The Colorado Avalanche gutted their way through another intense week battling to attain, and maintain, a playoff spot. Review the highs and lows of the past week with the current round of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
1. Winning their last four games in a row propelled the Colorado Avalanche to fourth place in the Central Division and moved them ahead of the Minnesota Wild for sole position of the first wild card slot in the Western Conference. The Avalanche currently own the best record in the Central Division against their fellow divisional opponents at 12-3-1, have won seven out of their last ten games, and earned 16 points since January 3rd. They also boast a 4-2-0 record on the second night of back-to-back games. Anyone excited yet?
2. Colorado’s goaltender Semyon Varlamov was named the NHL’s first Star of the Week for the second time this year. Varlamov has earned four straight wins in the last seven days, posted a .98 goals against average, and a .972 save percentage, as he has allowed only one goal per game in his last four starts. Within the history of the Colorado Avalanche, he now ranks second among goaltenders with 125 wins behind the great Patrick Roy, who owns 262 wins for the club.
3. The Avalanche defensive corps should also be recognized for their performance. The team has allowed only six goals in six games and only suffered one loss during the same period. It’s worth noting that San Antonio Rampage call-up defensemen Chris Bigras and Nikita Zadorov logged solid ice time during five out of six of those games, and Bigras remains with the club, although playing for fewer minutes on the third line in the Dallas Stars game. Not to be overlooked, Nick Holden and Francois Beauchemin hustled for over 28 minutes in each of the last two games.
4. Forward Nathan MacKinnon finally scored, and it was a timely goal with less than a minute left against the St. Louis Blues to send them into overtime. Not only did he break through his goal drought, he lifted the team in a tight game against a divisional foe.
5. Team captain Gabriel Landeskog showed true grit in scoring two important goals this past week. Making the short handed goal which put the Avalanche up over the Dallas Stars and hitting the net in the shootout against the St. Louis Blues showed the captain could rise to the occasion and help advance the team’s postseason aspirations.
6. Defensive veteran Erik Johnson returned to the ice against the Dallas Stars and there was a great sigh of relief heard throughout Colorado.
7. The Avalanche continue to battle on the penalty kill holding opposing teams to two goals in the last 11 opportunities.
8. A special shout out to San Antonio Rampage star forward Mikko Rantanen for recording a hat trick the other night against the Bakersfield Condors, his first ever in North America. Zadorov, who had just been reassigned to the Rampage, tallied two assists in same game.
9. It bears repeating, the front office deserves kudos for signing center Carl Soderberg. With two goals and two assists in the past week, Soderberg continues to impress.
10. Soderberg’s and Landeskog’s short handed goals illustrated the kind of fire one expects from playoff contenders. The team has scored three short-handed goals in nine days including Tyson Barrie’s shortie against the New Jersey Devils.
1. By far the worst of this week’s ‘Bad’ goes to Altitude sports for filling the first intermission of the Dallas Stars game with a Denver Broncos fluff piece and thereby eliminating the opportunity to cover any hockey during the break. Really? It’s bad enough that local radio, while interviewing a Hall of Fame member hockey coach about his team’s playoff push, gets asked about Peyton Manning. Can’t the Avalanche get any respect during their own hockey game?
2. Avalanche winger Jack Skille took a dangerous fall sliding into the boards early in the game against the Stars and did not return to the ice. Coach Patrick Roy was forced to run three and a half lines to cover for his loss.
3. The out of position official waving off Soderberg’s goal at a crucial moment in the third period against the St. Louis Blues was horrible.
4. Upcoming ‘Bad’ – two games in a row on NBC. Not only will there be announcers who still don’t know how to pronounce Alex Tanguay’s name – despite being a 17 year NHL veteran – everyone will miss out on Mark Rycroft’s colorful jackets and commentary.
1. Colorado allowing the Dallas Stars to make 106 shot attempts – the highest ever in Avalanche history – was ugly. The eight and a half minutes in the box during the second period of that game wasn’t attractive either.
2. Please, for the love of hockey, quit all the Jonathan Drouin speculation about him coming to Colorado. It doesn’t matter if he has talent; he obviously has an attitude problem if he can’t be bothered to show up to the AHL when reassigned. Colorado doesn’t need a cancer in their locker room. The Avalanche should cultivate the quality players they already have so they can establish a sound farm system and a successful Avalanche team. The key word – TEAM. No more prima donnas!
3. St. Louis Blues center, and former Avalanche player, Paul Stastny exhibited a total lack of class after manhandling Alex Tanguay’s stick and then mouthing off afterwards. If he wants to slash and grab, he should at least be man enough to own it.
THOUGHTS TO PONDER
1. Sending down defenseman Nikita Zadorov after five games is disappointing. While trying to make sure he logs big minutes of ice time and develop better puck possession sounds logical, didn’t the Buffalo Sabers get accused of mishandling Mikhail Grigorenko for bouncing him between their NHL club and their AHL affiliate?
It’s hard to complain about the organizational move to return him to San Antonio since Zadorov’s play showed improvement from his last time he was up with the Avalanche. Yet, one wonders couldn’t he work on his puck possession skills while playing in the NHL? Wouldn’t playing against better opponents force him to hone those skills more quickly? And aren’t they relying on Zadorov to be extremely mentally resilient when the staff keeps dangling his future in front of him, giving him a taste of that desire, and then pulling it away?
Zadorov offers a much bigger upside than many of Colorado’s third line defensive options. He doesn’t consistently “clear” the puck by dumping it down the ice to an oncoming opponent who then gets a breakaway on Colorado’s goal like some of the current third liners. Also, with the young guy, hope exists he will learn from his mistakes, unlike a veteran with an established track record of repeating those same errors.
2. Will the new hockey All Star format generate enough interest to warrant the schedule disruption?
3. Could Coach Roy consider giving Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay the occasional night off to keep them fresh for the end of the season and possible postseason? Both veterans scored needed goals in the past week and Tanguay notched a couple of assists as well. Not unlike Peyton Manning, where one’s experience can be vital in crunch time, their bodies may need more time to recover for them give their best.