In some ways, this Colorado team is a bit unrecognizable - at least compared to last year's close-but-no-cigar edition. The Avs used goaltending, penalty killing, solid defense and tenacity to overcome a 2-goal deficit and beat the Penguins last night 3-2. All of those qualities were in short supply last season. Think about this: it's 12 games into the season, and the Avalanche are on a 4-game winning streak. Last season, their first three-game winning streak didn't happen until game 33. Their first 4-game winning streak? Game 68 - March 7th. Although the team struggled to find consistency in the early parts of this season, they seem to have found their way back into the groove they had towards the end of last season. Going back to the trade deadline last February, the Avalanche are an incredible 23-6-2. Who knew Scott Parker would be so freaking good? How else are they different from last year? Well, they are currently in first place and have the 2nd-best record in the Western Conference. That's how!
A large part of the credit goes to the goaltending tandem of Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj. The two goalies have alternated starts in the last four games and it's worked. The Avs have won all four, while giving up just 7 goals (1.75 per game). Theo and Budaj have combined to put up a .941 save percentage. They've also been largely ignored by the broadcasters covering the games - Budaj received a 3rd star once in this stretch, Theo has none at all. I'm still not sold on Theodore, and probably never will be...but I'll be the happiest guy in the world if he proves me wrong by continuing to play well. For now, I think Joel Quenneville will continue to go back and forth, especially as the Avalanche have just one off day between games for each of the next 5 games.
I talked about the improved defense in my last recap, but I think it bears revisiting. I really think this unit is coming into shape. While Sydney Crosby did have two early goals, Brett Clark and Kurt Sauer kept him mostly in check after the first period, and, in fact, managed to get him riled up to the point that he got off his game later on. And after that top line, the Penguins managed very little offense: just 9 shots from the other 9 forwards.
One thing the Avs aren't doing well is getting pucks out of their zone. Too often, one of the defensemen will get pressured and fire it ahead to a forward coming back to help, and then the forward gives the puck away. I don't know where the blame falls here, exactly. Do the defensemen need to make smarter passes? Do the forwards need to come deeper into the zone to help out? Should the defensive partner be getting himself into position to take the pass? I don't know the answer, but I do know the Avalanche are turning the puck over inside their zone too often, and I'd love to see that stop. K thnx. Oh, and if Kyle Cumiskey could stop falling down with the puck, that would be really, really cool.
Line Reports & Shift Charts
Here. I've added lines for each minute to make things a little clearer.
Milan Hejduk returned to the lineup, displacing Andrew Brunette from the 2nd to the 3rd line, which displaced Ian Laperriere to the 4th line and sent Scott Parker to the press box. Also, finally, Jaroslav Hlinka and Wyatt Smith swapped places, with Hlinka moving to the 3rd line.
- The Avalanche won the faceoff battle for the 2nd straight game!
- The Avs are currently at a pace to reach 109 points
- Colorado's 4th line had 5 points (1g, 4a), 7 of the team's 11 hits, and 2 blocked shots.
The Avs host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday. Two Vancouver defensemen - Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo - went to the hospital after last night's game with bad cuts.
Starting today, I'm going to start including recaps from the other team. It's nice to see things from a different perspective sometimes.