2010-2011 NHL season preview: Colorado Avalanche

mattduchene3.jpgLast season: (43-30-9, 95 points, 2nd in Northwest Division, 8th in Western Conference) The Avalanche were last year’s Cinderella story of sorts. They got off to a hot start and just kept winning games. Analysts were shocked by this considering how poorly they finished the year before and the fact that they kept getting outplayed yet not outscored by opponents. The team struggled towards the end of the season and nearly missed out on the playoffs.

Head coach: Joe Sacco’s first season in Colorado made for one hell of a debut. After coming into the job with no NHL coaching experience, he made the most of his aggressive defensive style and counter-attack with a very young team, many of whom he coached in the AHL in Lake Erie. While he can thank goalie Craig Anderson for helping cover up a lot of team mistakes, the Avs played hard every night and made the most of their opportunities flying under the radar. Colorado won’t be able to afford to do that this year as everyone is well aware of who they are.

Key departures: F Marek Svatos, F Stephane Yelle, F Darcy Tucker. Losing the inconsistent Svatos looks big on paper, but in reality he wasn’t much of a factor in the fortunes of the team anymore. Yelle and Tucker don’t matter very much either. Tucker’s departure appears to be a welcome one for Avs fans.

Key arrivals: F Daniel Winnik. He’s the only one. Seriously. These Avs aren’t quite so loose with the purse strings.

Under pressure: It’s a bit unfair to do, but Anderson is under the most scrutiny here. He faced the most shots (2,233) in the NHL last year and played in 71 games. Posting a ridiculous .917 save percentage with a 2.64 goals against meant that he was more than capable of doing his job but counting on having a guy without much of a track record doing that again is asking a lot. The Avs will need Anderson to be as good as he was last year to get into the playoffs again.

GYI0060240972-anderson-bahr-getty.jpgProtecting the house: It’s all on Anderson as outlined above. He’s the key to the Avs success and if he’s able to do what he did last year, they’ll be in good shape. You can’t help but wonder if there’s going to be some regression to the norm. Judging by Anderson’s statistics in his last two years as a backup in Florida with last season in Colorado, what we see is what we likely get. That bodes well for Colorado. Backing him up once again is Peter Budaj and Denver’s favorite goaltending whipping boy could be destined for another year of light relief work and spot starting.

Defensively, things are the same as they were last year. John-Michael Liles will do his part to improve his game while Adam Foote will try to make sure age doesn’t expose his game. Kyle Quincey, Kyle Cumiskey, and Scott Hannan round out the top five. Looking at the sixth spot, you likely have a competition between Ryan Wilson and Boston University stud Kevin Shattenkirk, who could be the surprise of the year for the Avs if he makes the team.

Top line we’d like to see: Peter Mueller-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk. Ideally, we’ll get to see this line at some point this season, but it won’t be at the start. Mueller is out dealing with another concussion, a blow that really does put the bite on the Avs offense. Duchene will look to avoid the sophomore slump after having a stellar rookie season, one where he didn’t play like an 18-year-old fresh out of juniors. Hejduk, while he’s not the goal scorer he used to be, is still one of, if not the best, on the Avalanche at filling the net. Staying healthy would allow him to get back to being a 30+ goal scorer.

Oh captain, my captain: Adam Foote remains the leader of the team. He’s the oldest player on the roster and he’s got the Avalanche legacy to show for it. When he was chosen for the “C” last year, some thought it would be Paul Stastny’s time to be the leader but it’s Foote’s job for now. Having the elder statesman lead the way in Denver probably isn’t the worst idea.

Street fighting man: Should he ever end up in the lineup, there’s only one man who can be this team’s fighting figurehead and it’s David Koci. Koci is the league’s most basic enforcer in that his sole job is to beat the tar out of someone on the other team. He’s ferocious, he has no qualms about fighting and that’s about it. Guys like Chris Stewart and David Jones as well as Foote will throw down on occasion, but they aren’t there to make a living out of doing so.

Best-case scenario: The defense tightens things up so Anderson doesn’t have to stand on his head night in and night out. Duchene avoids the sophomore slump and scores 30 goals while Mueller can come back and stay healthy and produce. Stastny continues being the team’s best assist man and gets Hejduk back above 30+ goals. Young players like Stewart, T.J. Galiardi, Brandon Yip and David Jones can each stay healthy and evolve into the power forwards Joe Sacco is looking for and the Avs return to the playoffs taking advantage of a poor division only to run into a buzz saw top-three team in the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: Anderson’s statistics in goal come back to earth and the Avs have to rely on their offense to keep them in games. Duchene struggles with Mueller being unable to come back to normal after his concussion problems. The team’s young forwards all plateau while Stastny is left with virtually no one to pass to. John-Michael Liles gets run out of town as the scapegoat for all the team’s woes and the team misses the playoffs.

Keeping it real: This is a team that could go either way. They can either build off the success from last year and keep things going in the right direction, or they can slide back to the pack the way they did towards the end of last season as other teams seemed to figure them out. As Anderson goes, so go the Avs. It’s a tired bit to hang everything on what the goalie does, but that’s really the case here. The top two lines here can be good, but missing Mueller really touches on the Avs biggest problem being depth. It’s going to be an up and down year and this team can either sneak in at the bottom of the playoffs or just miss out. It’ll be close.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst chance and five being the best, the Avs are a 2. I don’t say this because they’re a bad team nor are they entertaining. They’ll be OK and they’ll certainly be enjoyable to watch (for fans of either team in a given game). I’m worried about Anderson having an off year. I’m worried about the team’s depth. I’m worried that the horseshoe they’ve carried around for the last year is eventually going to run out of good luck. They’re just not built to be a Cup winner.

