Jason Brough

AP

Nothing is going right for the Colorado Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche last made the playoffs, it was their goalie, Semyon Varlamov, who helped them the most.

Varlamov went 41-14-6 with a .927 save percentage during that magical 2013-14 season, and for that he was named a Vezina Trophy finalist.

But there’s nothing magical about the Avs (11-18-1) anymore. They’re the NHL’s worst team, four points back of the second worst, Arizona. Varlamov, meanwhile, is 6-12-0 with a .904 save percentage, and to make matters even worse, now he’s battling a sore groin.

Varlamov’s backup, Calvin Pickard, has been forced to start the last three games, all of them losses. Pickard’s record is 5-6-1 with a .903 save percentage. He allowed three goals on 29 shots in Sunday’s 4-1 loss to Winnipeg.

“Right now it’s major breakdowns that are hurting us,” said forward Jarome Iginla, per the Denver Post. “Our goalies are playing well. It’s unfortunate we’re leaving them … with a few two-on-ones and breakaways. That’s all of us. That’s forwards covering for the D, the D making the right reads. It’s all of us in front of the goalies, and we’re not good enough in that area right now.”

Even great goaltending may not be enough to rescue these Avs, who have the NHL’s second-worst offense (2.17 goals per game), barely ahead of the Coyotes (2.16). Only two Colorado players, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, are providing much in the way of scoring. And even then, Duchene’s team-high 22 points do not crack the top 50 league leaders.

Bottom line: the Avs’ season has been a disaster.

And frankly, it was a disaster before it even started, with Patrick Roy abruptly quitting in August, forcing a frantic coaching search that ended with the hiring of Jared Bednar.

Read more: Bednar rips Avs’ lack of intensity, a familiar refrain this season

Yes, the Avs have had to deal with injuries to Erik Johnson and Gabriel Landeskog. But then, other teams have dealt with much worse, and all of them have dealt with it better than the Avs.

So, what happens now?

To date, GM Joe Sakic has been hesitant to make any big changes.

“It’s early in the year,” he said a few weeks back. “First of all, changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. … We know we have certain guys who can give more, and those guys know they can give more, but it’s not like it’s a whole thing. We’re not as consistent as we need to be.”

At the time, Sakic noted the Avs were only two games below .500 — “a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Today, they’re seven games below .500. To make the playoffs, it’s estimated they’d have to go in the neighborhood of 29-16-7 the rest of the way.

So essentially, they’re already out of it, save for a miraculous turnaround that does not in any way appear imminent.

That may soon require Sakic to move to Plan B and start selling off veterans like Iginla, or even consider dramatic changes to the core.

At the very least, this core may only have the rest of the season to show Sakic it’s worth keeping together. With attendance suffering and interest dwindling, it will be hard to sell fans more of the same if there isn’t some sign of life down the stretch.

The Avs’ next game is Tuesday in Minnesota against a Wild side that’s won seven straight.

The young Blue Jackets, with a ‘new culture,’ are the NHL’s biggest surprise

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are the latest proof that the NHL is a young man’s game.

The Jackets won their ninth in a row Sunday in Vancouver, giving head coach John Tortorella his 500th career win. It has been a dramatic turnaround for this team that finished 2015-16 with the league’s fourth-worst record. So far this season, Columbus is 20-5-4 and boasts the NHL’s highest points percentage, the best offense, the second-best goals-against, and the best power play.

“When I came halfway through last year, things were already pretty south,” said defenseman Seth Jones, the overtime hero against the Canucks. “But this year, it definitely feels like a different atmosphere, new culture. We have an identity this year, which is something we need.”

Jones, 22, is just one of the talented youngsters on the squad. His dynamic defensive partner, Zach Werenski, is the youngest at 19. Meanwhile, Alexander Wennberg is still only 22, Boone Jenner 23, and Brandon Saad 24. Even some of the veterans aren’t that old. Brandon Dubinsky only turned 30 in April, Nick Foligno and Jack Johnson are 29, Sergei Bobrovsky is 28, and Cam Atkinson just 27.

“I think we’re a pretty good hockey team right now,” said Jones. “We can’t get too ahead of ourselves, but for years to come, we have 22-, 23-, 24-year-olds on this team that are going to be pretty special players in this league.”

It was suggested to Tortorella that having such a young, impressionable team has made it easier to get his message across.

Read more: Jackets are far better fit for Torts than Canucks

After all, this is the same coach who failed so spectacularly in his one year with the veteran-laden, “stale” Canucks.

But he wasn’t buying that theory.

“It’s easy to get buy-in when you have some success, and we’ve had some success early on here,” said Tortorella. “I don’t think it’s ever young or old, I think it’s how you sell it, how you communicate with your team. I think with different personnel, you may be communicating differently. That’s part of our job, that’s one of the biggest chores of our job, as a coaching staff, is how you get to them, how you make them understand what we’re looking to happen here.”

To be sure, it has been a process for Tortorella, who took over early last season and did not have immediate success. The Jackets went a modest 34-33-8 under his watch, and he lashed out at times, saying things like, “I see weakness. I think we’re weak mentally, and it’s not the kids. I worry about the kids getting into bad habits by watching other people.”

What does he see today?

“We’ve got some good leadership that I think is growing,” he said. “It was one of my points of contention last year, I don’t think we had leadership in doing it the right way and raising the standard. I think everybody has their finger in the pie right now, not just the coaches, but all the players too.”

The Jackets return home for three tough games before the Christmas break. Tuesday it’s Los Angeles, Thursday it’s Pittsburgh, and Friday’s it’s Montreal.

The second half of the season may be more of a challenge for Tortorella and his charges, because the way things are going, the days of taking this team for granted are gone.

