The Colorado Avalanche currently sit in the ninth seed in the super-competitive Western Conference.
With the Avalanche sitting in position to push their way into the playoffs, this year's team seems primed and ready to gain a postseason birth.
There are several reasons that the Avalanche will make this push, and here is why.
Last season, when the Colorado Avalanche fell apart like a poorly-assembled toddler bike, the team had absolutely no leadership. Adam Foote was the captain, but he was injured, pretty much everybody figured he was going to retire at the end of the season and a large portion of the team was sidelined with injury.
Everybody was looking for somebody to be the guy, but nobody stepped up. To make things worse, the coaching staff didn't show any leadership either.
This season, there is leadership everywhere.
Ryan O'Reilly has become the leader on the team, Milan Hejduk is still leading by example, Shane O'Brien has shown amazing leadership on the blue line and Jean-Sebastien Giguere might be the best leader on the team. Even rookie Gabriel Landeskog has shown great leadership abilities in his short time with the team.
Right now, there are plenty of guys that are stepping up to the plate, calling out the team when things need to be said and putting the team on their back in moments that matter the most.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere might be the steal of the offseason.
When things looked like they were going to go downhill for the Avalanche this season, Giguere was there to stabilize the team and help them find their confidence again.
Giguere has earned the starting job in Denver and is giving the team a chance to win every night that he is in net.
He is also serving as a mentor to Semyon Varlamov, who desperately needs the mentoring. The more that Varlamov can take from Giguere, the better he will be in the long run.
Special teams is something that can propel a team up the standings or assist in the free fall from grace. The Avalanche have a solid power play that is ranked in the top 10 in the NHL.
The power play has helped the Avalanche turn the tide in several of the games that they have played this season.
The penalty kill has recovered from its dismal display towards the beginning of the season. It is still in the bottom 10 in the NHL, but watching the penalty kill now, as opposed to the month of November, the difference is amazing.
One thing the Avalanche have been doing that hasn't been helping themselves out is taking penalties. The Avalanche seem to take a lot of penalties and need to stop doing that if they want to make the playoffs.
One of the most troubling things about the Avalanche at the start of the season was that they never seemed to have an identity. The team would always play the kind of game that their opponent wanted to play and never the type of game that they wanted to play.
Led by Ryan O'Reilly, the Avalanche have discovered their identity.
They have always enjoyed playing a speed game, but they have now coupled the speed with being a hard-working team that forechecks very well.
Ryan O'Reilly is currently third in the NHL in takeaways and has set the example that his teammates are following.
Gabriel Landeskog's physical play is helping out on the forecheck and leading to turnovers and scoring chances.
T.J. Galiardi has rediscovered his pestering abilities and has earned him a great deal more ice time.
The Avalanche are now a difficult team to play against.
The best story of the Avalanche all season has been Peter Mueller's return to form. He fought through his concussion symptoms and seems to finally be ready to play consistently in the NHL again.
He had an immediate impact when he came back into the lineup and, if he continues to play well, will have a huge impact on the team.
The Avalanche should also get Matt Duchene back in the early parts of February, who always provides his team with a spark.
With these two guys back in the lineup, the Avalanche could become very deadly.
One of the biggest differences from last season to this season is the belief that the players have in themselves.
Last year, especially after the All-Star break, the Avalanche seemed to be a team that was just waiting for bad things to happen to them on the ice.
This year, the Avalanche don't get down on themselves and don't quit.
There have been a few instances where the Avalanche found themselves in a position where they should have lost a game, but they managed to come back and win the game.
This Avalanche team believes that they should win each game that they are playing, and that is huge for a team's confidence.