Tonight marks the start of a pivotal three-game road trip for the Colorado Avalanche as they visit Calgary to play the Flames before facing the Oil tomorrow night and Vancouver on Friday. They'll be looking for a little redemption on the last leg, coming off an 8-2 loss at the hands of the Canucks.
We're nearing the end of the first quarter of the season and if this were Mr. Johnson's Hockey 101, I'm afraid I'd have to give the Avalanche an A+. This team has achieved more in the early portion of the season than most anyone—including myself—could have expected.
They've gotten timely and productive help from young and unheralded guys, which has helped the big names settle into a productive routine. Stastny, Wolski, Hejduk and Svatos have been able to play within themselves much more efficiently this season because they're not being forced to carry the torch as they were last year.
One of the reasons for that is because of what the young guys have done.
Ryan O'Reilly is looking like he's one of the biggest steals of the draft so far this season. He has 15 points in 20 games. Kyle Quincey has been one of the Avs' most consistent and productive players to date, with 12 points in 20 games.
Matt Duchene, on the other hand, has struggled a little bit to adapt to the NHL game. It's easy to see that and it's easy to point the finger. But we are only 20 games in to an 82-game season and he does have seven points.
Duchene has time. He is still learning and, with his talent and skill, there's no reason to think he won't be able to make the changes necessary to be more productive through the rest of the season.
The other reason for Colorado's success? The play of Craig Anderson. In 19 starts, the guy has 11 wins, five losses and three OT losses. He is carrying a stout 2.42 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage. Those rank him ahead of a lot of big names including Luongo, Turco and old foe Miika Kiprusoff.
If you look at the numbers today and average them out over the season, the Avs would end up with a record of 50-24-8. That equates to 100-plus points, which is excellent and more than qualifies them for the playoffs.
Am I saying that's what it'll be after Game 82? No. Not at all. All I'm saying is that what's gone on of late should be taken with a grain of salt. It's a blip on the screen of the entire NHL season.
Sure they've looked beatable and have taken some tough losses. But the season is young and anything can happen. They have time.
Health is of the utmost importance. To this point, the Avs have really only lost 12 man-games to their top 10 scorers. If they can maintain that, they should be fine moving forward.
If the Avs can come away with two wins on this road swing, they will have more than helped themselves. Can they do it? I believe they can.
Tuesday in Calgary they have to make sure they match the physical pace of the game that Calgary is going to bring. They also have to do what they can to minimize the "Iginla Effect" and get the puck deep in scoring zones early and often against Calgary's underachieving defense.
It's the same story for Wednesday's game in Edmonton. In Friday's against Luongo and the Canucks, they have to show up and get a win. If for no other reason than pride. The thrashing they received at the hands of the Canucks didn't sit well with anyone in that locker room. I know. And I'd not be surprised to see a highly motivated Avalanche team on Friday night get a win.
That said, if the Avalanche come away with a couple of losses on this road trip, they have time. They have time to rectify the problems that exist and time to make the necessary adjustments to be successful moving forward. And as we all know, it's much easier to work when time's on your side.