(Anderson photo: Brian Bahr – Getty Images)

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    Jarome Iginla skates with AHL Providence, still wants to play

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    Jarome Iginla is still without a team but isn’t giving up hope just yet on one last ride in the NHL.

    The 40-year-old Iginla, who last played in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, was spotted on the ice at Providence Bruins practice on Tuesday, but there’s nothing in the works as far as a deal anywhere, he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver.

    Iginla’s name popped up in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this fall, but a hip procedure cost him time on the ice and ultimately a place in GM Sean Burke’s final roster for PyeongChang. (The Canadians are doing just fine without him having reached the semifinals of the tournament.)

    Now living in the Boston area after buying a house last spring, Iginla, who played 78 games with the NHL Bruins during the 2013-14 season, was simply taking advantage of a favor from the team. He’s expected to skate with AHL Providence again on Thursday as he continues to see where his body is physically.

    Iginla — and for that matter, U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, who’s also looking to continue playing — can sign with any NHL team, but to be eligible to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs a deal needs to be inked before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline next Monday.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    Fight Video: Nicolas Deslauriers lands several good shots on Brandon Manning

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    The Montreal Canadiens may have come out on the wrong end of Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime decision in Philadelphia, but Nicolas Deslauriers definitely won his fight against Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning.

    This was Deslauriers’ first game since signing a two-year, one-way contract extension worth $950, 000 per year. The 26-year-old has brought a physical presence to Montreal’s lineup, but he’s also chipped in with seven goals. On Tuesday, he made more of an impact with his knuckles than anything else.

    Take a look four yourself by clicking the video at the top of the page.

    Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time these two players go head-to-head on the ice. They also fought when Deslauriers was a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

    If you’re more interested in finding out what happened last night’s game, click here.

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    PHT Morning Skate: Vegas might have best line in hockey; 3 things NHL should take from Olympics

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    Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

    • The rivalry between Canada’s women’s team and the United States women’s team doesn’t have the same bite it did a few years ago. (NBC Olympics)

    • American twin sisters Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson have been playing like they have something to prove. (The Ice Garden)

    • Former NHL goalie Jonas Hiller won’t play for team Switzerland anymore. (Swiss Hockey News)

    • There’s a group of Kenyan hockey players that want to take part in future Olympic Games. (ESPN)

    • The NHL can grow in popularity if they sample three things from the Olympics. (Vice Sports)

    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    • Trade rumors can weigh on a player as the trade deadline approaches. Just ask Tyler Johnson how that feels. (Tampa Times)

    • The Rangers will go through a hard time over the next little while, but it could all be worth it in the end. (NY Post)

    • Don’t expect the Golden Knights to make big moves before Monday’s trade deadline. (Knights on Ice)

    • Speaking of Vegas, they might have the best line in hockey. (TSN.ca)

    • Winnipeg has had a hard time trading for players with no-move clauses, but that’s nothing to be offended by. (Jets Nation)

    • Even though they won’t make the playoffs this year, the Panthers certainly have a bright future ahead. (Fan Rag Sports)

    • As bad as things are for the Montreal Canadiens, they’ll probably get a whole lot worse. (Rabid Habs)

    • The San Jose Sharks acquired veteran forward Eric Fehr from the Maple Leafs. (NHL.com/Sharks)

    • Is Blues forward Patrik Berglund still a useful player? (Blues Rants)

    • The World’s Longest Hockey Game raised over $1.2 million for cancer research this year. (Edmonton Journal)

    Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

    The Buzzer: Mac attack, Barrie impressive

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    Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

    Players of the Night:

    • Click here for details regarding a clutch night from Jakub Voracek, who played a huge role with two goals (including the OT game-winner) and an assist for the Flyers in beating the Habs.
    • Frederik Andersen was stellar for the Maple Leafs, pitching a 40-save shutout against the Florida Panthers. Toronto only won 1-0, so they needed every save from their franchise goalie. Andersen tends to face a lot of shots on goal, and he’s put out some stellar performances in the process:

    • Two Avalanche players take the cake for players of the night, overall.

    Nathan MacKinnon didn’t return to action, technically, on Tuesday. This was actually his second game back.

    That said, it felt like Mac was truly back here, scoring the overtime game-winner and collecting three assists to help Colorado scrap its way to an OT win against the Canucks. With this output, MacKinnon has set a new career-high for points, and he has plenty of time to add to his already impressive point total of 65 points (25 goals, 40 assists).

    Tyson Barrie was outstanding in his own right, arguably more impressive than MacKinnon. Quite ridiculously, the Avalanche scored all five of its goals on the power play, and Barrie collected a point in all five. He scored a goal and generated four assists, with three of those helpers being primary assists.

    Injuries make Barrie’s fantastic work in 2017-18 slip under the radar a bit. With these five points in mind, Barrie now has 36 points in just 45 games. Over an 82-game season, that would translate to almost 66 points.

    Highlight of the Night: Another fantastic Nikita Kucherov goal.

    Kucherov already has 32 goals and 78 points this season. He edges Taylor Hall, whose fantastic coast-to-coast goal was good enough for a post, but couldn’t quite get it done for the Devils, who fell to Columbus in regulation.

    Factoids

    You have to love the neat-and-tidiness of Anze Kopitar scoring his 800th point in his 900th regular-season game:

    Where do you think Alex Ovechkin will end up once he hangs up his skates, hopefully a long time from now?

    So far, pretty good for Dion Phaneuf in Los Angeles:

    Scores

    Maple Leafs 1, Panthers 0
    Blue Jackets 2, Devils 1
    Flyers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)
    Lightning 4, Capitals 2
    Predators 3, Red Wings 2
    Sharks 3, Blues 2
    Kings 4, Jets 3
    Bruins 3, Oilers 2
    Avalanche 5, Canucks 4 (OT)

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.