It’s the Olympic break, and the Avs players in Sochi are representing the team well. But eventually the players will all return to Colorado, and when they do, they’ll be in prime position to make the playoffs.
McGinn goal
Colorado sits 5 points back of both Chicago and St. Louis in the central division. They have two games in hand against the Blackhawks, and give up a game to the Blues, but they’re all but assured a spot in the playoffs, if they can keep up any sort of pace that they had pre-Olympic break. They sit 15 points ahead of the 8 seed.

The team should come back well rested, and confident. The four players who are in Sochi are playing well, and are not being overworked. Not to mention all of their teams are into the quarterfinals. The most intriguing aspect for the Avs is going to be whether they make any moves before the March 5 trade deadline. There have been a lot of rumors about bringing in another defenseman into the mix. Although unlikely at this point, fans still have to wonder if Ryan O’Reilly will be traded after the one year grace period from signing an offer sheet. If not him, will Stastny go?

The Olympic break came at a perfect time for the Avs. They went on a four game road trip, and looked mediocre at best. The team walked away with 4 of a possible 8 points, but had ugly losses to Philadelphia and the Rangers. The wins were unspectacular. They got lucky against New Jersey, winning 2-1 in OT, but couldn’t generate much of anything for 57+ minutes, and almost blew a big lead against the Islanders in the last game before the break. The Islanders shrunk a 3-0 lead to 3-2 halfway through the third period, and Colorado was scrambling to kill off a couple of bad penalties, but couldn’t stop a couple of 5-3 goals from New York.

A couple of late empty netters, including a Paul Stastny goal that didn’t actually go in (but Thomas Vanek threw his stick towards Stastny and the puck with an empty net, resulting in an automatic goal call), which secured a victory.

The worst news coming from the game was that Erik Johnson has been suspended 2 games for a slash on Frans Nielsen. The slash was bad. It broke Nielsen’s hand, but it was not suspension worthy. It should have been a fine. It’s the first time a regular season slash has resulted in a suspension from Brendan Shanahan. I have seen worse slashes that have gone unpunished *cough, Mike Smith and Taylor Hall, cough*. But odd decisions have been the norm with Shanahan deciding punishments.

Colorado will return to action on Wednesday Feb. 26 at home against the Kings.


Finally, I have a reason to post a Peter Budaj picture. What reason? Semyon Varlamov has tied Budaj’s franchise record for consecutive starts without a regulation loss.
Budaj
After a couple of days off, Colorado capped off the quick two game road trip with an OT win over the defending cup champion Blackhawks. The Avs jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on goals from Tyson Barrie, and Ryan $’Reilly. The goals came within 62 seconds of each other, and really stunned the Blackhawks and the United Center crowd. From there, Chicago slowly took over the game. Johnny Oduya scored in the second and Andrew Shaw in the third to knot things up and send the game to overtime. Andre Benoit drew a penalty from Jonathan Toews at the 3:34 mark of OT, giving Colorado 1 minute and 26 seconds of 4 on 3 powerplay time. They needed only 35. Barrie slapped home his second of the game to give Colorado the win.

Next, Patrick Roy and co. were set to dual with their counterpart in the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals- the New Jersey Devils. Martin Brodeur got the night off, with Cory Schneider getting the start for the Devils. $’Reilly continued show his skill, netting the only Avalanche goal, on a very solid play from Patrick Bordeleau behind the net. A lot of fourth liners don’t have the presence of mind, or skill to get that puck to O’Reilly, oops sorry I mean, $’Reilly in front. Reid Boucher added the lone Devils goal in the third. Ultimately it was the birthday boy Matt Duchene who scored the shootout winner, giving Colorado another 2 points.
A square dance in Nashville produced highs and lows for fans of both teams. At one point in the third, Matt Duchene scored a goal, ending his 13 game goalless drought, making the score 5-1 Avs. Peter McNab declared the game over, and is 100% to blame for the 3 Nashville goals in the last 12 minutes of the game, almost costing Colorado the victory. Bottom line, 2 more points.
Cliche Crop
The more I watch the Avs play, the more I start to think that this team can contend, and contend this year. With uncertainly surrounding Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly’s future with the team, this may be the year to go for it.
I know it sounds crazy with like likes of Chicago, and St. Louis standing in our way within the division, but I believe it can be done. Yes, right now the team is leaning heavily on goaltender and Vezina trophy candidate Semyon Varlamov, but is that any different than what the LA Kings did a couple of years ago with Jonathan Quick?
Right now, against the 7 other teams in the playoffs, the Avs combined record is 8-4-3. They are 0-2 against St. Louis this year, and 0-1 against Vancouver. They have a winning record against the other five teams. In a season where the western conference is clearly the bestern conference, that’s a solid record. Even if you throw out getting points for OT losses, they’re still 8-7 on the season.

