Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Foote Signs One Year Deal

The Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club announced today that the team has signed captain Adam Foote to a one-year contract for the upcoming 2010-11 season.

“Adam’s veteran leadership has been and will continue to be a big part of our success,” said Avalanche General Manager/Executive Vice President Greg Sherman. “He provided stability last season and set an example for our young players right from the start of training camp. We are pleased to have our captain back for another year.”

It was clear that Foote had lost a step or two last season, but even though he may not be a top 2 or even 3 or 4 guy anymore, the intangibles and toughness he brings would have been missed in the Avalanche locker room had he retired.

The Avs need to get younger and faster on D, and hopefully Foote's signing means that Avalanche fans will be spared another year of Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Flyers-Canadiens Eastern Conference Finals Digression



I think it's important to take a step back each season after the Avs are officially done. It allows you, as a fan, to enjoy the playoffs without worrying about upcoming free agents or projected draft picks.

The semi-finals are over and the NHL is set for two Conference Finals which promise to make for a David versus Goliath Stanley Cup no matter who the winners are.

In the West, the #1 San Jose Sharks will do battle with the #2 Chicago Blackhawks.
Based on the success the West has had against the East this year, it is very likely that Chicago and San Jose are playing a seven game series for the Cup.

Of course, games aren't played on paper as evidenced by the Eastern Conference Finals:

Defying the Odds

The Philadelphia Flyers just completed a historic comeback against the Boston Bruins. They have become the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit to advance. Not only did they come back from what appeared to be an insurmountable series lead, they also came back in Game 7 after the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

Slowly and surely, the Flyers crept back into the game and their apparent destiny was fulfilled when Simon Gagne scored on the power play with a little over six minutes left in the third.

The #7 Flyers will (unbelievably) have home ice advantage when they take on the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens. The Habs have knocked off the two top contenders in the East by taking care of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. On the back of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, the Canadiens silenced the NHL's two best players, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and have become Canada's last hope at bringing the Cup back to America's Hat.

Previewing...Philadelphia

Key Players: Michael Leighton (G), Chris Pronger (D), Mike Richards (F), Daniel Briere (F), Claude Giroux (F), Simon Gagne (F)

Playoff Record: 4-1 over Devils, 4-3 over Bruins

Blog to Follow: Broad Street Hockey

If there were ever a team that seemed destined to win, it's the Flyers. They've already dealt with injuries to Gagne, Jeff Carter, and Ian Laperriere. They were able to get by mostly because of the stellar goaltending of the biggest "never-will-be" player ever, Brian Boucher. After Boucher went down in Game 5, Michael Leighton was called on in his first game back from a high ankle sprain to step up and take care of business. He allowed one measly goal in Game 6 and was brilliant after the first period in Game 7. Leighton had never started a playoff game prior to this series - can he get the job done?

The Flyers' arena, the Wachovia Center, is home to some of the most ridiculous fans in sports. I have first hand knowledge of how loud it can be during the playoffs and how intense the fans in Philadelphia really are. Of course, I would be amiss if I didn't point out that MANY Flyer "fans" who are suddenly sprouting from the ground are, at this point, bandwagon fans. Don't get me wrong, the majority of the 20,000+ fans at the Center are die-heard, somewhat knowledgable and partially blind hockey fans. But a lot of support coming from Philadelphia will be from Eagle Fans who became Phillie fans who are becoming Flyer fans. Still, a loud and hostile arena will help the Flyers in a Game 7. Ask the 2001 Avs about the necessity of playing at home when it matters most.

Energy wise, the Flyers may be wearing thin. Fighting back from three games down is going to take its toll and Game 1 is set for Sunday with Game 2 following quickly on Tuesday night. A split in Philly gives home ice right back to the Canadiens, so the Flyers will have to muster whatever they have left and come out strong in both games.

