As well as the Avalanche run of luck has been lately, yesterday was an unwelcome slap in the face. The Avalanche lost 4-2 to the Devils, while just about everyone else - Minnesota, Vancouver, Nashville and even Edmonton - won. The Avalanche dropped from 3rd in the conference standings to 6th, and will fall to 7th if Calgary beats Chicago today. All teams in the NW division have a game in hand on the Avs.
I thought the Avalanche played well offensively. They had their chances against a tough New Jersey defense, but Martin Brodeur put in a superhuman effort between the pipes. He made saves with his elbow and his toe. He made saves from his back, sweeping away a puck behind him that he couldn't see. It was a goaltending clinic. That the Avalanche scored two - a sharp-angle shot from Paul Stastny and a PP shot from John-Michael Liles that deflected in off the stick of Bryce Salvador - was impressive. They had opportunities to score more, but, again, Brodeur was just insane.
At the other end of the ice? Not so much. Jose Theodore allowed four, and that was two too many. I'm not going to jump on my Budaj pulpit or anything like that, as Theo has earned some leeway with his excellent play of late. I will say, though, that we wont win any playoff series with goaltending like that.
To go along with our uncharacteristically poor goaltending, our defense looked surprisingly shaky. The Devils are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league (only one team in the playoff hunt - Anaheim - has less goals than New Jersey...by one goal). Yet, their wingers looked like they had rocket boosters on their backs they way they skated around Kurt Sauer and Jeff Finger. All of a sudden, our new, improved physical defense looks a bit vulnerable to speedy forwards. Luckily, we wont face teams like Minnesota and Calgary again this year...*Taps ear piece*...I'm sorry, this just in: turns out, 5 of our final 9 games are against the Flames and Wild, teams who always seem to look fast when they play us.
Ryan Smyth returned to the ice, while Peter Forsberg, Jordan Leopold and Adam Foote remained on the shelf (Cody McCormick was the player scratched to make room for Smyth). Smyth started the game with Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk, but almost immediately was moved to the Arnason line while Jaroslav Hlinka rejoined his former mates. I think the Smyth, Arnason, McLeod combo one worth sticking with for a bit. But when / if Forsberg comes back, he's going to have to bump someone - McLeod or Hlinka most likely - off one of the top 3 lines. Wojtek Wolski played on the 4th line, but was not much of a factor.
It's all divisional play from here on out. The Avs visit the Wild on Monday - a battle for 1st place in the NW (and the 3rd seed in the West). With a Calgary win today and a Vancouver win on Monday, however, there could be 3 teams in the NW with 84 points on Tuesday morning. If the Avs are one of those teams, the "games played" tiebreaker would shove them all the way down to 8th in the conference, 4 points ahead of Nashville. This stuff is more complicated than the freaking NFL.