St. Louis scares me. The Avs have looked terrible against the Blues in both matchups this year, and therefore Avs fans should be the biggest Blues fans around, hoping St. Louis can overtake Chicago for the 1 seed in the Central division. I’d rather see the defending champion Blackhawks in the first round than a hungry Blues team. Who would that leave St. Louis against right now? Vancouver. A team, that despite their well-documented playoff struggles, matches up well against the Blues, and is 2-0 against St. Louis this year.

Of course, the biggest knock on the Avs right now is defense, and rightfully so. Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda are a clear cut top line pairing in the NHL, and both are having great seasons. Assuming all are healthy, which is a big assumption for some, that leaves Ryan Wilson, Tyson Barrie, Nick Holden, Andre Benoit, Cory Sarich, and Nate Guenin to fill the bottom 4 spots. Of those, I’ll take Wilson, Barrie, Holden, and Sarich right now. That leaves Nate Guenin and Andre Benoit as the odd men out, and potential trade bait.

#2 Nick Holden

#2 Nick Holden


All year long, Avs fans have been clamoring for another top 4 defenseman, while one may be developing right under their noses. Nick Holden, while having played in less than half of Avalanche games this season, has taken advantage of his opportunity to get more consistent ice time. Holden leads the defense in points per game, and while he is playing more of a sheltered role than Johnson or Hejda, he has shown to be effective killing penalties, and has been one of Colorado’s best defensemen in 2014.

Understandingly, fans might not want to rely on the 26 year old rookie to play a pivotal role come playoff time. That’s where a trade could come into play. If Colorado is comfortably in a playoff spot come early March, they may look to make a deal to bolster the blue line. Taking a look at some teams who might be willing to deal a top 4 guy come March; I’ve identified the Islanders, Panthers, Sabres, and Jets as the ideal teams for Colorado to deal with.
Starting with the Islanders, they’re not scared to make bold moves (see: Vanek, Tomas) and no longer have a first round pick because of it. They’re also in desperate need of goaltending. They have a couple of guys who could interest Colorado: Travis Hamonic, and Andrew MacDonald. In this hypothetical the Avs are in win now mode, and the guy who helps the Avs more, in my opinion, is MacDonald. The 27 year old is having a fine season on the island, accounting for 22 points in 50 games, averaging almost 26 minutes in ice time and is leading the league in blocked shots, but is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.

Andrew MacDonald, #47

Andrew MacDonald, #47


So what would it take? If Tomas Vanek is worth a 1st and 2nd to the Islanders, I propose a sending Sami Aittokallio and a 2nd to New York for MacDonald. If Colorado is pretty securely in a playoff spot, I’d be fine with that pick becoming a 1st, but I think NYI would accept the previous deal. The deal helps NYI recoup a draft pick lost to Buffalo, and gives them a very solid goalie prospect in Aittokallio to compete for the number 1 spot when Evgeni Nabokov decides to hang them up.
That leaves Colorado with these three potential defensive pairings:
Johnson-Hejda
MacDonald-Barrie
Wilson-Holden
All three lines look solid defensively, while having a lot of offensive upside. I’d be comfortable rolling that come playoff time.
Offensively, Colorado is 6th in the NHL with 2.90 goals per game. If the Avs can get a little blue line help without giving up any offensive players, they could be very dangerous. Time for a little math; if you take the goals for per game, minus the goals against per game of the last 6 Stanley Cup champions, you get these numbers: 2013 CHI: 1.08, 2012 LA: .22, 2011 BOS: .68, 2010 CHI: .72, 2009 PIT: .59, 2008 DET: .89. Taking the average of those six numbers, you get .6966666 and so on. What’s is the 2013-14 Avalanche team at right now? .52. I know health is a big assumption to make, but I think adding a healthy Alex Tanguay pushes that number up .1, as does adding a top 4 defender…hypothetically bringing the Avs number to .72.

And let’s not forget who Colorado has between the pipes. Semyon Varlamov is currently sitting T-3 in the NHL in wins, 13th in goals against (for goalies that have 20+ games), and 5th in save percentage for 20+ game goalies. The Russian goaltender’s confidence may be at an all-time high, and that’s with a mediocre defensive core in front of him. And remember his 2009 playoff performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins? You know, keeping the Capitals in that series even though Pittsburgh was the better team. Remember this save?

