Columnist rips Avs’ home record, front office, identity…pretty much everything

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Longtime Colorado Avalanche reporter Adrian Dater took the club to task today in a scathing piece entitled “Avalanche lost in a haunted house.”

Dater aggressively questioned the direction of a team that, after starting the season 6-2-0, has lost nine of its last 11. Five of those losses have come at the Pepsi Center, where only 14,882 are showing up per night. (That’s 24th in NHL attendance.)

Three major issues with the Avs arise in the piece: 1) an inability to win at home, 2) the team’s lack of identity and 3) a muddled front office.

Dater, on Colorado’s home woes: “Trouble, like charity, begins at home. That has certainly been true for Denver’s once-proud NHL franchise, which was slated to start a record eight-game run there on Friday night against the Dallas Stars. Like the weather in Honolulu, such a favorable schedule would ordinarily be cause for some easy forecasting. Avs teams of yore would be expected to win a minimum of six and most likely did. But this most recent edition carried a 2-6-1 home mark into its game against Dallas, and was 5-19-2 overall in its previous 26 home outings.”

Dater, on the lack of identity: “Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Avs played a free-wheeling, fun, skilled game against the Penguins, taking a 3-1 lead and nearly building a bigger one if not for the stout defensive efforts of a couple of goalposts. In the third period, the Avs tried to slow things down and preserve their advantage. They played too much in their own end and left the arena on the nasty end of the 6-3 final score.

Then on Thursday night in St. Paul, the Avs took on the plodding, defense-minded Wild. Instead of skating like they did in Pittsburgh, they looked like they were trying to match each dump-and-change shift with Minnesota. The result? A competitive game, but a 1-0 loss.

Bottom line: the Avs play too much like the team they’re skating against and often abandon their own distinctive brand of hockey.”

Dater, on the front office: “The team’s ownership group, led by E. Stanley Kroenke and his son, Josh, are rarely seen at home games and they almost never talk publicly about the Avs (though Josh, an executive with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, is often front and center at that team’s press conferences). Below the Kroenkes, former maestro GM Pierre Lacroix retains the title of team president, but he’s rarely around the building anymore too. His son, Eric, is the assistant GM to Greg Sherman. The great and popular [Joe] Sakic has the title of ‘executive adviser.’ Confused yet about really runs the show? The question of who’s in charge has been leveled at the guys upstairs as well as at the guys down on the ice.”

Dater also ripped Sherman’s highly-questionable trades (Craig Anderson-for-Brian Elliott, Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk-for-Erik Johnson/Jay McClement, Semyon Varlamov-for-1st/2nd round picks), the dragging of feet on naming Milan Hejduk captain (which had been vacant since Adam Foote retired) and the struggling young centerpieces of the team — Paul Stastny and and Matt Duchene.

This is uncharted territory for a team with such rich winning history. The Avs have won two Cups and made the playoffs 12 out of 15 seasons since moving to Colorado. Sure, the Avs have had down years before, but they always seemed to have strong leadership and a sense of direction — something that can’t be said for the current lot.

When looking at the Avalanche of today, one has to wonder what’s the end game.

The Leafs’ remaining schedule is no cakewalk

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The Toronto Maple Leafs took care of business last night, sending the floundering Florida Panthers to a 3-2 defeat at Air Canada Centre.

Now comes the hard part for the young Leafs. They have seven games left to book their first playoff appearance since 2013, and their schedule is no cakewalk.

The Leafs’ next three games are all on the road, in Nashville Thursday, Detroit Saturday, and Buffalo Monday. After that, it’s a four-game home stand to close out the schedule, all against formidable opponents: Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Columbus.

With a four-point playoff cushion, the Leafs can afford to lose a few games down the stretch. But head coach Mike Babcock doesn’t want his players looking too far ahead.

“I really believe with our group if we just focus on the day we’re playing and play right, we have a real good chance to win,” Babcock said. “That’s what we talk about and that’s kind of our mantra every day is just play right, play fast and we have an opportunity to be successful. We don’t get all caught up in the race. We know the standings, it’s in the paper every day, so we know that.”

