It's slipping away, folks. The Avalanche are looking more and more like a team that will need another Herculean run to make the playoffs. With yet another 1-goal regulation loss (our 11th, 2nd most in the NHL), the Avs dropped to 10th in the West, 4 points behind Vancouver and Nahsville in the 8th seed, and just 4 points ahead of 13th place. Even if the team does pull it together and get in, Colorado's special teams play would likely sink us quickly in the playoffs. And, truthfully, there haven't been very many indications that this team is even interested in making a strong playoff push.
The team is almost completely healthy up frontfor the first time in months, with Joe Sakic returning to the lineup last night, leaving only one forward - Cody McCormick - on the IR. Sakic, playing with Wojtek Wolski on th left and, at times, Milan Hejduk, David Jones and Ben Guite at right wing, looked good although it seemed clear that he's not yet back to his usual self. Sakic played a conservative amount of minutes (15:24), and did set up the Avs 2nd goal with a great centering pass to Ben Guite. Yes, he did play the point on the powerplay and no, it didn't magically turn our powerplay into the realm of barely competent.
The Avs started out strong in the game. Tyler Arnason (who else?) scored just 27 seconds in. Arnason has 10 goals, 9 assists and is a +9 against the Oilers in the last two seasons. He has just 14 goals and is -16 against the rest of the league. I think it's clear that we need to trade him to Edmonton. Now. Colorado made it 2-0 12 minutes later with the Guite goal, and it seemed like we might be rolling towards an easy night.
Nope. Edmonton chipped their way back into it. I know that there are some out there who think the Avs started to sit on that 2-goal lead, but I didn't feel that was the case here. I think this is more a case of Edmonton playing well than Colorado sitting back. The Oilers came out and played extremely hard in the 2nd period, outshooting the Avs 8-3. They also outscored the Avs 2-0, knotting the game at 2. The Avalanche pushed hard in the 3rd to get the go-ahead goal, but a big defensive miscue gave the Oilers a break and a 3-2 lead. Mathieu Garon turned aside all 15 shots in the 3rd to send the Avalanche to their 6th loss in the last 7 games, with 4 of those losses being by a margin of...altogether now...one goal.
While the forwards are getting healthy, our defense is suffering from some key injuries and leaks are starting to spring up all over the place (trade deadline watchers had to take a deep breath when John-Michael Liles limped off after blocking a shot, but he returned quickly to the game). With Jeff Finger and Brett Clark out, this squad is having some trouble.
On all three Edmonton goals, there was only one defenseman in position. On the first goal, Kyle Cumiskey started chasing around players all over the defensive zone. I don't know if he was confused with his time at forward (thanks Q!), but he was nowhere near where he should have been (heck, he wasn't even chasing down players on his own side of the ice). His, um, travels left Joe Sakic to try to cover Dustin Penner in the paint, while Scott Hannan worked (or was worked by) a hard-working Sam Gagner. Later, the Avs broke out on what looked to be a 3 on 2 rush. Unfortunately, Curtis Glencross made a great play to steal the puck from Ian Laperriere at center ice. The Avs turned around to get back defensively, but the guy leading the rush was Hannan; he wasn't able to get back into the play leaving Liles and Andrew Brunette to fend for themselves defensively. Edmonton scored.
The 3rd goal was probably the worst of all. Robert Nilsson made a cross-ice pass to Andrew Cogliano. Cumiskey was in pretty good position at the blueline. But, instead of going for the body, Cumiskey went for the steal. It was a terrible decision, especially in the 3rd period of a tie hockey game. Cumiskey missed the steal, Cogliano had a clear path to the net with Jordan Leopold covering Nilsson. With Jose Theodore hedging towards a centering pass, Cogliano had a relatively easy goal. This goal was an absolute killer - every bit as terrible as the Vrbata faceoff goal of a few weeks ago. Essentially, that's two points cost by defensive miscues.
Cumiskey is a guy who has a very bright future ahead of him. He's got some slick moves, and pucks stick to his blade like he's Lester Hayes. In general, I think he's more polished defensively than he is offensively, which is a bit surprising considering his size and skill set. But he was flat out terrible defensively tonight, and I think it cost us the game. Besides the two goals, he almost made an ill-advised pass late in the 3rd to Hannan. At the time, Hannan was right in front of Theodore, and he had difficulty handling the dangerous pass. We all have our off nights...let's hope Cumiskey got it all out of his system last night.
The lines that started the game are here. The lines (and the pairings) were jumbled throughout the night, especially in the 3rd. Joel Quenneville's dog house is rather crowded, it seems. Wolski and Milan Hejduk each had just 4 shifts in the 3rd period, while Marek Svatos had just 5.
- Arnason led both teams with 6 shots
- 14 of the remaining 19 games are against teams above us in the standings. Not that we can beat the teams below us in the standings...
- The Avs won at least 50% of the draws for the third consecutive game.
Tomorrow is the trade deadline, and I don't have the slightest idea what's going to happen. Tomorrow night, the team plays the first-place Flames.
And one programming note - after the recap of the Calgary game, I'll be off to St Maarten for some well deserved R&R.