Offensively, the Flyers are being lead by Mike Richards (12 assists, 17 points) and Daniel Briere (7 goals, 15 points). They HAVE to be better on faceoffs. Of their top five faceoff men, Blair Betts sits at 55% followed by Briere at 52%. Richards, who has taken almost 100 more faceoffs than any other players, sits below 50%. This statistic almost cost the Flyers tonight and against a potent Montreal power play, it will be key that the Flyers work on their draws.

The special teams have not been a problem for the Flyers. Their power play has been successful 21.7% of the time, best of all the playoff teams remaining. The penalty kill has worked 83.6% of the time, but this ranks behind San Jose, Chicago, and Montreal. Shockingly, the Flyers have not yet taken a major penalty.

Despite their unbelievable comeback, the Flyers are not the NHL's major underdog this year. That distinction belongs to...

Previewing...Montreal

Key Players: Jaroslav Halak (G), PK Subban (D), Michael Cammalleri (F), Brian Gionta (F), Tomas Plekanek (F)

Playoff Record: 4-3 over Washington, 4-3 over Pittsburgh

Blog to Follow: Habs Eyes On The Prize

With a .727 points percentage after the Olympic break, the Canadiens still BARELY made the playoffs. They managed to squeak in, but they were supposed to be nothing else than first round meat for the Capitals to warm up with. Woops. Ovechkin vanquished.

Whatever - with all the top teams out except the Penguins, Pittsburgh would certainly take care of business, especially after going up 3-2 in the series. Wait, the Canadiens held a little comeback of their own and officially closed Mellon Arena to Penguin fans?

Damn right. The thing that pisses me off about Montreal's run, however, is that this is what could have happened if the Avalanche had won Game 4 against San Jose.

But I digress.
The Habs will be on the road Sunday and Tuesday, and it only takes one win to swing home ice advantage back to the Bell Centre. For Flyer fans, this will be the loudest arena they have seen all playoffs. The Canadien fans will undoubtedly match the Flyer fans in terms of loudness, intensity, absurdity, and sheer annoyance.
Montreal success this postseason boils down to two names: Jaroslav Halak and Michael Cammalleri. Halak has faced more shots than any other goaltender in the first two rounds (450) and still boasts an incredible .933 sv%. That's almost unfathomable. (By comparison, Rask had faced the next most at 409 - and Halak still made 47 more saves - but after that, the third most shots faced was a paltry 389 by Jimmy Howard.) Halak's sv% is tops by a longshot and his GAA is only rivaled by Brian Boucher.

Ken Campbell just had an article in The Hockey News about how overrated the "hot goalie" in the playoffs is. Campbell makes some good points, but there is no denying that the Habs wouldn't have even come close to beating the Caps without the stellar play of their goaltender.
Cammalleri has taken care of things in the offensive zone. He played just 56 games in the regular season (25 goals, 48 points) but has more than made up for his missed time. In fourteen playoffs games, he has 12 goals and 18 points, good for third overall among all playoff scorers. Even more impressive are his three game-winning goals. Did I mention a shooting percentage of 25%?
The Habs are an extremely small team and could be dwarfed by the Flyers' rough style. Gionta, Cammalleri, and Scott Gomez will need to find room in the offensive zone.

Special teams are key to Montreal's game. Almost a quarter of their offense has come on the powerplay. They are pretty much dead-even with the Flyers in terms of PP% (21.7%) and their penalty kill is only slightly better (85.5%).

The Habs allow an average of 37 shots a game, but amazingly, Montreal's winning percentage when being outshot is .727.

Also, PK Subban is the man.

Prediction

It's not a stretch to say that absolutely NO ONE predicted this matchup. Both teams are backed by huge, passionate fan bases that would love nothing more than to burn a few cars after a victory. Like most playoff series, this one will come down to goaltending and special teams.

In a battle of Halak and Leighton, I have to give the edge to Halak. The experience factor is moot, but Halak is having one of those postseasons reminiscent of a 2006 Cam Ward, a 2003 JS Giguere, and a 1993 Patrick Roy.

Special teams have been a push thus far, but the Canadiens have already gone against the league's two premier offensive dynamos.