The Leafs today sent goalie Garret Sparks back to the AHL. That can only mean good news for starter Frederik Andersen, who could play Thursday after missing last night’s victory with an upper-body injury.

Backup Curtis McElhinney got the nod against the Panthers, calling it the biggest game of his career. The 33-year-old then went out and made 25 saves to earn the win.

“It was great,” said McElhinney. “Getting a couple of goals in the first period there helped out a little bit and let me settle into it. It was a nice win.”

Parise ‘pretty black and blue’ after Wilson high stick, but injury not serious

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Zach Parise looked in bad shape after taking a Tom Wilson high stick to the face in Minnesota’s loss to Washington on Tuesday.

Thankfully for the Wild, Parise’s early diagnosis is a good one.

“He can see and is fine as far as that goes,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday, per the club’s Twitter account. “He’s sore in the upper body. I don’t think he’ll be out long.”

Boudreau went on to add that Parise was “pretty black and blue” and unlikely to play tomorrow, when Minnesota hosts Ottawa. That said, the club expects the 32-year-old to return next week.

It goes without saying that losing Parise is huge. The alternate captain has 17 goals and 37 points through 64 games this year, and is averaging 17:33 TOI per night. And for a Wild team that’s mired in a horrific slump — just three wins in its last 15 games — being down the services of such a vital contributor is costly.

Related: Stewart fought Wilson in response to the high stick

Stamkos ‘getting really close’ to return

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It probably won’t happen Thursday against the Red Wings, but Steven Stamkos is getting close to making his return for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think we can start putting him in the day-to-day category right now,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper, per team beat writer Bryan Burns. “I don’t see him playing against Detroit. After that, I’d say it’s getting really close.”

Stamkos, who hasn’t played since November due to a knee injury, practiced today with his teammates. He took line rushes and even worked with the second-unit power play.

“Today was probably the best day yet,” the captain said. “Doing better than last time we talked and really feeling better each day now.”

Tampa Bay’s next game after Thursday’s is Saturday against Montreal.

The Lightning are three points back of Boston for the second wild-card spot in the East, but they do hold a game in hand on the Bruins.

A challenging offseason awaits Dean Lombardi

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For the 23rd time this season — the most in the NHL — the Los Angeles Kings lost a game in regulation after they outshot an opponent.

It happened last night in Edmonton, where the Kings outshot the Oilers, 35-29, but lost on the scoreboard, 2-1.

Afterwards, captain Anze Kopitar could only express his frustration.

“It seems like we’re beating the dead horse every night,” Kopitar said, per LA Kings Insider. “We outshoot teams, we out-chance teams yet we’re on the other side of the winning part, so bottom line it’s just not good enough. Whether that’s offensively or defensively, we’ve got to be better in both areas.”

It’s mostly offensively. For whatever reason, the Kings have the second-worst shooting percentage (7.6) in the NHL, with only Colorado’s (7.2) being lower.

Perhaps the Kings aren’t getting enough quality shots. Perhaps they don’t have enough quality shooters.

Probably a bit of both.

But it’s something that GM Dean Lombardi will need to address this offseason — assuming he can.

Roster-wise, the big problem for Lombardi is that the Kings have a pair of veteran wingers, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, whose contracts look a lot like anchors.

Brown, 32, and Gaborik, 35, have combined for just 21 goals this season. Meanwhile, their combined cap hit is north of $10 million, and there’s plenty of term left on each deal.

Not helping? Both Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson are pending RFAs, and they’re in line for raises.

Oh, and there’s not much in the way of top prospects, either. In the past four drafts, only once have the Kings made a first-round pick. (Adrian Kempe went 29th overall in 2014.)

Eleven points back of the second wild-card spot in the West, the Kings are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They’re in Calgary tonight to take on the Flames.

Related: Kings give another kid a look, recall AHL All-Star Brodzinski