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This Might Not Be A Fluke

Another week, another series of stunning successes for the Colorado Avalanche.

Last Tuesday, the Avs finished a grueling 7-game road trip with a shootout loss to Minnesota, giving them ten points out of a possible fourteen and keeping them just ahead of the rest of the Western Conference in the standings.  The Avs returned home on Friday to face the struggling Carolina Hurricanes.  The Avs came out looking sluggish as usual and allowed five four goals, but they pulled through with a big win to keep the point accumulation streak alive.

On Saturday, the team had fun dispatching (once again) the worn out, past-their-prime Red Wings.  Despite allowing nearly 50 shots by Detroit, the Avalanche pulled through with a strong 3-1 win.  Craig Anderson, in his eleventh straight game, stopped 48 shots and convinced the last remaining doubters that he is in fact the real m'f'ing deal.

No doubt about it, the Avs look pretty good in comparison to the craptastic Wings.  After the game, Chance Harper of Sportsbook Review offered this accurate and yet also hilarious take on the problems in Detroit:

When the Wings eventually do their housecleaning, the first man to go has to be 36-year-old goalie Chris Osgood, in the midst of his second straight poor regular season with an .890 save percentage. The Wings would like to start handing the torch to understudy Jimmy Howard, but the defense in front of him is so poor that it might be better to let Osgood bear the brunt for now. Detroit has been outscored 30-25 on the season and beaten twice by – you guessed it – Colorado.

The start of the new week sees the 8-1-2 Avalanche in first place in the West, tied in points only with the East-leading, defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins

So, at what point do we start to wonder if the early dominance of the Avs isn't actually a fluke?  The Avs have faced a variety of opponents, from both Conferences, and have beaten them.  They lost a tight game in a shootout to a struggling division rival (Minnesota), but you have to imagine that Minnesota's desire to win at home and the Avs' exhaustion from being on the road contributed mightily to that outcome.

The true test will come this week, when the Avs go back on the road to face three tough teams.  First is Edmonton tomorrow night.  The Oilers are 6-4-1 and are playing pretty well.  On Wednesday, the Avs cruise into Calgary to face the hated Flame-Outs and their rough-and-tumble brand of goonery.  The Flames are 7-2-1 so far and are in second place behind Colorado in the Northwest.  Then on Friday the Avs face the Sharks for a rematch.  The Avs beat the Sharks in Denver on opening night of the season, and San Jose will no doubt want to return the favor.  On Sunday they finish their trip with a battle against the mediocre Vancouver Canucks.

The Avs have already proven themselves on the road this season, but they'll need more of that team cohesion and good luck they enjoyed the last time around.  The opponents this time are much tougher than the soft underbelly of the Eastern Conference the Avs have already dispatched.  Beating both Edmonton and Calgary would solidify the Avs' hold on the Northwest and go a long way to ensuring nobody else stands atop the Western Conference.  Finishing up with victories over San Jose and the 'Nucks would be icing on the cake.

This week's major storylines:

  • Craig Anderson, at some point, will have to rest.  Even though it seems he just gets better and better the more consecutive games he plays, a one-game break is probably a good idea.  That said, with nothing but strong opponents ahead of them, the Avs may be reluctant to play backup Peter Budaj.  Look for him in net either tomorrow against the Oilers or Thursday Wednesday against the Flames.
  • Ryan O'Reilly is cruising on a seven-game point-scoring streak.  He's still a long way from challenging Paul Stastny's team record of 20, but Radar seems perfectly capable of making a run for it.
  • Cody McLeod should return at some point this week as his eye injury heals up.  He's been a huge factor this year, both in timely goal-scoring and in breaking opposing teams' composures. 

ADDENDUM:  File under: LOL WUT.  ESPN writer Pierre LeBrun drops the Avs two spots in the Power Rankings this week, to fifth.  Seems like a strange spot for a team currently tied for the NHL lead in points.  His explanation is appropriately absurd:

Seems harsh for me to drop them two spots since they did nothing to warrant it this week, including a win over the Red Wings. But I just can't shake the feeling that when we look back at the NHL standings in two months, they won't be top five overall in the league. Still, a heck of a start by the kids in Denver.

Why do I even bother reading these things?

ADDENDUM 2: Mirtle's still a skeptic, which is fine, but again with the strange reasoning:

Almost every prediction I saw in preseason had the Avs in dead last in the West, so good on them — and Craig Anderson — for this showing. If they do make the playoffs, that'll be one of the stories of the season, and I expect the Joe Sacco for coach of the year talk to start up shortly.

It's worth keeping in mind, however, that we've seen plenty of teams well in playoff position at midseason fall apart down the stretch, when the pace picks up and younger players have difficulty keeping up (see: 2008-09 Coyotes). Anderson can't play like this all season...

He can't?  Why not?

Almost every critical look at the Avs seems to rely on pre-season assumptions.  It's legitimate to point out that teams often cool off and drop out of contention, because that happens.  It happened to the Avs last year.  But to say a goalie, who was very good last year and is even better this year, can't keep up his strong play in the long run just because, well, because he can't, doesn't make much sense to me.  But hey, to each their own.