So far in this young season, the Avalanche appear to be headed in the right direction, which is encouraging for Avalanche fans.
However, it is a bit early to pencil this team in as Stanley Cup finalists and dismiss the notion that this was to be a rebuilding season.
To this point, there's been solid play from the guys that we've expected to see good things from. Paul Stastny has four points through three games (1 G 3 A), Milan Hejduk, four assists in three games, and Wojtek Wolski—whose three goals could be a sign that he's primed for a breakout season.
Conversely, we've seen good play and solid contributions from some places we didn't necessarily expect to. From guys like Darcy Tucker (2 G 1 A) and Kyle Quincey—who's easily been Colorado's best two way player.
All of this bodes well for the Avalanche as they move forward, but it's important to consider the factors the exist before getting carried away with any long term projections.
The NHL season is an 82 game grind, that takes its toll both mentally and physically on players. And in the NHL, all it takes is one injury and a team can become a shell of what it was. See the 2007 Avalanche vs Detroit in the semifinals.
In addition to the length of the season, you also have to look at the reality of the coaching situation. This is a young and inexperienced staff, and there are going to be nights that Joe Sacco and his crew are going to not only be outcoached, but also outsmarted. As sure as the sun rises, it's going to happen, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.
Western Conference coaches like Babcock, Crawford, Hitchcock, Quinn, and McLellan are established coaches who understand the game, as a Coach, in a way that only experience behind an NHL bench can teach you. Sacco doesn't have that....yet. And, inevitably, Sacco is going to be taught some lessons from the opposition's guy behind the bench this season.
All Avalanche fans can hope for is that he learns, and adapts as this season progresses. If he can, it'll show, and that'll be something to hang your hat on moving forward.
Moving on, what also must be considered, is the age of this team. It's a very young team, one of the youngest in the NHL as a matter of fact, and they too are playing guys that have a lot more experience and are likely going to get receive their lessons as well. It's whether or not they apply them that'll determine who this team is.
Most think this Avalanche team will finish among the bottom dwellers in the Western Conference, and at this point, I don't know that I'd think anything different than that. However, if this team continues to get solid play from Anderson, the top 2 lines and their defensive corps, that could change.
Right now, the best player on this team has been Craig Anderson, and to think, most people wanted Legace or Conklin! Aren't you glad that didn't happen?
Right now, Anderson looks every bit as good as I, as well as many others, expected him to be. He's 2-1 with a 1.69 GAA and .955 save percentage. That's 107 saves on 112 shots against folks. Those are stellar numbers.
What it comes down to is whether or not he, and this team, can maintain their consistency. If they can, this team could be much better than ANYONE, including ol' Pierre Lacroix and his apprentice Greg Sherman could have expected.
Again, it's far to early for any projections, but right now, this team certainly looks better than most thought they would. That not only encourages the fans, who really are the life blood of any organization, but it also encourages the players to play inspired. And, I can tell you this: inspired hockey is tough to defend against.
Hockey is a momentum game, and in an instant, the momentum can swing like the pendulum of the clock. Undoubtedly, there will be some swings this season, but, I expect the Avalanche to compete well this year. That's not to say they're going to the playoffs, or anything like that. I just think they'll compete, even in a losing effort.
And as the season wears on, should they struggle to find wins, which is possible, how they play will become an accurate barometer of where this team is at. My guess is that they probably lose as many or more than they win, but player development will be the biggest key and of detrimental importance to future success.
Right now though, smile a little and enjoy what your'e seeing! Because I'm looking at the barometer, and all signs are pointing to positive things. Let's hope they can continue to show us what they've shown us. Because if they do, we could all be in for a nice surprise.
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