With the All-Star break in full swing, and with the second half of the season right around the corner, I thought it fitting to grade the Avalanche for what they did prior to the All-Star break. Clearly, the young Colorado team raised many eye brows with their cardiac style and high-powered offense for much of the first 30 games of the season which saw them play above .500 hockey and lead the league in goals per game average. The last twenty games, however, have brought them struggles and put their playoffs chances in jeopardy as they have played subpar hockey. Without a doubt, the Avs’ brightest stretch during the first half of the season occurred when they won six games in a row over a two-week period in December.
This team presented a roller coaster ride for its fans throughout the first half of the season – playing like divisional champs and then cellar dwellers on occasion. Just a few short weeks ago, the Avs led the Northwest Division, as vision of making the playoffs danced in their heads. Now… things are different. If the post season were today the Avs would not be invited to Lord Stanley’s ball.
It takes a team effort to play good hockey and get to the playoffs… and frankly… the Avs have spiraled in that area. True, injuries have played a key role in the team’s struggles to date and many will say it’s a miracle they are even in playoff contention. Having said that… the mid-season report grades the team in four categories: Offense; Defense; Goaltending; Coaching.
Offense: This area was on fire for most of the first half of the season when the Avs led the league in goals scored. The Avs young legs pretty much out skated the opposition night in and night out with some dramatic victories in high scoring affairs. The primary problem for the Avs on offense stemmed from the forwards’ inability to back check and help the defense consistently. The pond hockey mentality… while entertaining came with a price – lots of sloppy losses. The bright spots for the Avs up front came in the form of: Matt Duchene who has not had the best sophomore year – given the pre-season expectations; but the just turned 20-year-old has played well enough to lead the team in scoring. Other noteworthy players in the offensive category include Paul Stastny, Chris Stewart (pre-injury); Tomas Fleischmann (pre-injury); and Milan Hejduk. Brandon Yip gets the dull spot award given the fact that he had more points in 32 games last year than he has in 42 games to date. Nonetheless, even with its recent struggles… the offense still ranks among the top 5 teams in the NHL. Overall Grade: B-
Defense: The Avs rank dead last in this category. Night in and night out, the defense has faced constant pressure from opposing forwards who typically have a free pass to attack at will. A young defense usually needs lots of support from back checking forwards – something the Avs don’t have at this juncture. What’s also intriguing about the Avs defense is the fact that its best player this season has been a defenseman, John-Michael Liles, who leads the team in assist and has a plus 5 rating. Rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has displayed flashes of brilliance throughout the first half; but he poses a serious liability at times with some bad decision making. There is no question that this first round draft pick will become an All-Star someday. Adam Foote represents the biggest disappointment on defense to date, although the veteran missed a few games due to injury. Foote’s leadership just doesn’t seem to have the spark it once had. The player who gets my mid-year MVP award on defense – believe it or not – is Ryan O’Byrne who comes to defend every night. The strapping stay-at-home defender leads the offensive-minded Avs in the plus/minus category with a solid plus 11. Overall Grade: D+
Goaltending: Craig Anderson and Peter Budja have played well this season – considering that they get bombarded on most nights. Anderson has clearly trended in the right direction with a 90 percent save percentage on a team that dwells at the bottom of the league on defense. Put a cohesive defensive unit in front of these goalies and they would become world beaters. Overall Grade: B
Coaching: Coach Joe Sacco has watched his young team ebb and flow throughout the course of the first half, and he has committed to getting the Avs to play a more tight-checking game which they have done at times. The problem with his team is consistency. Not sure if the Avs have fully bought into his system. Nonetheless, Sacco and the rest of the coaching staff get credit for molding this young team into an above .500 team with a chance for the playoffs. Overall Grade: B+/A-
About the Author
Written by Donovan Wilson
Donovan is a professional writer with more than 10 years of corporate communications and public relations experience. He currently resides in the Phoenix, Arizona area where he currently does freelance work for the Arizona Repubilc. With a degree in English from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and a Master's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri - Columbia, Donovan has written for a variety of newspapers across the country. The single parent of an 13-year old boy, Donovan is a physical fitness enthusiast whom you can find on a soccer field or in the gym enduring an intense cardio workout. A sports enthusiast, Donovan has played competitive college hockey, soccer, and track and field. During his spare time, it’s not uncommon to see Donovan volunteering his services to a homeless shelter in Phoenix where he helps to feed the homeless. Currently, Donovan sits on the board of two nonprofit organizations – Green Nonprofits, Inc. and Queens Sickle Cell Advocacy Network, Inc. in New York City.