Welcome back! We know you've been "anxiously" waiting for this segment to come back, so let's get right to it.
Cole: So AJ, its been a while since we've done one of these, but now that we've hit the halfway point on the season, it's probably a good time to catch up. Whats burning a hole in your brain right now on the Avs first half?
AJ: Two weeks ago the answer would've been "Everything is bad except Picks, EJ, and Barrie" but now all kinds of crazy shit is going down and the Avs are threatening to pull me back into this season. They still have a lot of ground to make up, their much celebrated passing of the Wild in the standings comes with the games in hand caveat (maybe point possession should be their next focus cause we still have more neener neener mother fuckers) but the distance between some of the ridiculously hot teams and the Avs has already closed considerably. Calgary, Winnipeg, even Vancouver to an extent have already started sliding back to the pack they surprisingly separated from earlier. The Avs have taken advantage of a soft schedule in recent games and should they continue to do so in the next week before the difficulty ramps up considerably, they will have put themselves in a position to start taking points off the teams directly in front of them. That's huge, because right now as great as beating Ottawa and Edmonton is, those aren't teams we're competing with in the standings. IF the Avs start taking points off the teams in front of them consistently, then I'll come around to this happy go fun place so many Avs fans have jumped to already. For now, I'm happy things have gotten better but before we start talking postseason, we should probably catch a team or two in front of us.
Cole: Making the post season is still a big stretch at this point and like you said, games against teams leading the Avs in points are going to be more important than ever. To me games against Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and San Jose are basically must win games (Dallas and Minnesota too). Saturday is kind of a great way to start the second half because the Avs will have their first chance at that hurdle, and they can pass Dallas with a regulation win.
AJ: Yeah exactly. The teams they have to beat to really make the difference are coming up on the schedule real soon. The Avs have gotten fat off of some lean competition recently and it's primarily served to separate themselves from the dregs of the league. If they want to get into the playoff conversation for realsies, they have to beat the good teams currently ahead of them in the standings. The next few weeks should be very telling.
Cole: 90 shots against in their last 2 outings.
That can't continue into that stretch
AJ: Yeah of course everyone talks about the shots but it's extremely encouraging to see Varly finding his game again. More than anything else, if he regains his form, the Avs absolutely are going to be a problem moving forward. He makes them the tough out on the schedule.
Cole: That's essentially the other option... continue giving up 35+ shots to bad teams and 45+ to good teams and watch Varly carry the team again, because he sure can when he's hot.
AJ: He's easily one of the most talented goalies in the league. If he finds the rhythm he has completely lacked this season, the Avs are dangerous. If he can't and plays at the average level he has most of this year, then where we are in the standings right now might end up being the high mark for the rest of the year.
Man, those shots are absolutely a problem, though...
Cole: A tough problem to solve too. It's easy to point at the Avs' extremely lackluster top 6 defensive group and assign blame for the high shots against totals, but it's really not that simple. Guenin has played significantly better this season than last, Brad Stuart has been fine since returning from his quad injury, Jan Hejda has rediscovered his step over the last 15 games with Erik Johnson. Barrie has been ok, and Erik "The Condor" Johnson has been in man-mode for 41 games. But still the Avs are possessing the puck less than their opponents, seeing more shots against than last year, and getting fewer shots from their key forwards.
AJ: The Avs defense has played defensively imo. Their real problem is the way they move the puck. Outside of EJ, Barrie, and Redmond, they don't have anybody who reliably skates pucks out or makes good breakout passes. The rest of those guys rely on punting pucks out of the the zone, negating the possession they just managed to gain. Defense isn't really the defenses big problem; it's their transitioning from defense to offense. Their skill limitations are such that when they do manage to get the puck out, they're just handing possession right back to the other team. It's self-defeating
Cole: Add that to a forward group that is really struggling to enter the zone when they DO get the puck and...
AJ: Yup. The forwards have failed hard this year in their defensive jobs. Way too much standing and watching, floating, and half assed nonsense.
Cole: It would be one thing if they were floating, cherry picking, and lighting up opposing goalies in shots but Duchene, O'Reilly, and Iginla are all shooting less per game this season, with Gabe Landeskog carrying the weight of the world in shot totals
AJ: tl;dr it hasn't gone well for anybody really but at least Calvin Pickard happened. That's been fun.
Cole: Him and Alex Tanguay, who's having a "fountain of youth" type return from that hip surgery last season. If you'd told me in October that Alex Tanguay would be leading the Avalanche in points at the halfway mark I would have asked you "what freak collision took out 9, 90, 29, 12, and 92 all at once?" But here we are.
