figure out why.