Turnover. It's a fact of life for modern day sports leagues, even a not-so-modern league such as the NHL. Last night, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Anaheim Ducks 1-0. While there were a lot of familiar faces on the roster, the team has undergone quite a transformation in a short period of time. Of the 20 players who dressed last night, only 12 also appeared on opening night against Dallas. Only 10 guys were dressed on opening day last last year (well, they were ALL dressed, I assume, just not in an Avalanche sweater).
Yet, for all the roster changes (John-Michael Liles is the only defenseman who played last night and on opening night in '06), for all the injuries and scoring troubles this year, for the change in goaltenders, the change in PP effectiveness...for all the differences between this year and last year, there's a lot of similarities.
Here is a handy dandy chart that tracks the teams' points over the first 68 games of this year, as well as the first 68 games of last year. It's amazing to me just how similar the winning streaks and losing streaks (the flat parts) are. In fact, comparing on a game for game level (for example, game 30 vs game 30), the team has had the same outcome (W, L or OTL loss) in a whopping 37 of the 68 games this year (54%). Wow. For kicks, I also made a version which included the Minnesota Wild, a team close to us in the standings that has played the same number of games. It's similar, but nowhere near as close as the Avs are to last year's version.
In '06, thanks to shaky goaltending and shakier defensive play, the Avs got an inconsistent start to the season. In the first 15 games, the team was 7-5-2 and had no significant winning or losing streaks. This year, we had the same shaky goaltending and defense and started 8-5-1. At the 15 game mark last year, we went on a 4-game losing streak, dropping games to LA, Nashville, Edmonton and San Jose. Around that same point this year (game 18), the team took that disastrous road trip where we got shellacked by Dallas, Minnesota and Calgary. Both last year and this year, we were a floundering team by the end of November.
Then December rolled around, and things turned around. In 2006, the Avs won 5 of 6 and pulled into a share of 1st place in the NW on the last game before Christmas. This year? The same exact thing: 5 of 6 and a share of first at the Christmas break. And last year we came out of the break with 3 straight losses, including 2 to the lowly Blues. This year? 4 straight after the break, including 2 to the then-lowly Coyotes. Eerie.
In each season, after riding the little mini-December high to that first-place Christmas break, the team collapsed toward mediocrity. Last year, the team went 11-14-3 between Christmas and the trading deadline. This year? 10-12-4. In both years, the team had fallen from first in their division to outside of the playoffs by the deadline.
And, of course, you know how the story goes from there. Last year, the Avalanche got hot right at the deadline, winning 5 in a row and 15 of the final 19 games. The 5-game winning streak at the deadline was the team's longest of the season. This year? The team is on a 5-game winning streak, the longest of the year.
It's a different team. The goalie is different. The defense is different. The forwards haven't changed as much in terms of key personnel, but there's still a number of new faces up front. And yet, the team clearly seems to be following the same script.
Hopefully, there's still a chance to change the ending a little bit. It would be disastrous if, for the 2nd straight year, Peter Forsberg knocks us out of the playoffs on the final weekend.