Cole: Alright, so coming into this next stretch of games, who's your #1 guy who needs to step up his game for the Avs (not counting Varlamov since we already covered how critical he is)
AJ: Im not sure it's any one person so much as it continues to be "ANYBODY FROM THE TOP 9 WHO SHOWS A PULSE". That and the PP is so fucking bad and there's no reason for it. Roy continues tossing out Talbot and McLeod to make a point but I'm pretty sure everyone fucking gets it. The PP has not been good. What confuses me is he keeps insisting on playing 4th line guys to prove a point but misses the point that maybe it's not his personnel, but how they're being asked to play. Somehow this devolved into "Roy frustrates me". Damnit
Cole: At the risk of being classified as a #9 hater, I'm looking at Matt Duchene. Noone's point production has slipped further and he's down in shots from 3.05 per game to 2.46. Write off his bizarre 10 shot Montreal game and its only 2.275. That's simply not good enough for the guy who's supposed to be your #1 center and franchise player. If the Avs are going to risk losing/lose players like Stastny and O'Reilly because of a self imposed Duchene salary cap, then he damn well better play like the best player on the team. He's had 3 games in his last 11 where he's registered multiple shots on goal and that's just unacceptable for a player of his calibre, especially when his team is in this kind of situation.
AJ: Dutchy needs to play better. No questions asked. He made some great plays last night against Ottawa. I can live with that Dutchy. Some defensive lapses but great playmaking overshadows the rest of it.
Cole: He had a great pass to Landeskog last night for sure and picked up a secondary assist on a very soft Brad Stuart lolgoal. But if you can't register a single shot on net in 15+ minutes of ice time against a bad Ottawa team that's a problem to me.
AJ: Look, he won that draw cleanly. You see a handful of those goals every year for every team. It's a set play that ALWAYS works eventually. Im not gonna ding him for winning a draw and someone else doing work
Cole: Neither am I, Duchene was great on the dot last night with a ridiculous 80% of his faceoffs and that play is a great example of why they are important. I'm just saying it's not like he was particularly dynamic last night or making big individual plays out there. Alex Tanguay also had 0 shots last night, but he was all over the ice making himself known on both sides of the puck. Duchene? Not so much. And it's becoming a trend.
AJ: I dont disagree that Duchene needs to play better but we're going to disagree in what his playing better needs to look like. IM okay with last night's Duchene, no shots on goal and all. He's a playmaker, not a goal scorer. He's never going to be a 30g guy for us. Landy needs to bury that pass from Dutchy. His lack of goal scoring much more worrisome to me than Duchene's. Dutchy is always going to be an assist man who can score some pretty goals in transition. Landy needs to be doing what Iginla is doing - putting the team on his back and igniting the offense. He's not, and I'm way more worried that Landy is who I thought he was when we drafted him: A Jamie Langenbrunner clone.
Cole: See I'm on the exact opposite end here. Landeskog is on pace for the most shots he's had since his rookie year (250), he's the teams best possession forward, and he's been the victim of a big drop in shooting percentage. I'm a lot less worried about that guy than I am about the guy who can't get the puck on the net anymore. The last two years Duchene was a guy who was electric every time he touched the ice, he was a guy who would try and put the team on his back when they were down a goal, and he was a guy you would look to to make great individual plays. Now we're lucky if he gets multiple shots in a game. What happened to the guy we were expecting to score 80 points?
AJ: Landy does a lot of great things for the team but scoring HAS to be one of them. We've built a roster of playmakers. Someone other than Iginla has to finish. The team has put so much on his shoulders that they really really really really need him to make it happen.
Cole: I hate to take it this direction, but now with a long comfortable contract and no team Canada scouts, he's been a very different player.
AJ: Im not one to ever question a player's motivations or work ethic unless I have something very solid. It's all conjecture at that point. Like with MacKinnon this season. Is he really focused on hockey all the time? When he was taking over last year, he didn't have the pretty and famous girlfriend. He was just a hockey player from a small town in Canada playing a game and trying to figure it out. Should we blame the circumstances surrounding him growing up in the NHL on the sudden appearance of his very own Yoko?
But Dutchy needs to play better, no argument.
Cole: And so do a lot of other guys. No argument there either
AJ: This team is stupid and I want to punch it in the face
Cole: On that note we can add on your practice report from today:
"Guys did stuff and Reto Berra looked sad. The end" -AJ
AJ: Well since Cheryl isnt feeling well enough to go, thats all its going to say
Cole: In that case we've got time for one more question. You can make one move as GM/Coach etc in the next week to help the team. What is it?
AJ: Can the move grossly favor the Avalanche or do I have to be realistic about it?
Cole: How about one of each?
AJ: O'Reilly to the Jets for Trouba and Perreault
Cole: Ok, now how about the grossly favors the Avs one?
O'Reilly for Vermette and Yandle SUP (editors note: sup MHH? AJ all over this before all that Friedman chatter)
Cole: You're trying to break my heart man.
AJ: O'Reilly for Vermette and Gormley?
Cole: *Crying forever