Will Colorado’s super-sized defense help turn things around?

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While Boston Red Sox fans with “What have you done for me lately?” attitudes will dispute this point, few teams fall apart more dramatically than the Colorado Avalanche did in 2010-11. It seemed like the speedy, attacking team had a shot at maintaining the momentum from a Cinderella 09-10 through the first chunk of 10-11, but their meltdown escalated quickly.

As a result, the team’s makeup changed in significant ways. The Avalanche traded power forward Chris Stewart and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for disappointing (but intriguing) 2006 No. 1 pick Erik Johnson. They shipped Craig Anderson to Ottawa for peanuts (OK, Brian Elliott). During the off-season, they also cut ties with their offensive catalyst from the blueline, John-Michael Liles.

While the most obvious question is whether or not Johnson will justify that risky trade, the bigger issue is: can the Avalanche turn around their atrocious defense from last season? That certainly remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: they’ll be different.

To be more specific, NHL.com points out that they’ll be big, with four defensemen tilting the scales at at least 230 pounds. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be better, mind you, but their group won’t be quite as easy to push around in 2011-12.

Quincey was recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery on Feb. 18 when the Avalanche acquired 6-4, 232-pound Erik Johnson from St. Louis in a blockbuster trade that included four players and two draft picks. Exactly one month before Quincey was injured in a game against Washington, the Avalanche brought in Ryan O’Byrne (6-5, 234) from Montreal in exchange for prospect Michael Bournival.

Colorado bulked up the blue line even more this summer by signing unrestricted free agents Jan Hejda (6-4, 237) and Shane O’Brien (6-3, 230) after trading John-Michael Liles to Toronto for a second-round pick in 2012.

Polarizing defenseman O’Brien thinks that the Avalanche’s size-centric shift could pay big dividends, even echoing the beefy strategy employed by the Boston Bruins.

“If you look at a team like the Boston Bruins, they were Stanley Cup champs last year, and they had a lot of size and grit on the back end,” O’Brien said. “If you can have size and still have guys who can skate and move the puck and get it to the forwards, I think it’s a good recipe for success.”

(snip)

“This team has never had any trouble scoring goals,” O’Brien said. “With the additions they made on defense and with the guys they already had, our D corps is big and strong. If we can keep it to the outside, do our jobs in our end, I think we’ll have a good chance at success.”

Much like the jersey sizes in the locker room, the Avalanche’s defense can only go up compared to last year – unless an even bigger disaster takes place. The odds might be against them to make enough of an improvement to crack the West’s top eight this season, but playing against them shouldn’t be a walk in the park like last season.

Video: Rick Nash scores 20th goal in sprawling style

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Rick Nash has his critics stemming from his playoff struggles in the past, but for those who support him, moments like these are satisfying.

Why? Because you’d be absurd to discredit how hard he tries when Nash scores goals like he did for the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

Nash went all-out for his 20th goal of the season, sprawling after scoring against Thomas Greiss. It’s quite a sight, and Getty Images really was on top of that one.

via Getty Images

The Rangers may need more from him tonight, however, as the Islanders just went up 3-2. Watch the remainder of the contest on NBCSN.

Leafs pass Bruins for third in Atlantic after gutsy win against Columbus

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It wasn’t pretty – especially if you’re disgusted by that Roman Polak hit – but the Toronto Maple Leafs keep generating big wins as a playoff return looks increasingly likely.

Toronto managed a 5-2 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday, passing the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division:

Maple Leafs: 83 points in 72 games
Bruins: 82 points in 73 games

This leaves the currently in-action New York Islanders four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card in the East.

The Maple Leafs aren’t just grabbing key points; they’re doing so against some strong opponents who’ve had plenty on the line, too.¬†They beat a Metro contender in Columbus tonight, the Bruins on Monday, grabbed an OT point against Chicago on Saturday and handled the desperate Lightning last Thursday.

This game was all about William Nylander‘s brilliant start:

And also Toronto surviving a long penalty kill after that Polak hit:

Nazem Kadri‘s 30th goal really put the game out of reach, helping Toronto nab a significant victory.

The Blue Jackets can wallow in this defeat and Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s injury, either, as they turn around to face the Washington Capitals in a big one tomorrow.

Tortorella was irate after Roman Polak boarded Oliver Bjorkstrand

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John Tortorella was left enraged after Roman Polak delivered a dangerous boarding hit on Oliver Bjorkstrand, and he probably wasn’t too pleased after the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to make Toronto pay for Polak’s misdeeds.

Polak received a game misconduct and boarding major for the hit, but the Blue Jackets failed to score on a lengthy power play. Tortorella played to script, as cameras caught him expressing his anger at the situation.

First, take a look at the hit:

Next, behold Tortorella’s anger:

Again, Columbus couldn’t capitalize on its opportunities, so that didn’t make things any better.

Right now, the Maple Leafs lead the Blue Jackets 3-2. If Toronto ends up winning, this will stand as one of the game’s pivotal moments.

It’s far from the only exciting moment, however, with these goals and big hits also standing out.

Video: Josh Ho-Sang’s creativity gives Islanders a shot in the arm

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Honestly, after 10 games, the question shouldn’t be “can Josh Ho-Sang stick with the Islanders full-time?” Instead, the feeling is … what took so long for him to get this chance?

For all the grumbling about Ho-Sang sporting number 66, he’s provided serious bursts of brilliance and creativity for the Islanders, whether he’s been supporting or even setting up John Tavares.

The video above is some really good stuff, as it walks through his confident comments – and undeniable uncertainty – during the night he was drafted, all the way through him getting his chance with the Isles this season. Some of the best stuff comes from Doug Weight, who raves that Ho-Sang is a “five out of five” from an offensive standpoint.