The Colorado Avalanche picked up a 5-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators last night, officially closing out the first half of the season. The win pushed the Avs record to 8-3-2 in their last 13 games and reignited hopes of making a second-half run towards the postseason.
Fans are no longer afraid to check the standings on a daily basis, as the Avs are now out of the Central Division basement and are within sight of a playoff spot. Of course, that spot is still off in the foggy distance, but the light is glowing ever so softly.
The performances have been inconsistent, but still far better than the injury-riddled, inconsistent-scoring-from-stars-who-won’t-be-named opening few months.
So what’s it going to take for the Avalanche, both in terms of on the ice and in the standings?
Varly is going to have to be Varly
The man who almost single-handedly carried the Avs to a division title last year is going to have to be that guy again down the stretch. The injuries have resulted in a stop-and-start first half for Varly, but he has now turned in three stellar outings in his last four starts. That’s likely going to have to be the ratio going forward.
Last year's workhorse is 9-8-5 in just 22 starts this season. The Avs have five back-to-back stretches left this season, but Varly will likely start close to every game from here on out, barring injury.
Where art thou Duchene?
The goal drought continued for Matt Duchene in last night’s win. His five-on-five shooting percentage is 10.96, which is alarming as it’s right around his average, while MacKinnon and Landeskog are both below six percent. Duchene’s e offensive zone faceoff percentage is in line with the rest of the forwards, too. Once a point-per-game guy over the previous two seasons, Duchene simply isn’t creating the havoc we are accustomed to. The elite speed and soft hands have yet to convert into points on the board in 2014-2015.
With Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla both on pace for about 25 goals, Duchene and the rest of the "young-but-talented" core have to step up their games to create a more balanced attack.
In terms of number of points, let’s have a quick look at the amount of points the No. 8 seed has required to get into the Western Conference playoffs since shootouts were introduced.
2012-2013: 55 (in 48 games), about 94 points prorated
2009-2010: 95 (yay!)
We’re looking at about an average of 93.5 in the previous nine seasons. This year’s eighth-placed team, Winnipeg, is currently on pace for 94 points. I don’t know if this will have an effect on the final number, but the Detroit/Winnipeg shift places just 14 teams in the Western Conference.
Things are a little different under this system, of course. The top three finishers from each division automatically, but I don’t see that changing the number of points the Avs need. Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis are not only all superior teams, but have a significant edge in the standings.
If 95 points is the bench mark, the Avs would have to go 24-12-5 to get into the playoffs. Everyone can debate whether or not that's possible given the talent makeup of the team, but that is the number we are looking at.
I hesitate to compare anything to last season’s sensational year, but the Avalanche went a symmetrical 26-11-4 in both the first and second halves to claim a Central Division title. That would likely do the trick this term.
The Avs still have the second fewest regulation and overtime wins in the conference, so unless something crazy happens, any tiebreaker will likely go against them.
Taking a basic look at the standings, it would appear seven spots are locked up. The battle for the No. 8 spot could get interesting over the second half of the season. The Jets are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and have a harder time scoring than we do.
One of those teams battling for that last spot will go on a run. Could it be the Avs? Per sportsclubstats.com, the Avs currently have a 7.7 percent chance to make the playoffs. They also target the 94-95 point mark to qualify.
Going into the season, I felt the Avs would be a playoff bubble team. After a recent surge, it’s possible that may still be in play. Every game – especially over the next month – will take on a playoff feel. Surviving the upcoming five-game road trip is imperative.
What odds do you give the Avs of reaching the playoffs at this point? Who do you think is the favorite to grab the No. 8 spot at the moment?