One of the biggest stories from this young NHL season has been the Colorado Avalanche. The 29th-ranked team from a year ago — only Edmonton finished with fewer points — is now first overall in the NHL, having just swept a five-game Eastern road trip.
Which begs the question: Are the Avs for real?
Let’s answer by asking our own questions!
Who have the Avs beaten thus far? The 1-0 victory in Boston was a signature win, but after that…three wins came against non-playoff teams — Ottawa, Columbus (in a shootout) and Toronto (in overtime) — and the other was a 6-5 shootout win over Montreal. Not exactly a murders’ row. The Avs will probably be made or broken in January, when they play nine of 12 games on the road with stops in Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Edmonton and L.A. (x2).
Can David Jones keep this up? Jones, Colorado’s leading scorer with four goals, has proven to be a pretty effective sniper when healthy. Problem is, he’s rarely healthy. Despite playing in 77 games last year, Jones has twice had seasons ended via injury (shoulder in 2008-09, torn ACL in 2009-10). There have to be doubts about him making it through the year.
What about the goaltending? Not to discredit Semyon Varlamov, who’s been very good thus far, but we saw this two years ago when Craig Anderson came out of nowhere and morphed into a brick wall. In 2009-10, Andy went 10-2-2 to start the year with a 2.04 GAA and .939 save percentage, but eventually tailed off due to being overworked (71 starts) and facing too much rubber. So how does that relate to Varlamov? Well, Varly’s never played more than 27 games in a season and Colorado is already allowing 31.7 shots per game, eighth-most in the NHL.
Can Colorado compete with that blueline? This might be the biggest issue with the Avs. Outside of Erik Johnson, the defense has a serious lack of talent. It’s like Colorado got everybody else’s scrap parts — the Avs signed Jan Hejda after Columbus (Columbus!) let him walk, which is a serious indictment. Then they signed Shane O’Brien after Nashville let him walk. These signings would’ve been okay for depth purposes, but Hejda and O’Brien are Colorado’s No. 2 and 4 defensemen in terms of ice time right now. It’s a major concern.
Wow, you’re negative. Anything you like about the Avs? Yeah, absolutely. Like that they’ve got so many legitimate top-six forwards that are 26 or younger: Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene, Peter Mueller and Paul Stastny. Like that they’ve got a good veteran backup (JS Giguere) to give Varlamov a breather. Like Joe Sacco, too.
I just don’t like them to make the playoffs.