The Colorado Avalanche have undoubtedly had a great start to their 2011-12 season. After being shut out in their season opener against rival Detroit, the Avalanche have won the last three games, including a 1-0 win over the reigning champion Bruins and a commanding 7-1 win over former goalie Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators.
Even though it has only been four games, they are in first place in the Northwest Division and tied for the most points in the Western Conference. How much longer can this streak continue?
The next seven games will really show if Colorado will be a legitimate contender. They will finish their Canada road trip playing against the Montreal Canadiens and then the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Canadiens game is coach Joe Sacco's primary focus right now.
Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy played his career for both teams and it should be a great game. Montreal will be without two key players due to injury, Mike Cammalleri and Jaroslav Spacek.
Andrei Markov will also be out for the game, which gives Colorado a huge advantage when on the attack. As long as Semyon Varlamov is solid in net, Matt Duchene and the Avs should come out of Montreal with a win.
The Toronto game should be closer as the Maple Leafs are 2-0 thanks to a high scoring offense. Phil Kessel leads the team in points with 5 (3 goals, 2 assists), which could pose a problem for the Colorado defense.
Erik Johnson will need to keep the speedy Toronto skaters away from either Varlomov or Giguere, depending on who gets the start.
The Avs then travel back home to play the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Two days later they travel to face the same Blackhawks in Chicago. They have really dropped off after winning the Stanley Cup, only winning 44 games after their title run.
In their three games this season (2-1) they have split with the Dallas Stars and barely escaped against a weak Winnipeg team. They will play a tough game against the defending champion Bruins and then travel to Phoenix before coming to Colorado.
The defense will have another huge task of stopping Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Avalanche should at least earn a split with this team. Sacco will most likely give each goalie a chance at stopping the Blackhawks offense.
After a brief stay in the Windy City, Colorado travels to Calgary for a Northwest Division matchup with the Flames. Calgary is off to a 1-2 start but defeated the Canadiens in Montreal.
The only player that Colorado will have to worry about is Jerome Iginla. Besides him, the team isn't very impressive. They have been relatively good on the power play but the Colorado penalty kill has only allowed one goal this season (92.9%).
Milan Hedjuk needs to take advantage of Miikka Kiprusoff's weak goaltending. Kirprusoff did have an impressive win in the Montreal game but there shouldn't be a reoccurring theme this year. He did let four goals by him against the Crosby-less Pittsburgh Penguins.
Their win came across Pittsburgh in a shootout but their loss also came in a shootout against the Minnesota Wild. The Avalanche should be happy to play against former teammate Ryan Smyth, who has one of the two goals scored for the Oilers this season.
The problem with Smyth is that he has been in the penalty box a ton this year, 17 minutes in just two games. Hopefully the Colorado power play can take advantage of these opportunities.
The final game in October will be played at home against Jonathan Quick and the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are projected to do very well this season in the Western Conference but have had some trouble against the Eastern Conference teams thus far.
They defeated the New York Rangers in overtime but then suffered back-to-back losses to the Sabres and the Devils. Anze Kopitar leads the team in points (5) and goals (3) but the defense should be able to handle the pressure.
The Avalanche offense needs to put a lot of shots on net since Quick can have a shutout on any day of the week.
There is no doubt that Colorado has had a great first four games but these next seven will be a challenge. They have been on the road for the past two games and won't return home until next Thursday.
There hasn't been a captain named yet, but one could be named soon if someone can step up through the rest of the October schedule.
If Colorado can win four of these games, it will be a huge accomplishment. Come November, the Colorado Avalanche could still own one of the best records in the Western Conference.
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