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)

Scroll Down For:

    Video: Julien won’t discuss job security with Bruins

    Leave a comment

    The job security of Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien remains a hot topic of discussion, particularly these past few days and that isn’t likely to change following Friday’s defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Despite carrying the play, especially through the first two periods, the Bruins were unable to score and were shut out once again, losing the game on a goal from Marian Hossa with 1:26 remaining in regulation. For the Bruins, that’s a heartbreaker.

    It seems Julien’s job in Boston is always up for discussion during at least some point in a season, but the chatter now seems especially bleak, even if one could find plenty of faults with Boston’s roster, which falls on management.

    Addressing reporters after Friday’s loss, Julien liked how his team played versus the Blackhawks, but admitted there are “growing pains” and there were costly mistakes made at points in the game.

    When asked about job security, Julien didn’t wish to discuss the subject.

    “I’m not into shock journalism,” he said, “so I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

    Major victory: Habs power play erupts to defeat Devils

    OTTAWA, CANADA - OCTOBER 15: Shea Weber #6 of the Montreal Canadiens fires a slapshot during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on October 15, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
    Getty
    Leave a comment

    NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The toughest thing Montreal Canadiens goalie Al Montoya had to do against the New Jersey Devils was stay awake.

    The Canadiens limited the Devils to a season-low 17 shots, and Shea Weber and Max Pacioretty each scored a power-play goal during a major penalty early in the third period of Montreal’s 3-1 victory Friday night.

    “I’d take this any night,” Montoya said after the Canadiens snapped a two-game skid. “Your team is playing fantastic in front of you. Halfway through the game it’s 1-1 and all I’m really focused on is making that next save. These guys did a phenomenal job and I just wanted to make that next save, and the power play was terrific. The guys were mainly terrific all night.”

    Alex Galchenyuk added a goal and two assists, and Alexander Radulov had three assists as Montreal ended the Devils’ three-game winning streak.

    The difference in this one was the power play. The Canadiens were 3 for 7 with the extra man and they converted twice with Devils defenseman Karl Stollery in the box for a boarding major.

    The call was iffy. Stollery hit Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu in the corner in the Devils end, but the question was whether it was a major or minor penalty.

    “It happened quick,” Stollery said. “The guy is coming in and I am going in to finish the play and he turns up. I probably would like to let up a little bit more if it happened again. It’s one of those things that happens quick.”

    Devils coach John Hynes screamed at the officials.

    “All I got was they felt it was a dangerous hit,” Hynes said. “At that point they are not going to explain it too much. They were defensive. They made the call. It is what it is. At that point we have to try to find a way to kill it better than we did.”

    The first two minutes of the major were played 4-on-4, but the Canadiens capitalized after that.

    Weber scored his 11th of the season on a drive from the blue line at 3:01 that was set up by Radulov. Pacioretty got his 21st at 4:23 with a shot that deflected off the skate of Devils forward Adam Henrique.

    “It was huge,” Weber said. “Obviously, special teams mean so much coming down the stretch and heading into playoffs, so trying to get some chemistry going and help the team win games, it’s obviously a big thing.”

    Rookie defenseman Steven Santini gave the Devils an early 1-0 lead, but the Canadiens dominated after that, firing 26 shots at Keith Kinkaid.

    Montoya had nothing to do for long stretches. New Jersey was held without a shot for more than 12 minutes after Santini scored, and it needed 13 minutes to get one in the second period.

    Santini put New Jersey ahead when he flipped a shot from just inside the blue line that floated into the top corner of the net.

    Galchenyuk tied the game 74 seconds later with a shot from the left circle with Devils forward Miles Wood in the penalty box for slashing. The tally came 28 seconds after the penalty and on Montreal’s first shot with the man advantage.

    Video: Henrik Sedin records 1,000th career point

    Leave a comment

    Henrik Sedin has become the 85th player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points.

    Sedin, the Canucks captain, hit the milestone Friday against the Florida Panthers and his former teammate Roberto Luongo. As you might imagine, twin brother Daniel Sedin also factored into the goal.

    Daniel fed Henrik with a perfect pass off the rush, and Henrik finished the play off, sliding the puck through the legs of Luongo to tie the game 1-1 in the second period. It was another beauty, another example of what has made those two players so special for many years in Vancouver.

    Henrik Sedin is the first player in Canucks history to reach 1,000 points. He also becomes just the fourth player from Sweden to hit that number, joining Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Nicklas Lidstrom.

    Daniel should also reach the mark, although he may have to wait until next season. He entered Friday’s game with 967 career points.

    Great touch of class, too, from Luongo, who quickly embraced his former teammate as Sedin skated back to the bench following the on-ice celebration.

    Video: Tempers flare between Oilers and Predators, as Lucic and McLeod drop the gloves

    4 Comments

    Things got feisty between the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators on Friday.

    It started in the second period after P.K. Subban took an elbow from Matt Hendricks along the end boards. Hendricks was immediately grabbed by Anthony Bitetto. Nothing really materialized from that, however the main event broke out between Milan Lucic and Nashville newcomer Cody McLeod.

    Lucic landed some pretty heavy punches before the two players fell to the ice.

    Subban was making his return to the Predators lineup after missing 16 games with what was reported to be a herniated disc.