It isn't over yet, but that fork is starting to poke. Colorado had a chance this weekend to get back into the race. A win on Saturday and Sunday, and the Avs today are 5 points behind the Wild for the final playoff spot and just 6 points out of first in the NW. Obviously, that didn't happen. Colorado lost both games, and now trail the Wild by 9 points. Colorado needs 5 more wins than Minnesota in the remaining 23 games, and that's going to be tough to accomplish.
Why is the team floundering? Simply put, in the 18 GP of the second half, the team's play has dropped off in a few key areas.
Start with the goaltending. In the first half, Jose Theodore and Peter Budaj put up respectable numbers: 2.76 GAA, .904 Sv%. In the 2nd half? 3.58 and .890. Joel Quenneville has had to pull a goalie 4 times in these 18 games. That's simply terrible. Budaj has struggled mightily in February (3.72 GAA)...and Theo has been worse (4.58). In the first half, the goaltending was good enough most of the time - just 9 games out of 41 where they gave up 5 goals. So far in the 2nd half, they've done that 8 times in just 18. Yuck. Just 2 teams in the West has allowed more goals than the Avs 187. Calgary (surprisingly) has allowed 158 goals, worst among playoff teams. That means the Avs are about 1/2 a goal per game worse than any of the playoff teams.
Colorado has been, well, average on defense all year. Part of that can be attributed to injuries: John-Michael Liles and Jordan Leopold have played just 10 games together all year, and Leopold is now on his 3rd injury of the year. Patrice Brisebois went down in game 36, and won't return this year. Unheralded guys like Ken Klee and Kurt Sauer have stepped up and helped. Still, though, this unit gets caught chasing the play too often, and that hasn't improved much in the second half. Actually, it's worse - in the first half, the team gave up 28.6 shots per game. In the 2nd half, 32.8. More shots allowed combined with substandard goaltending is like feeding gasoline to a fire.
On offense, while a couple of guys (Wolski, Svatos, Liles, Arnason) have all dropped off in the 2nd half, others on the team (Sakic, Stastny, Hejduk, Clark) have picked up the pace. Overall, scoring has picked up slightly in the 2nd half (3.28 to 3.20 per game). But that increase is not enough to cover for the massive uptick in goals allowed.
There's a lot that the Avs are doing well right now - they are the closest they've been to 60 minute effort all season long. Their cycle game has been phenomenal of late. They are hitting more. The PP and PK are playing the best hockey of the season (although the PK is hampered by the team taking too many penalties). None of that will be good enough if they can't keep the puck out of the net.
Here's some more stats to chew over. The Avs are 7-9-2 in the 2nd half, with opponents outscoring the team 71-59. Most telling is the record against the NW division. Colorado must win these head to head matchups in order to get back into it. Their 2nd half record against the NW? 1-5. Like the goaltending, that won't get it done.