The Colorado Avalanche had an amazing year last season. One year after finishing in the bottom of the Western Conference, they surprised everybody in the NHL by making it into the playoffs. After such a great year, expectations were high at the start of the season for the Avs, and the start of the season gave the fans even more hope.
In November, the Avs went on a six-game winning streak where they showed incredible resilience, considering many players—including then scoring leader Chris Stewart—were out with injuries. After that streak, the only thing that has been consistent for the Avalanche has been their inconsistency.
As a result of this inconsistency, the Avs are finding themselves on the bottom end of a Western Conference that is highly competitive. Seeds four through 13 are still only separated, as of January 26, by only nine points.
To a team that is going to be a threat for the playoffs, this is motivation. Motivation to bring your A-game every single night. Motivation to not be that team left on the outside looking in. To the Avs, it has been something completely different. We have seen these several things that will keep them out of the playoffs.
The Avalanche defense has had maybe two bright spots this season: John-Michael Liles' incredibly impressive offensive display and Ryan O'Byrne's steady defensive presence. Everything else has been scary. Adam Foote, once the pillar of strength of the Avalanche defense, looks his age. It looks like he is the old man that is realizing how far behind he is.
Matt Hunwick, who has FINALLY been a healthy scratch the last few games, does everything that he can to help the other team get quality scoring chances. He avoids contact at all costs, and is a defensive liability. Why it has taken this long to get him out of the lineup remains a mystery.
Kyle Cumiskey, who just returned from a concussion injury, has the exact opposite problem. He isn't as shy about taking the body, but he's about two feet tall and is incredibly ineffective in front of his own net or down in the corner. He is just as bad as Hunwick about giveaways as well.
Wilson has just been inconsistent as a whole and Shattenkirk has been okay, but struggled to keep his offensive presence present.
Craig Anderson was a rock for the Avalanche last year. He had a career high in shutouts, with seven, faced more shots than any other goalie in the league and still held the Avs in the playoff race.
This year, inconsistent is the nicest word that can be used describing his play. Nine of the last 12 games played for the Avs, the entire month of January, they have allowed three or more goals. Some of these games have also been played by Peter Budaj, but he has also done nothing to stem the terrible inconsistency.
Some of this is also a result of horrible defense, that cannot be denied. The point to be made is that goaltending, which was the biggest reason the Avs made the playoffs last year, is one of the things that will keep them out of the playoffs this year.
The Avs are a stunning team when it comes to the PK. On the road, the Avs are in the top 10 in the league for penalty killing. At home, the Avs are the worst penalty kill unit in the NHL. How does that happen? Do they play things that differently on the road than at home? Well, something is different, and if anybody knew what it was, then the problem be solved by now.
Throughout the month of January, the Avs have been absolutely pathetically when it comes to effort. Just take tonight's game against Phoenix. Phoenix played in Edmonton last night, the Avs didn't, and the Avs were out-shot 14-1 in the first period. There is no excuse for that on a regular night when both teams are rested. It is absolutely horrendous.
It looks like they're asleep on the ice and then only bother to play the last 10 minutes of the third period. I had mentioned in a previous article that the return of Cody McLeod and Chris Stewart should help, but that has not been the case. It should say something about the state of your team when the best player for your team in the last month has been your team's fourth-line center, Phillipe Dupuis.
Lacking of Scoring
During the Avs' six-game win streak, they were the highest scoring team in the NHL. Since then, it has been another story altogether. Watching the games is frustrating because, while there are a decent amount of shots by the end of many of those games, the majority of them come from far out from bad angles and are easily controlled by the goalie.
During that win streak, the Avs were also giving up a decent amount of goals, but were able to overcome their mistakes with some solid offense. Now those goals aren't coming, but the horrid defense remains and has been exposed for exactly what it is.
Altitude makes a lot of comments about how Sacco really focuses on making certain that the Avs are prepared to play every single game. If being prepared for every single game looks like the teams that has been shown in the month of January and much of December, then something is wrong with the coaching.
Plus, it remains a mystery to me how any faith can be kept in either Matt Hunwick or Kyle Cumiskey. Especially when there is a guy like Jonos Holos waiting in the wings who already had a really good stretch with the team. Avalanche fans have been crying FREE HOLOS for the last month and a half. Yet, Sacco continues with the small, worthless defensemen.
Not to pretend that Holos would be the solution to all the Avs' defensive woes, but he sure is a step up in comparison to both Hunwick and Cumiskey.
All in all, this Avalanche team has showed an overall lack of effort, enthusiasm or any desire to play whatsoever.
Now, we have the All-Star break, with 32 games left, 30 against Western Conference opponents. If the Avs want to have any chance of making the playoffs, then they cannot afford to bring the kind of "effort" that plagued them this month. As of right this moment, if you ask me what teams are going to be in the playoffs, you can't possibly include the Avalanche.
It's time for a long, hard look in the mirror, and for a decision of what type of team this Avalanche team wants to be.