Anaheim Ducks v Colorado Avalanche

Avalanche struggles shouldn’t come as surprise

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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.

Goalie Nods: Penguins go back to Matt Murray against Lightning

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins tends goal against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on November 30, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 5-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After sitting for three consecutive games earlier in the week, Matt Murray was back in the lineup on Thursday night for the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Florida Panthers. After stopping 28 of the 29 shots he faced in a 5-1 win (and nearly scoring an empty net goal), he gets the call again on Saturday night when the Penguins face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.

At this point the Penguins’ goalie rotation seems to simply be “keep playing until you lose or get pulled.”

Marc-Andre Fleury, after winning back-to-back starts against Dallas and Detroit, was lifted midway through the second period against Ottawa on Monday night paving the way for Murray to return to the crease.

Since taking over for Fleury midway through Monday’s game Murray has stopped 45 of the 47 shots he has faced and has a .934 save percentage on the season. Including playoffs, Murray has a .928 save percentage in 45 appearances at the NHL level since making his debut during the 2015-16 season. That is one of the best marks in the NHL during that stretch.

The Lightning, who have lost seven of their past nine games, are going with Andrei Vasilevskiy after Ben Bishop was pulled for giving up four goals on 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to Vancouver on Thursday.

With a .929 save percentage in 10 starts this season Vasilevskiy has been the Lightning’s best goalie so far. He replaced Bishop on Thursday night after he surrendered four goals on only 20 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

Elsewhere…

Steve Mason and Kari Lehtonen went for the Flyers and Stars respectively in their afternoon game, while Peter Budaj went against Mike Condon in the Kings-Senators game.

— With Ryan Miller sidelined due to a suspected lower body injury, Jacob Markstrom gets the call for Vancouver against his former team, the Florida Panthers. On the other end of the ice Roberto Luongo was also getting the start against his former team for the Panthers.

— The Islanders are trying to dig themselves out of an early deficit in the standings with a point in six straight games (5-0-1). They look to continue that strong play on Saturday against a Columbus team that has been the biggest surprise in the NHL this season. The Islanders go with Jaroslav Halak. The Blue Jackets, who have won five straight including a 4-1 win over Detroit on Friday, have not yet announced their starter. With Sergei Bobrovsky starting on Friday it could be a Curtis McElhinney night.

Carey Price will be back in net for the Canadiens after he avoided discipline for punching Kyle Palmieri the other night with his blocker. He will go against Calvin Pickard in the Colorado net.

Frederik Andersen vs. Tuukka Rask is the goalie matchup in Boston when the Bruins host the Maple Leafs.

Mike Smith looks to snap a personal five-game winless streak when he gets the nod for the Arizona Coyotes against Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators.

— The Flames are going with Chad Johnson in net again when they host the Winnipeg Jets, and for good reason. Johnson has taken the No. 1 job in Calgary and now has a 10-2-0 record to go with a .947 save percentage in 12 starts since Nov. 15. No official word from the Jets on their starting goalie.

— The Sharks and Hurricanes have yet to announce their starters for the late game.

Coyotes place Max Domi on IR, out ‘week to week’

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 18:  Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Gila River Arena on February 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Stars 6-3.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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A tough season for the Arizona Coyotes managed to get even tougher on Saturday when the team announced it has placed forward Max Domi on injured reserve with an upper body injury.

He is expected to be sidelined on a week-to-week basis. The earliest Domi is expected to return is next Saturday’s game against Minnesota.

Domi, 21, is one of the team’s best young players and has been an immediate success since arriving in the NHL a year ago. After finishing second on the team in scoring with 52 points as a rookie, a performance that earned him a sixth place finish in the Calder Trophy voting, he is once again second on the team this season with 16 points through the team’s first 26 games.

Domi played 10 minutes in the Coyotes’ most recent game against the Calgary Flames before exiting the game late in the second period following a fight with Garnet Hathaway.

This is the fight.

Domi is a skilled forward, but he is no stranger to dropping the gloves, with that fight already being his seventh in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season. Even if it is something he occasionally does it still has to be tough to lose perhaps your best player to an injury in a fight.

The Coyotes are in Nashville on Saturday night to play the Predators. They enter the day with an 8-13-5 record that has them tied for the worst record in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.

With Ryan Miller injured, Canucks recall Thatcher Demko

MONTREAL, QC - NOVEMBER 02:  Ryan Miller #30 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from his crease during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on November 2, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-0.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller had to exit the team’s 5-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night with a suspected lower body injury after stopping 38 of the 39 shots he faced.

The team did not seem overly concerned about it at the time, but Miller did not participate in the team’s morning skate on Saturday before their game against the Florida Panthers.

The team also announced that goalie Thatcher Demko has been recalled from the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League.

Demko, the team’s second-round draft pick (No. 36 overall) in 2014 is in his first year of pro hockey after a successful collegiate career at Boston College. In 14 games with Utica this season he has .909 save percentage. While the overall numbers are not anything overly impressive, he has been playing significantly better in recent weeks after a tough stretch to start his pro career.

Miller has a .916 save percentage in 15 games for the Canucks this season. If he can not go on Saturday night look for Jacob Markstrom to get the call with Demko serving as his backup.

There is no word at this point on how long the Canucks expect Miller to be sidelined.

Take a look at the Flyers 2017 Stadium Series jersey

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The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers will be taking their long-time rivalry outside on Feb. 25 when the two teams face off at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 2017 Stadium Series.

On Saturday morning, the Flyers unveiled their uniforms for the game.

The uniforms are primarily black, accented with orange arm bands and nameplates.

Along with the outdoor game in February, the Flyers will also wear them a week later at home against the Penguins on March 5.

Here is a look at the uniforms, via the Flyers.

The Penguins unveiled their jersey for the game back in November. It is solid yellow.