How about the 2011 Winter Classic against those same Penguins? Yeah, he stole the show by making 32 of 33 saves and was named the game’s first star. Bottom line: Varly’s clutch. Don’t worry about him.

I’m not saying that the Avs should be cup favorites, but I am saying this team could be on the brink of something special. Colorado has consistently found ways to win games against the best competition this year. It hasn’t always been pretty, but there are a lot of pieces already in place for the Avs, enough for me to think that with a Joe Sakic brushstroke or two, this team could look like a beautiful work of art.


Semyon Varlamov continues to impress the NHL, with a record of 8-0-5 in his last 13 games, propelling the Avs securely into a playoff spot for the time being.
MacKinnon-Varlamov
The Avs added four huge points being Philadelphia and San Jose early in January. Jamie McGinn continued to roll added a goal, while Ryan $’Reilly netted the other for Colorado. Semyon Varlamov was on top of his game, stopping 29 shots, and all 9 he saw on the three Colorado penalties. The only shot to weasel its way past the Russian was a deflection off of Wayne Simmonds stick in front. While no goals were scored in the third, the period was quite exciting to watch.

Avs games against San Jose continue to be interesting to say the least. Colorado jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the second period, thanks to three goals in a 66 second stretch coming from McGinn, Erik Johnson, and Nathan MacKinnon. The rookie is really coming into his own, and thanks in part to Tomas Hertl’s injury, is now the rookie scoring leader. The Sharks bounced back, and had the game within reach at 4-3, but Varlamov made saves when he needed to, securing the victory. Varlamov stoned Joe Pavelski on a breakaway late in the third to ensure 2 points.

Maybe the most disappointing loss of the season was against Calgary. The Avs, riding a 3 game win streak, couldn’t beat a Flames team that was in the midst of a 7 game streak where they were shutout 5 times. J.S. Giguere was in net, and was less than stellar. The 36-year-old netminder stopped just 15 shots on 19 attempts and gave up a late powerplay goal to Mike Cammalleri to give the Flames the win. Giguere, who has cooled off significantly since his hot start, is in the last year of his contract, and I am starting to wonder if the Avs should re-sign him at all.

The Avs next couple of games went to overtime, but with different results. First was Tyson Barrie wristing a shot past former Av (and quitter) Craig Anderson for the OT win, a play set up by Paul Stastny behind the net sent the Avs home happy.
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A couple of days later, it was Michael Grabner who was the hero, with a great individual effort in overtime, led the Islanders to a 2-1 victory. Again, Varlamov was solid, stopping 22 of 24 in 61+ minutes of work. Unfortunately the Avs coughed up the lead with a third period goal by Brock Nelson, and couldn’t rebound in overtime.

Finally, Colorado picked up a huge win over the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-2. The Avs have earned 7 of a possible 8 points against the Wild this year, which is huge considering the two teams are going head to head for the third playoff spot in the central division. Avs fans can exhale a little bit with 6 points up and 3 games in hand over Minnesota, while Dallas has lost 6 in a row, taking them out of playoff contention for now.

JS Giguere has gone down with an injury (back spasms), so the Avs have recalled Sami Aittokallio from Lake Erie. If Giguere doesn’t heal quickly, look for Aittokallio to start against either the Devils on Thursday, or Nashville on Saturday.


Colorado have struggled in the past couple of weeks, going 2-2-3 over the past 7 games, but thanks to Minnesota’s struggles of their own, the Avs remain in playoff position.
Cody Mc
Starting with the second half of a home and home with Dallas, the Stars were able to rebound to collect 2 points thanks to a late third period goal. Dallas is 6-2-2 in their past 10 games, and might be more of a threat to the Avs than Minnesota at this point. The Wild have lost Zach Parise to a foot injury, and Dallas is really started to gel. The Avs have 5 points on Dallas, but no games in hand.

