The train is starting to pick up steam. The Avalanche won their 3rd game in a row - all 3 against divisional opponents - beating the Wild today 3-1. The Colorado offense has been struggling to get things going lately, averaging just 3 goals a game in their last 4 games. But their defense and especially their goaltending have tightened up - the Avs have given just 2 goals a game over that same stretch.
Jose Theodore put up a .951 save percentage against the Flames on Friday. Peter Budaj topped that by a hair, with a .955 save percentage today. Both goalies have had to make some terrific saves to keep their team in the game lately; Budaj's glove save on Petterri Nummelin today was one for the highlight reels. While I'm impressed, perhaps I'm alone. On Friday, Sportsnet's Charlie Simmer didn't think Theodore was one of the 3 stars of the game. Today, Terry Frei thought Budaj's performance was just worthy of the 3rd star.
I don't like to celebrate injuries to players, but I have to admit that the team has probably been helped by the injuries to Karlis Skrastins and Jordan Leopold. Both have been inconsistent. More accurately, Skrastins has been inconsistent. Leopold has been flat awful - a turnover machine (in a bad way). The injuries have meant that Jeff Finger gets into the lineup on a regular basis, and Kurt Sauer is given a larger role. Both have been stabilizers on the blueline while some other players - Brett Clark and Scott Hannan - were struggling earlier in the year. Now that Hannan seems to be finding his form, and Clark has shown some signs of awakening, this is shaping up as a nice unit.Offensively, the team has sputtered a little bit. Without Milan Hejduk, the team loses a bit of its touted scoring depth. Marek Svatos has moved up from the 3rd line in Hejduk's absence, but that leaves a 3rd line of Tyler Arnason, Ian Laperriere and Wyatt Smith. Arnason has been showing signs of life lately, but hasn't really been given a lot of tools to work with here. I think this is an important stat: the 3rd and 4th lines have been kept completely off the scoresheet in 6 of the 11 games so far. 6 games where half of your forwards can't manage a measly assist. With all the good young players the Avs have at Cleveland, I have to wonder why a TJ Hensick hasn't been called up to get some 3rd line time. Is it that critical to have Scott Parker for two or three minutes of the game? Don't want to rush Hensick? Heck, I'd be happy with journeyman Eric Healey, who has 5 points in 8 games for the Monsters.
Game notes are at the following link
Lines and Shift Chart are up. The lineup was the same as the Calgary game, but the lines were shifted a tad. Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny swapped wingers - Ryan Smyth and Marek Svatos played with Sakic and Andrew Brunette and Wojtek Wolski played with Stastny. All the scoring in the game came from those 6 players.
On defense, Kyle Cumiskey moved to join Scott Hannan and Kurt Sauer joined Brett Clark. I thought the group as a whole were rock solid tonight - probably their best effort of the year. While I like Cumiskey and think he's got promising future, I wouldn't mind seeing what 6'3" Jeff Jillson looks like on the ice for a game or so.
- The Avs improved to 3-3 in games where they've outshot their opponents.
- Peter Budaj has a 2.37 GAA at even strength this year
- For the first time this year, the Avs won the faceoff battle, winning a whopping 58.6% of the draws today. They are now 50.6% against the Wild this year.
- I haven't been the biggest Wyatt Smith supporter this year, but his defensive play on a critical kill in the 3rd period was key in helping preserve the 1-goal lead.
The Avs host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. And I think you all know what that means. That's right, folks, Jarkko Ruutu is coming to town! Woot!