The month of January has treated the Avalanche much differently than the New Jersey Devils. Our first steps into 2014 have seen career markers for many Avs players, as well as franchise record-setting moments. The team posted a stellar 10-3-1 record and have now pulled within four points of St. Louis and five points of Chicago in the Central Division standings. We've seen the emergence of Calder favorite Nathan MacKinnon as a dominate force on the team, performing well beyond his years. While Matt Duchene continues to struggle finding the net, he's had no problem setting up his teammates, accumulating 10 assists and staying atop of team scoring with 47 points. Ryan O'Reilly has already bested his career high in goals, and Gabriel Landeskog continues to perform at a point-per-game pace.
Colorado's defense has also been stellar. Erik Johnson nabbed a three-point night against the Sabres, and Tyson Barrie has busted out as on offensive juggernaut with five goals and five assists in 15 games. One cannot forget the Vezina-worthy performance by Semyon Varlamov, who not only topped his career wins at 27, but also now sits tied for second in the league for wins.
The Avalanche is a threat to every team it faces, described poignantly by John Vogl of the Buffalo News Saturday night: "The Avalanche showed more talent Saturday than any opponent Buffalo has faced this season."
That's not to say the Avs are without flaws. A tendency to let three- or four-goal leads slip to one-goal wins has been a problem. However, if they learned anything from Saturday night against the Sabres, one would hope that lesson would be how good it feels to step on an opponent's throat and not let up.
The Devils, on the other hand, saw another mediocre month pass by with a middling 6-5-4 record. The team sits slightly above .500 at this point in the season, and as John Fischer said on In Lou We Trust, January saw "another month of treading water. . .completed."
Cory Schneider has been the difference maker for the Devils, sitting at a healthy .925 save percentage and awesome 1.91 goals against average.
Both New Jersey and Colorado saw the return of important pieces in the line up, most notably Patrik Elias for the Devils and Alex Tanguay for the Avs. However, with both Tanguay and Paul Stastny on a day-to-day evaluation, a healthy roster was short-lived for the boys in burgundy and blue.
The Devils is a team the Avs can absolutely beat. To go into the Olympic break riding a hot streak would really make a statement for the young team and establish an even stronger presence in the Western Conference. Beginning this final road trip before the break with a decisive win against the Devils would be a fantastic start.
Game starts at 5:30 pm MT and can be seen on NBCSN.