Next was a rare win for the Avs against Devan Dubnyk. Colorado doubled up the Oilers 4-2, dominating special teams with a powerplay and shorthanded goal in the game. Max Talbot notched his 16th career shorty, giving the Avs a 3-2 late in the second period and Colorado never looked back. Matt Duchene added a late empty netter, securing the win.
Avs Goal
A string of four straight losses halted any momentum Colorado was building. First was a shootout loss to Los Angeles, followed by another shootout loss to San Jose. The Sharks game was bizarre. Erik Johnson fired a slapper to tie things up at the 18:09 mark in the third period. 12 seconds later, Jamie McGinn through a puck on net that happened to find its way though, giving Colorado a 4-3 lead, and absolutely stunning the Sharks. A couple of above average Joe’s did some stunning of their own. Joe Thornton made an amazing pass to Joe Pavelski in the slot, with just 20 seconds left in the game, and the big Pavelski took advantage and sent the game to overtime. Colorado lost their third staright shootout after Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon couldn’t find the back of the net, while both Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture netted goals for the Sharks. I still am not sure if I should be happy or sad with getting 1 point out of that game.

The Avs followed that up with a couple of disappointing losses in a couple of different ways. First was a 7-2 blowout loss at the hand of the Blackhawks, including a Patrick Sharp birthday hattrick. The Avs followed that up with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Colorado allowed a goal with just 2 seconds left in overtime, which prevented getting Semyon Varlamov and Co. into a shootout.

Colorado got out of their funk with a huge 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The new line of Jamie McGinn – Matt Duchene – Ryan O’Reilly all netted a goal.

The Avs have lost PA Parenteau 4-6 weeks with a knee injury, hence the above line for the Blue Jackets game.

Paul Stastny, but somehow not Erik Johnson, was selected to the USA Olympic National team.


Behind Paul Stastny’s four points, and a big second period, Colorado was able to cruise to a 6-2 victory at home over Dallas.
IMG_3171
In honor of the lady sitting behind me last night who, in the first period, yelled the first name of every Avs player when they touched the puck, I will be referring to every Avs player by their first name for the opening third of the post.

The game got off to a grim start for Colorado when Cory was called for tripping just 18 seconds into the game. Historically, Dallas has struggled on the powerplay at the Pepsi Center, and again couldn’t net a powerplay goal despite 5 penalties from Colorado.

Nathan tallied the first of the night, and his seventh of the year with an absolute snipe from the left circle. Very similar to the goal he scored against Josh Harding and the Wild earlier in the season, but to the opposite corner. The kid has patience with the puck, and once he can start getting shots off on the rush, is going to be a force.
Paul Stastny
Late in the first Dallas tied it up on Kevin Connauton’s first career NHL goal thanks to Tyler Seguin. The former Bruin circled all the way around the offensive zone, eventually making his way down the right side and throwing a great pass right in front to Connauton for a tap in even Tiger Woods could make.

The powerplay continues to stuggles for the Avs, who couldn’t capitalize on 5 Starts penalties, including a couple of 5 on 3 attempts.

The Avs killed off a early Tyson Barrie high sticking penalty in the second period and never looked back. From the 8:29 mark to the end of the period Colorado netted 4 goals, including a pair from Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson netting his third of the year with just three seconds remaining.

To give Dallas credit, they easily could have called it a night after the second period; they were down 5-1, playing the same team the next night, but they didn’t. They came out and got an early goal from Tyler Seguin. I’m not hearing Seguin’s name for team Canada a whole lot, but with the season’s he’s having he deserves a shot. He was by far the best Stars’ player on the ice last night.

After the Seguin goal, Colorado became much less focused on getting Paul Stastny his hattrick, and became much more focused on winning the game. Dallas made a push, but goaltender Semyon Varlamov and the defensive core did a great job shutting down Dallas. The team is completely different defensively with Jan Hejda in the lineup. For Colorado, they added one final goal coming off Tyson Barrie’s stick, his first of the season. Barrie has a heck of a shot, but defensively couldn’t stop the 6-year-olds who play during the intermissions.

Colorado will wrap up the home and home series in Dallas at 6:30 p.m. Mountain time


The roller coaster ride continues for the Avalanche with a couple of shootouts, but one thing remains steady, their struggles in Vancouver.
Avs-Wild 3-6-12 130
Remember that great moment when Matt Duchene was a rookie? You know, he scored the shootout winner against Vancouver to clinch a playoff spot for the Avs. Well, that was the last time Colorado won a game in Vancouver. This time was no different. From beginning to end, the Canucks dominated the game. In fact, the only reason Colorado didn’t get shut out was because the Vancouver announcers jinxed it.

The Avs came back from the road trip and had a golden opportunity to get back on the right track against Phoenix. Phoenix started backup goalie Thomas Greiss, which should have boded well considering Mike Smith’s domination over the Avs, but Greiss picked up right where Smith left off. For the second straight game Colorado managed only a single goal, and they certainly didn’t deserve it. A clearing attempt by Phoenix deflected off Patrick Bordeleau’s leg, off of Greiss’ leg, and into the net.

