If there's been one great thing about the 2008-09 hockey season for the Colorado Avalanche, it's been Terry Frei's coverage of them in the Denver Post and at ESPN.com. He's been dead-on in his analysis since day one.
He's really upped his game.
Frei's latest piece, "Identity Theft Hits Avs," made me wonder if he'd stolen my identity, since it's pretty much word-for-word what I wanted to write here today. He beat me to it. Because I believe strongly in giving credit where credit is due, I'll quote heavily from his great take on the troubles facing the team right now.
There's a fine line between putting emphasis on the offensive end to the point of making careless play in the Colorado zone inevitable and trying to push the pace while still doing such simple things as paying attention to opposing forwards in front of the net, getting to and clearing rebounds, and getting back to avoid odd-man rushes. Even Granato acknowledged that after a 1-0 loss to Calgary last week, saying that attention to defensive detail "shouldn't take that much away from our offense."
A perfect diagnosis.
Honestly, as we've been asking for a while, is it impossible for the team to balance their strategies? Frei identifies the problem perfectly. It's always one or the other, never an even distribution. Why?
In the first week, when Budaj struggled, the fallout was a loss of teammates' faith in him. It might have affected the way the Avs played for a while, and enabled them to avoid accountability when looking in mirrors. They had to get better goaltending. But now that they are, what's the excuse?
Avoiding accountability: exactly what I whined about, and exactly what seems to continue to be an issue for the Avs.
Frei goes on to applaud Ian Laperriere's tough talk this year, and then calls out Paul Stastny and Adam Foote for failing to take the reigns in the absence of Joe Sakic. And anyway, Sakic is not the kind of leader who grabs everybody by the bootstraps with tough talk and tough love. He's a lead by example guy. Without him there, somebody else has to fill in and provide the example. That's got to be Stastny as the most talented player. As for the tough talk, back in the day that came from Patrick Roy. Now somebody else has to chime in and give the guys the grief they need to shape up. Is Foote not doing that? Does somebody need to shoot Peter Budaj's puppy and get him pissed off about something? Lappy is a loudmouth but that's expected from him, and as a grinding fourth liner, he can't command the respect that a great d-man like Foote can.
And then Frei wraps up by going after the anemic power play:
What's missing is a booming shot from the point, the kind that can beat goalies, especially when coming through traffic; or lead to other opportunities in the chaos in front. Defensemen John-Michael Liles and Jordan Leopold have proven offensive instincts and skills, and Sakic handles the point, too. But none of them have you gathering your breath as they wind up for the slap shot from the point, or even cause you to have faith that they can find a way to get the shot through. Those are qualities Colorado is looking for as it assesses trade possibilities.
That booming point shot has been gone ever since Rob Blake went back to the Kings a few seasons ago. Even though Blake couldn't hit the broad side of an aircraft carrier with his slapper, it still created opportunities down low on the power play. Nobody is doing that for the Avs right now. Could the Avs find a big shot in exchange for the general defensive competence and good passing of Brett Clark? Who is out there?
Terry Frei continues to nail it with every article and column. Even though his diagnoses have been bleak, they've been dead-on. I hope he keeps drinking whatever he's been drinking lately, and shares it with some of his colleagues at both the Post and the Four Letter.