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Game 33: Avalanche 4, Kings 2

photo courtesy of Gus Ruelas/AP

If there's anything more appropriate to compare this season to than a roller coaster, I'd love to hear it.  After falling far too close to .500, and as far back as fourth place in the Northwest Division just over a week ago, the Colorado Avalanche have started to turn it around.

A 4-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings last night extended the Avs' win streak to three games and moved them to first place in their division, one point ahead of Minnesota and Vancouver.

Ryan Smyth and Jaroslav Hlinka scored early in the first period, followed by a later goal by Paul Stastny to make it 3-0.  That lead held until 30 seconds into the third period, when Dustin Brown scored on a power play.  Four minutes later Michal Handzus put one past Peter Budaj to close within a goal, but a late empty-netter by Ben Guite sealed the deal for Colorado for a rare road win.

It was a good game for the Avalanche, no doubt, especially since Budaj continues to play extremely well in goal and the defense hasn't collapsed completely in a while.  But, despite the obvious improvements the team has made, there are still problems.  Well, one problem in particular.  Coach Q.

For example:

A quick two-goal lead enabled the Colorado Avalanche to concentrate on defense the rest of the game.

Most MHH readers and commenters have already lamented Coach Joel Quenneville's tendency to let off the gas once the Avalanche get a lead, especially an early lead.  He seems to believe that being ahead by two or three goals means there's no more reason to attack the opponent's zone.  The forwards begin the dump-and-change strategy and rarely pursue the puck past the opposing blue line.

Los Angeles almost came back because of it.

Then, just like what happened in Columbus a couple of weeks ago, the Avs started getting a little jittery with the puck in the third period against a desperate team that turned up the pressure.

How this score-a-few-and-give-up strategy has ever made sense to anyone is beyond me.  Every time the Avalanche do this, it gives their opponent the upper hand, allowing them to dominate the ice with the puck and increases the number of opposition scoring chances significantly.

In the first period, when the Avs were on the attack the whole time, they outshot the Kings 16-4.  Not only did Colorado score three goals, they prevented Los Angeles from getting even a remote chance to get on the scoreboard.  The Kings couldn't get decent shots on goal because they didn't have possession of the puck long enough. Obviously, the Avs' early offensive strategy was extremely successful.  Why change it later in the game?  Why let off the gas?  Would it really be that much of a crime to run up the score, if only a little bit?

The Avalanche is a team that thrives on crashing the net and being on the attack from start to finish.  They are not a defensive team by nature.  They are not the Minnesota Wild, no matter how much Coach Q wants them to be.  He puts the team at risk of losing every time he tells them to ease up the offensive pressure and change lines every time the puck crosses the opposing blue line.  And he does a horrible disservice to his goalies, who should not have to rely so heavily on the often fragile Colorado defense.  

Sure, the Avs won and they moved to first place (for now), but they are still being held back by Coach Q and it is obvious.  

Colorado's next game is Wednesday night against the Ducks in Anaheim.  

Stars of the Game:

  1. Brett Clark (0g, 2a)
  1. Jason LaBarbera (36sv, .923)
  1. Milan Hejduk (0g, 1a)