Over the last 41 regular-season games, the Colorado Avalanche have a record of 27-11-3. Project that out to a full season, and you'd be looking at a 120-point team (the Sabres and Red Wings were tops in the NHL last year with 113 points). This year, the Avs have been high in the standings all season and currently sit in second place in the NW, just one out of first.
So why am I writing this?
The Avalanche appear to be in a freefall, and, perhaps, it's time to start looking at coach Quenneville as a factor. The team has been playing brutally poor hockey over the last two weeks. In the last 5 road games, they've been outworked, outhustled, outhit, outeverythinged on the way to being outscored 18-7. Returning to the Pepsi Center on Saturday didn't help, as the Avs were crushed by the Flames 5-2 (and the game wasn't even as close as that lousy score indicates).
Joel Quenneville has had a solid career as an NHL coach. He's coached in more than 750 NHL games and has won over 400 (406 and counting). He's missed the playoffs just once as a coach (grrr). Quenneville has shown a knack for getting more than expected out of players; many Avs have had career years at some point under Quenneville's tenure with the team.
And yet, his team seems perilously close to collapse. If the team doesn't turn things around soon, I wonder if Q will be out of a job. Apparently, I'm not the only one.
With the way the team played at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, it's amazing that this could even be on the table. But, some of the decisions Quenneville has made have me scratching my head. And they aren't new issues.
- The goalies. Peter Budaj emerged in 2006 as our number 1 goalie. His steady play over the last 2 months (2.25 GAA & .908 Save %) was one of the main reasons behind the Avs late run. And, after shuffling between goalies all season long, the team seemed to thrive on the stability of having one guy between the pipes for most of the games. That stability lasted for all of nine games this year, evaporating when Quenneville instituted a goalie rotation. While it was working for a while, it didn't approach the success of last season. In the end, it turns out that Jose Theodore really is Jose Theodore. This rotation was a mistake, and, unfortunately, just the latest gaffe in a long string of mishandling his goalies.
- Handling of personnel. Kurt Sauer was a healthy scratch for a large part of last season. Now, he's part of our top defensive pairing. He watched from the press box night after night last year while Karlis Skrastins, Ossi Vaananen and Patrice Brisebois played inconsistent hockey on the ice. Jaroslav Hlinka spent about a week on the top 2 lines before being relegated to 4th line status. Welcome to the NHL, Jaroslav. Sorry you couldn't get your game together in your 5-game tryout. Ben Guite, one of the few who has continued to play hard during this latest swoon, was a healthy scratch on Saturday, while Wyatt Smith, who has done little all season long, has played in every game and has even spent time on the 3rd line. I can live with "message" scratches (like John-Michael Liles the other night), but Q seems to really struggle with evaluating the ability of his players.
- Special teams. Oy, that powerplay. 0 for 24 (and counting). The Avs have scored more than 2 PP goals in a game just 3 times this year - and one of those was an empty-netter. Quenneville has insisted on keeping Joe Sakic on the point, even though it hasn't been effective (I did read on Shane's blog that Wolski has been back there as well lately - which seems like a step in the wrong direction). I don't really understand the stubborn refusal to change. The PP is not working...so try something different. Use two defensemen. Try it. Please. The PK has been better than the PP...but has still been inconsistent overall - unfortunately, another hallmark of Quenneville's stay in Denver.
- Defense. Why is it that guys who are solid defensemen in other organizations turn to jelly when they come here. Ossi Vaananen was a physical, stay at home guy in Phoenix. Here? A wimpy turnover machine. Kurt Sauer was a banger with the Ducks. Here? Solid, but not as physical as he could have been. Scott Hannan has gone from top-tier free agent to a trailer on other team's odd-man rushes. Jordan Leopold has looked horrendous when he's been on the ice. Defensive players seem to forget how to play defense under the Q system. Strangely, the offensive-minded blueliners are taking a hit this year as well. In short, defensemen seem to be unilaterally playing below their ability under Joel Quenneville.
I'm not advocating that Quenneville be fired. It's not my decision...and I'm not all that excited about the prospect of having Tony Granato back behind the bench (what, you think he's not a shoo-in for the job?). I do think he's on shaky ground though. Something needs to wake this team up. Unfortunately for Joel Quenneville, that might mean his job.