Colorado Avalanche Season a Success Regardless of a Playoff Appearance

Kevin GoffContributor IMarch 23, 2012

DENVER, CO - MARCH 20:  Paul Stastny #26 of the Colorado Avalanche celebrates his first period goal against the Calgary Flames with teammates at Pepsi Center on March 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Flames 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

With six games left in the Colorado Avalanche's regular season, the Avalanche find themselves in the middle of an exciting playoff push.

A recent loss to the Phoenix Coyotes will make pushing into the playoffs a bit of a difficulty considering that each team pushing for the last two spots in the West has games in hand on the Avalanche.

Still, regardless of whether or not the Avalanche do manage to push themselves into the playoffs, the 2011-2012 NHL season has been a huge success for the Colorado Avalanche.

Right from the beginning of the run up to the 2011-2012 season the Avalanche made a great choice by selecting Gabriel Landeskog with the second overall pick of the entry draft.

Landeskog has proven to be absolutely everything that the Avalanche wanted and is the only rookie in the NHL to be leading his team in goals.

Landeskog is towards the top of the race in every major rookie statistic and leads in most of the secondary ones as well.

Defense and goaltending was another huge issue that the Avalanche had to address coming into this season.

At the end of the 2010-2011 season, the Avalanche were dead last in the NHL in goals allowed; this season the Avalanche have improved drastically.

Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have proven to be a great duo, each picking up the slack for the other when there have been struggles.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 20:  Goalie Semyon Varlamov #1 of the Colorado Avalanche makes a save against the Calgary Flames at Pepsi Center on March 20, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Giguere has been especially fantastic in mentoring Varlamov and helping him rediscover his confidence after some midseason struggles.

The additions of defensemen Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien have added size, toughness and leadership to a young team that desperately needed the presence of a few seasoned veterans in their locker room.

Thanks to the combination of improved goaltending and defense, the Avalanche have improved from being dead last in goals against to 16th in the league.

The Avalanche penalty kill has also improved from the pathetic 76.1% from a season ago to 83.3% this season.

Then young core of this team is beginning to emerge and the future leadership of this team is becoming clear.

Ryan O'Reilly has had a break out season and is the current fan favorite to be the next captain of the team.

Matt Duchene has struggled with injuries this season but his talent level and skill set are well documented throughout the league.

The Avalanche have proven skeptics wrong who picked them to continue to wallow at the bottom of the standings because of a terrible finish to the previous season.

The two best parts of this season have been the fact that they responded when things were looking bleak in the middle of the year and have found a team identity.

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 14: Ryan O'Reilly #37 of the Colorado Avalanche skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on March 14, 2012 in Buffalo, New York. The Avalanche defeated the Sabres 5-4 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After the month of November it looked like the Avalanche were still stuck in the mindset of the second half of last season where one or two goals against would simply deflate the team.

They were finding ways to lose games instead of win them, defense was terrible and the team had absolutely no identity.

In the month of December, something changed. The Avalanche found an identity as a team that outworks their opponents and takes advantage of their chances while benefiting from good goaltending.

Once they found that, things began to roll. The Avalanche won 10 games in the month of December for the first time in franchise history and have been part of the playoff discussion ever since.

The Avalanche are showing signs of a team that is maturing and emerging into a team that will be taken seriously in the coming years.

The front office has done a good job of jettisoning players that were rumored to be head cases or didn't want to be part of the team and replaced them with players with good attitudes and have rewarded them with a chance to showcase their skills.

The Avalanche are right in the middle of the playoff hunt this season but may fall just a little bit short this season.

Whether they do or not, all Avalanche fans should know that this season has been a big success the burgundy and blue.