Pre-game reading: On Torts and the ‘amazing’ turnaround in Columbus

— Up top, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman talks about the biggest challenge facing the Maple Leafs as they look to emerge out of their rebuild. The Leafs have a ton of talent up front, but what about the back end? The cost to acquire top defensemen has maybe never been higher, as evidenced by the price Edmonton paid to get Adam Larsson. And that’s what the Leafs could really use now: a top d-man.

— Here’s Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson on the job John Tortorella has done in Columbus: “We had hit rock-bottom mentally and it was a big challenge for him to turn us around. It’s actually amazing how quickly he did it.” Tortorella received the Jack Adams Award in 2004, but not many predicted he’d be in the coach-of-the-year conversation this season. He deserves a lot of credit for helping the Jackets believe again, while adapting himself to a changing league. (Hockey News)

— The Tampa Bay Lightning hosted the 1999 All-Star Game, but they’ve never hosted the NHL Entry Draft, nor have they hosted an outdoor game. That could change soon, with NHL executive VP Steve Mayer telling the Tampa Bay Times, “There’s no question we are absolutely, strongly considering Tampa in the mix. The city can house a world-class event.” The 2017 All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and the 2017 draft is in Chicago. But the league’s schedule is open after that. We wouldn’t hold our breath waiting for an outdoor game in Florida, but then, if Dodger Stadium can host one, it can’t be ruled out completely. (Tampa Bay Times)

— Mattias Ohlund will be inducted into the Canucks’ Ring of Honour tonight prior to Vancouver’s game with Tampa Bay. Ohlund, 40, might be the best defenseman in Canucks history, but unfortunately injuries shortened his career. “I pushed myself and my body as far as I could. And then one day, after speaking to numerous doctors and trying everything I could, it was just impossible for me to practice and play and travel. My left knee is worse, but both are bad. … I can have a decent, normal life, but I don’t run, don’t ski. Certainly my body’s not perfect, but I’m well enough to enjoy a comfortable life.” (Vancouver Province)

— Whatever the NHL decides about the Olympics, TSN’s Gary Lawless wants there to be a true best-on-best tournament. If that’s the World Cup, then so be it. As long as it’s best-on-best. No Team North America or Team Europe or anything like that. “The World Cup of Hockey has a long way to go before it measures up to the Games. The kind of history and tradition that builds emotion for spectators can’t be manufactured overnight. But the World Cup has no chance in its current incarnation. It must revert to best-on-best and take advantage of the surge in talent in the U.S. as well as the current excellence in Canada.” (TSN)

Matt Duchene is happy to be back playing center for the Colorado Avalanche. ““I love it. It’s my natural position. I enjoy playing right wing, depending on the situation, but at center it’s consistent, I always feel in the game. I like having that responsibility defensively that you have more as a centerman than as a winger. I just like being in the middle of the ice and distributing.” The other side of the coin? Center Carl Soderberg logged just 10:08 in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Philly, and that’s not much for a guy with a $4.75 million cap hit through 2019-20. Though to be fair, he’s been fighting a cold. (Denver Post)

Enjoy the games!

For Pekka Rinne, a great November, followed by a dismal December

AP

Pekka Rinne‘s save percentage has fallen to a dismal .848 for December — an especially shocking number after he was named the NHL’s first star of November.

Nashville’s starting goalie surrendered three first-period goals in last night’s 5-2 loss to Minnesota. The Preds ended up outshooting the Wild, 36-19, but couldn’t tie it late and gave up a pair of empty-net goals.

As always, the goalie wasn’t entirely to blame.

“We probably played 50 to 55 minutes that we really liked,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette told reporters afterwards. “They probably had 10 chances — they got four in the last two minutes of the first period and three in the last two minutes of the second period. Not a lot more than that, but those did us in.”

With the loss, the Preds fell to 2-4-1 in December. They had entered the month on a roll, after putting a slow start to the season behind them.

Last night’s result must have been particularly discouraging after the Preds had fought back to beat the Blues, 6-3, on Tuesday.

“Something triggered for us, and we were unstoppable,” forward Ryan Johansen said of the St. Louis game, per The Tennessean. “That’s the best I’ve seen this team play, I think, since I’ve been here. Just skating and everyone on the same page. Literally, you could go through our whole lineup, everybody was doing so many great things out there. So I think we really needed that one. We needed a character comeback win like that.”

Nashville (13-12-4) can be thankful it’s not in the Eastern Conference, because if it was, a playoff spot would be in serious jeopardy. But in the Western Conference, the Preds sit just two points back of Los Angeles for the final wild-card spot. Not a great position considering preseason expectations for this team, but plenty of time to right the ship again.

The Preds host the Rangers Saturday.

Meier to make NHL debut for Sharks

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Veteran winger Joel Ward has just two goals in 30 games this season for the San Jose Sharks, so tonight in Montreal he’ll be a healthy scratch, replaced by 20-year-old Timo Meier, who will be making his NHL debut.

Head coach Pete DeBoer is looking forward to seeing what Meier can do on a line with Chris Tierney and Joonas Donskoi.

“Just want him to get through the first game without feeling too nervous, and jump in with both feet and go to work,” DeBoer said, per CSN Bay Area. “He’s a good player, he belongs up here.”

Meier, the ninth overall draft pick in 2015, was called up after scoring nine goals in 17 games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.

As for Ward?

“There’s no easy way. Those aren’t easy conversations,” DeBoer said, per The Mercury News. “He’s a proud guy. He’s a great player and he’s a great teammate and he was a key guy for us last year on the run. Those aren’t easy and we don’t take them lightly. But those are the decisions we have to make.”

Ward logged just 11:01 in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout win in Ottawa. The 36-year-old scored 21 goals last season, then seven more in the playoffs as the Sharks made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Ward is signed through next season for a cap hit of $3.275 million.