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Are the Colorado Avalanche for real? No, probably not

Oct 18, 2011, 5:04 PM EDT

Avalanche forward Milan Hejduk celebrates his goal with Paul Stastny and David Jones during their NHL hockey game in Toronto

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.

  1. mmuzia - Oct 18, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    I’ll take a 5-0 road trip under any circumstances.

  2. georgeinlimbo - Oct 18, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    I’m an Avs fan and I do not think the Avalanche will win the President’s Trophy this year. However, I think they’ll make the playoffs.

    What Halford didn’t mention is that Duchene still hasn’t started heating up yet. His play in his own zone has shown a lot of improvement and he still looks quick and creative when he is in the attacking zone. It is only a matter of time before he starts putting up more serious points.

    Also, Jones has already proven he can remain healthy and has been a consistent force, even after the collapse last year. If anything, the health of Peter Mueller is more concerning. The Avalanche have one of the best third lines in the league in the first six games with Landeskog/O’Reilly/Winnik setting the tone for the rest of the team.

    Kyle Quincey is highly underrated and Ryan O’Byrne has proven dependable, even though he takes the occasional penalty. Hejda is solid and Wilson is a serious NHLer. The team has meshed well with a mean O’Brien. Plus, they are big. Quincey and Johnson can both put up some offensive numbers.

    This team won’t contend, but are bound to surprise some fans and win others back. They are still on the tail end of a rebuild, but the true identity of this team is emerging. They are realizing their going to be mean and hard to play against in their own end, and fast and energetic at the other end. Halford, you are going to eat your words.

  3. wingshater21 - Oct 18, 2011 at 11:41 PM

    Ohhh yeah, negativity, and this coming from a Canucks fan, nice

  4. tkhinton - Oct 19, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    You are not giving enough value to the vast improvement they have made in the offseason. They beat 5 of 6. They look like a team that wants to compete. Those deserve a bullet point, don’t you think?

  5. danphipps01 - Oct 19, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    Guys, we get that they won five road games. They also won four of those against teams ranging from “average” (Montreal and, surprisingly, Toronto) to “so awful it’s funny” (unsurprisingly, Ottawa) – and they went 6-5 with the Canadiens, who have like four players who break the 20-mark each season. They SUCK at scoring, and the Avs let them get five. Beating Toronto to kill their hot streak was fairly impressive, but it’s still Toronto – not exactly a top-tier team. And Boston? Well, LOOK at them. They’re losing to EVERYONE right now and their spectacular meltdown against Carolina just shows that they are no longer in Stanley Cup form. The Avs are a LOT better this year and talk of a Capitals lottery pick has been permanently silenced with the explosive performance of their young core forwards and Varlamov’s apparent comfort in a first-string role – but they’re still only beating fairly weak squads. They’re not going to pull the moves they’ve pulled against the real contenders – against Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Buffalo… they’re going to lose.

    Things, however, are still positive. The Pens and Caps got knocked over in the first couple years after getting Crosby, Malkin, Ovi, etc., and look where they are now. In three years, the Avs are going to be very, very scary. They aren’t a contender yet, but the teams that have adopted this strategy to building their rosters started slow and are now at the top of the NHL. The Avs are going to get there, and it won’t be long in coming – but it won’t be this season. I’m very excited to see them come back to contention. I always loved the Sakic glory years.

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