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Game 38 Preview: Avalanche at Wild

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Colorado Avalanche
6 MT / 8 ET / 1 GMT
Minnesota Wild
20-11-6 December 21st, 2009
17-15-3
46 pts Xcel Center
37 pts
3rd in West
St Paul, MN
11th in West

 

Here's an interesting question. The Avalanche are once again atop the NW division and currently sit in 3rd place in the Western Conference. After 37 games last year, the Avs were in 8th place in the conference, just a point ahead of, coincidentally enough, the Blue Jackets and the Wild. Clearly, they are greatly improved this year, right?

Are they? The Avs record through 37 games last year was 19-17-1 - this year's version has just one more win than last year's ticking time bomb had at this point. The biggest difference is that the Avs managed to get the stupid loser point 5 more times than last year's club. Essentially, if this league wasn't run by idiots, the Avs would basically be on the same pace as last year.

To this point, the Avs have 109 goals for and 107 goals against. Last year? 103 and 107. For all the talk of improvement, the Avs net change this year is 6 more goals scored. Goals against is exactly the same (no shock there: Anderson's 2.65 / .917 stats aren't all that different than Budaj's 2.74 / .903 through 37 games in '08).

The reality is, even with that white-hot October and an extended stay in the upper stratosphere of the standings, the Avs may not be all that much better than they were a year ago. This time last year they weren't a terrible team; they were a team struggling to find consistency, kind of like the '09 version that hasn't put 3 straight wins together since October 28th. There have certainly been some sparks, just as there some high points last fall.

In a recent game, Peter McNab guaranteed that the Avalanche would not have the 3rd overall pick again next year. That's not a sure thing yet, though, as improbable as it may sound. No one thought the Avalanche would be a lottery team at this point last year, but a 13-25-4 record over the final 45 games made it happen.

Where am I going with all this? The Avalanche are 0-2-2 against the Wild this year. The Wild sputtered out of the starting blocks this year, and the Avs gave away points that they shouldn't have given away. Now, Minnesota is gathering momentum (7-3-0 in the last 10). Minnesota has already clinched the season series against Colorado, which becomes critical in the not-as-unlikely-as-you-think event that these two finish the season tied in the standings.

On Saturday, the Avalanche may have been as close to the elusive 60-minute effort as they've been all year and are generally playing solid hockey with 5 wins in the last 7 games. Unfortunately, the two losses were stinkers against Capitals and, yes, the Wild. If the Avalanche are going to be serious about making a run at the playoffs this year, the Avs will need to eliminate those kinds of deep valleys from the itinerary. Plus, a win tonight guarantees that the Avalanche will stay in first in the NW through Christmas.

Avalanche vs Wild coverage

Hockey Wilderness

Today in Colorado Avalanche History: December 21st, 2007. David Jones makes his NHL debut against the New York Rangers.