We are at the symbolic halfway mark of the season, so how are the Colorado Avalanche players stacking up here in San Antonio this year?
For the most part, Avs fans are watching the Rampage have to offer right now in Dominic Toninato and A.J. Greer. For whatever reason, the Avs have David Warsofsky up but he just seems to be there to observe from the press box.
Head coach Eric Veilleux has a balanced team, where six players have at least 20 points, but lately, the team has been struggling in the offensive zone. In games in San Jose, and here against Ontario (LA) and Tucson, there were too many periods where the team was outshot 14-6, 18-4, 22-5, 18-8 and 13-3, to keep the offensive flow to a minimum, and the team record at a stymied 2-2-2-0 over those last six contests. However, in the midst of the offensive wipeout, there have been nuggets of goodness.
Defensively, high marks go out to Duncan Siemens, Mason Geertsen, Andrei Mironov and Jesse Graham. Graham, an Avalanche depth signing this past summer, brings an offensive mindset after being drafted in the sixth round by the New York Islanders in 2012. He’s versatile as well, being used by head coach Eric Veilleux as a forward on occasion. Siemens is as steady as a rock on the back line, but could still use some help on his breakout passing. With Warsofsky up and St. Louis farmhand Jordan Schmaltz out with a lower body injury, getting the offense moving in the right direction begins with the backend, and has been missing in the attack. Geertsen has evolved into the designated puncher as well as use his hard shot to score his first two AHL goals in this is third season, but is still used in the second pairing.
Mironov is getting his minutes now that he’s been sent to the AHL and he seems to enjoy playing here, which is sometimes an issue with players coming down. He is +5 and the only defenseman outside of Blues backliner and team captain, Chris Butler, (+14) to be above that Mason-Dixon Line for hockey players. He’s not afraid of jumping up into the play either. Rookie Nicolas Meloche has been inconsistent this season. Some nights, Meloche seems ready to board the next plane to Stapleton, only to regress with poor decisions the next night. Chris Bigras has been out with an injury since Dec. 21, missing 13 games, but has been practicing with the team with the non-contact sweater on. After his reassignment to SA on Dec 1, he played 10 games and showed signs of being a number-one defender.
Upfront, Greer represents the best of the bunch when callups come to mind. Greer has that nice mix of skill (he just missed getting the gold in shooting plates at the AHL Skills Competition during last January’s festivities) and grit and there’s no doubt the Rampage are a much better team with him on the ice (11-4-1). AHL All-Star Rocco Grimaldi is a fan favorite, but is going through a rough patch on the scoreboard of late, with no goals in his last 10 games, and two in the last 12. The former Panthers 2nd rounder did have a red-hot stretch where he scored 10 goals in 15 games sandwiched around his recent Avs recall, however and is now fifth on the all-time Rampage scoring sheet. He needs just 27 more points to become the all-time scoring leader in Rampage history and his eight overtime goals make him a fan favorite when scooting around the ice in the 3-on-3 action.
Even though he has only one goal in his last 24 games, Andrew Agozzino still leads the team in scoring with 24 points (8-16). Grimaldi, and St.Louis prospects Schmaltz and Samuel Blais are next with 22 points each with former Colorado Eagles top scorer, Alex Belzile checking in with 21 and Butler adding 20. Youngsters Julien Nantel and J.C Beaudin have contributed on the checking line, but any scoring from them is a bonus…Nantel has the odd scoring line of 6-0-6 in 32 games, while Beaudin has 1-2-3 in 15 contests.
Goaltender Spencer Martin has been hit and miss this season, but playing well lately since being pushed by St. Louis prospect Ville Husso, who, like Martin, was named Player of the Week at one point during this season. However, after Husso’s award, he continued to play well in the crease, while Martin regressed at first and has now found his groove again. He has only one win in his last four games (1-2-1). In his losses, Martin allowed seven goals, but four of those were power play markers. Overall, he’s been solid and has made some remarkable stops. Husso has been the starter in seven of the last 10 games, mainly due to exceptional performances, especially Friday night, when he stopped 53 Roadrunners shots, a Rampage high for a goaltender since Dec. 2, 2006, when David LeNeveu stopped 55 shots against Chicago, and also last Wednesday, when the Rampage were outshot 39-17 but managed a 3-1 win over Ontario.
Special teams have had their moments. The power play looks completely inept on some tries, and then wham, the puck’s in the net. Overall, they are smack in the middle -- #15, but they just broke a nice streak of six straight games with a power play marker. On the kill side, they ranked 19th overall, but a stellar 6th at the AT&T Center, and that ranking includes a power play hat trick by the Milwaukee Admirals (Nash) earlier this month.
So the good news is balanced scoring. The bad news at the moment…Belzile is the hottest scorer with a just concluded seven-game point streak with an active four-game goal scoring streak on the road, which will come in handy after the next three games. But let’s face it, if Alex Belzile is your leading scorer, the team may find some tough sledding ahead during the road trip, which will take the team from Milwaukee to San Diego, next month. The Rampage need big second half scoring from Agozzino and Grimaldi to keep the team in the playoff hunt.
Like the big club, the current Rampage team has shown vast improvement from last season…no 11-game winning streak here, but consistent, tight-checking, systematic hockey that assigns offensive chances strictly to an opportunistic game that relies a bit too much on the man in the crease. They are 2-14-1 when they allow three goals in a game. They could use some flexibility on offense…loosen the reigns a little more. Get out of the rut of being outshot and chasing the puck and being the aggressor on offense, to get back to get back to December’s nice 9-4-1 run, with two of those setbacks to the AHL leader in Winnipeg, the Manitoba Moose.
One final note: Last season, the Rampage endured their worst rodeo roadie ever, 0-9-0-1, which included an 11-1 bombing in back-to-back games in Grand Rapids. With that trip coming up, let’s hope for a lot better this season.