The struggling Jets were the next foe Colorado was up against, and early on it didn’t look like it was going to be much of a game. Winnipeg scored less than 30 seconds into the game, and added another 5 minutes, much to the pleasure of the home crowd. The Manitoban fans saw exactly what Matt Duchene could bring to the Canadian Olympic team, starting with a goal late in the first to cut the lead in half. The Avs came out and dominated the second period, adding a pair to give them a 3-2 lead heading into the third and once again putting their undefeated record when leading after 2 periods on the line.

Blake Wheeler tied things up exactly halfway through the third on a scramble in front, but that was all the scoring fans were going to get. The game went to a shootout, and a couple of slick moves from Duchene and PA Parenteau gave Colorado the victory.

Finally, the Avs went head to head with division rival Minnesota. The Wild, thanks to a late third period goal were able to end Colorado’s streak of winning games when leading after 2 periods. Nino Niederreiter scored with under four minutes left in the game to force the game into overtime. For the second consecutive game, and for the second consecutive matchup against the Wild, the game would go to a shootout. Unfortunately for Colorado, only Matt Duchene found the back of the net, while both Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu fired shots past goaltender Semyon Varlamov for the win.


Forget the 7-3 drubbing St. Louis handed Colorado earlier in the year, Colorado had their worst game of the year, losing 8-2 against Edmonton.
IMG_2757
The Oilers made Colorado look like a peewee team the entire game. Taylor Hall propelled the Oilers all night long. He got the scoring started just 3:44 into the period on a breakaway. Hall slipped the puck five hole, and the rout was on.

Despite the 8-2 loss, the worst part of the night for Colorado was Jan Hejda losing an edge and going hard into the boards in the first period. Hejda immediately grabbed his knee and stayed down. Hejda has been arguably the Avs best defensively, and while the extent of the injury is not known, any time Hejda misses is going to hurt the team.

Colorado kept the 1 goal deficit for most of the first period, but got into penalty trouble, leaving a dangerous Edmonton powerplay on the ice for a 5-3 powerplay. Hall netted his second of the night on a laser from the far circle. Edmonton wasn’t done. Just 15 seconds later, still on a powerplay, Ales Hemsky got a feed right in front, and was able to backhand the puck past Varlamov…and that is where I turned the game off.

Colorado made it competitive, scoring a couple of goals in the first ten minutes of the second. From there, it was all Edmonton. David Perron added a goal to give the Oilers a 4-2 lead heading into the third. The high flying Oilers netted 4 goals in the third period, including Taylor Hall scoring his third with just 12 seconds left. All eight came against goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who was 20-28 on saves for the night. Suddenly his season numbers are middle of the pack.

Colorado made the quick flight from Edmonton to Calgary and took on the Flames the next night. This game went better.
Avs-Sharks 049
Colorado, behind Max Talbot and John Mitchell, picked up two key points, but more importantly, looked much better after the embarrassing Oilers loss. Calgary scored the first goal of the game, at which point Avs fan were calling for everyone to be traded. Kris Russell scored for the Flames on the powerplay, which also resulted in another powerplay for Calgary after goaltended JS Giguere didn’t like a lack of interference call, and shoved the net off its moorings.

The Avs really started to turn things around and control the game halfway through the second period, but didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 18:00 mark of the second, after John Mitchell found Max Talbot wide open in front, with a near empty net. Flames goalie Kari Ramo misplayed the puck behind the net, allowing Mitchell to easily steal the puck and send it in front. Talbot’s first as an Av couldn’t have come at a better time.

Less than a minute later, that duo was at it again, setting up PA Parenteau in the slot for another goal and a quick 2-1 lead. The Avs poured it on in the third, when rookie Nathan MacKinnon added his sixth of the year. MacKinnon did a great job getting the puck to Gabe Landeskog on a touch pass, circled behind the net, and was right there for the rebound off the Landeskog shot. Landeskog did a great job setting MacKinnon up for a rebound. He now leads the Avs in scoring, and is playing all around great hockey.

The Flames added a late goal, with 1:55 left to make things interesting, but Colorado did a fantastic job killing off the last 115 seconds, with most of that time spent in the Flames zone.

Colorado will follow manifest destiny and head west to finish up the road trip in Vancouver on Sunday.