It wasn’t long ago that the Colorado Avalanche were viewed as one of the promising, young teams in the NHL. They made the playoffs a season ago, they had young players like Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Chris Stewart showing the Avs were a team on the rise. Then, just as quickly as it began, it all came to a crashing halt.
Entering tonight’s second game of a back-to-back (this time against Nashville), the Avalanche are in the midst of one of the worst stretches ANY team has endured in the last few years. They’ve lost 7 straight. Before that, they managed to lose 10 straight. In all, they’ve lost 19 of their last 21 games and if it weren’t for a pair of 1-goal wins against the Blues, they wouldn’t have anything to show for the last month and a half worth of games.
Last night the Mile High Mediocrities lost 6-2 at home vs. the Anaheim Ducks by giving up a 4 spot in the 2nd period. Under other circumstances, fans might hit the panic button and wonder how a team could fold like a cheap suit in a game down the stretch. But for this squad – and this city – it was just the latest in a horror movie that refuses to end.
The worst part is that it has made people wonder which is the real Avalanche team. Last season showed promise; this season they were one of the most exciting teams in the league. They were scoring in games at an incredible pace and the young players who were doing it only showed signs of getting better. The future was so bright, Timbuk3 was cool again. But the scoring was hiding a bigger problem—their defense was awful.
This season, they are giving up on average 3.49 goals against per game which is BY FAR the worst in the league. Last season, they were 17th in the league with a 2.78 goals against average. It doesn’t sound that great—but remember, they had a Vezina Trophy candidate in Craig Anderson between the pipes and they were still in the bottom half of the league. They were giving up over 32 shots per game (tied for 25th in the league) and expected Anderson to stand on his head for them to remain competitive. This season they’re giving up about the same amount of shots, except Anderson wasn’t the superhero he was last season. Predictably, the Avs team-stats started to regress to the mean.
Joe Sacco did what he could by putting in Peter Budaj when Anderson faltered. Unfortunately, Patrick Roy circa-1996 would have a problem playing behind this defense with the number of shots and Grade-A scoring chances faced every night. If they wanted to compete, they’d need someone like – well, Craig Anderson in Ottawa if they wanted be successful.
The poor record and porous play probably shouldn’t be as big of a surprise as it was. Terry Frei saw it coming around the trade deadline:
“The worst-case scenario is that last season’s surprising showing was a complete fluke, seducing the organization into overrating its talent — and triggering panic when that became apparent. Plus, with the Avs nearly $18 million under the NHL’s $59.4 million salary cap, Colorado has the third-lowest payroll in the league amid indications that Kroenke Sports doesn’t at all mind hugging the floor . . . and, in fact, is encouraging that approach.”
The season died a painful death after this nightmare stretch where the Avalanche couldn’t do anything right. In the middle of this stretch, they’ve watched a former-icon try to make a comeback and changed the fundamental direction of their team with the Erik Johnson trade. Gone is the power forward (Stewart) who was supposed to be their future top line winger. Gone is the blue-chip prospect (Shattenkirk) who was supposed to run the power play for the next 10 years. In their places, they picked up a guy who they hope can be a cornerstone defenseman who plays in every big situation and a 2-way forward who can help with their power play. They knew they needed to do a better job on shots and goals against and both players should help in the long-run. But there’s no questioning they paid a huge price and it will take time to integrate the new players into the team.
At this point, the Avalanche and their fans can only hope for improvement over the last few weeks and a great draft pick in June. Looking back two years ago, they had a rough season and were able to snag the face of their franchise in Matt Duchene. Last season was great, but there’s a better chance that this is the real Avalanche team than last year’s version. Assuming GM Greg Sherman is able to strike gold with their high-draft pick in June, the Avs will have some strong pieces going forward.