With everything taken into account, I am predicting the Stanley Cup runner-ups to be the...


Montreal Canadiens
in 6.

Series Schedule

Game 1: Sunday, 5/16 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 2: Tuesday, 5/18 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 3: Thursday, 5/20 @Montreal - 7 ET
Game 4: Saturday, 5/22 @ Montreal - 3 ET
Game 5*: Monday, 5/24 @ Philadelphia - 7 ET
Game 6*: Wednesday, 5/26 @Montreal - 7 ET
Game 7*: Friday, 5/28 @Philadelphia - 7 ET
* - If necessary

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Season Reflections

It's been almost a week since the Avs lost to the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals. Now faced with another month and a half of Av-less hockey, it's time for me to get all my thoughts on the 2009-10 season down on paper (blog).

I can safely say that this will go down as one of my favorite Avalanche seasons. It started off with a trip to Denver to see Joe Sakic Night, an event that I will never forget and registers as my favorite live sporting moment of all time. On that night, the Avs beat the Sharks and for most fans, it felt good to know that this team of unknowns wasn't going to go 0-82.

Then they started winning - and winning easily. They got off to a 10-1 start and were top of the Western Conference. Though they started to slowly come back to Earth, they never crashed, proving countless "experts" wrong.

Through February, Colorado had a decent chance for a Northwest Division title, but some disastrous third periods prevented that from happening. Instead, the Avs sputtered down the stretch but managed to hold onto the 8th seed in the West.

They lost to the Sharks. Season over.

I skipped some things along the way.

Surprises

I, like many Avalanche fans, was shocked that Ryan O'Reilly was on the opening night roster. I figured he'd be sent down before the 10th game and that would be that. "Radar" or "The Factor" played in the 10th game, however, and settled in quite nicely to the third line center role for the entire season. O'Reilly was the best rookie in the league the first part of the season, and though his scoring dried up in the latter part of the season, his defensive play (especially his work on the penalty kill) more than made up for it. The Avalanche hadn't had a true third line center since Stephane Yelle left so many years ago. That problem has been fixed.

I could pretty much just go down the roster listing the surprising performances put in over the course of the year. Here are four more:

TJ Galiardi went from fourth line center to first line left winger/penalty killer and became a semi-legend in the playoffs. Gali is the ultimate flex-player, giving the Avs great versatility moving forward.
Brandon Yip was on a torrid goal scoring pace after being placed on the roster for a few games. He saw limited ice time early on, but Coach Joe Sacco recognized the effort he put into every shift. Yip became a go-to type player and will likely be a 2nd or 3rd line winger next year.
Matt Hendricks, aka "The 1-5" by Denver Radio commentator Mark Mosher, consistently put more effort into one shift than Tyler Arnason did in all his time with the Avalanche.
Coach Joe Sacco was supposed to be a transition coach. In other words, he was supposed to get through the next year or two and give Patrick Roy the reigns whenever Roy was good and ready. No longer the case. Sacco is now a Jack Adams candidate and deservedly so. He took a team full of rookies and managed to make them completely buy into his system. The up-tempo offense displayed by this Avalanche roster is exactly what was promised by Granato and Quenneville, but never delivered.

The Non-Goalie MVP

Chris Stewart - Kid was sent down mid-season because he did nothing on the ice. Can you say BUST? Oh, sorry..he was just biding his time. Apparently, getting sent down to Lake Erie for a couple games has the ability to completely transform a player's game. Due to some injuries, Stewie was given another chance on the Avalanche squad and became the leading goal scorer with 28 for the season. Stewart was dominant at times, using his speed and strength to punish defenders.

The Kid

Matt Duchene took over the role of most exciting player in his first year as a pro. Dutchy didn't really get it going until mid-season, but if posts counted as goals, Duchene would have scored 50 this year. Avalanche fans should find it ironic that he seemed to start producing after a game against Tampa Bay, home of Steven Stamkos whose rookie season basically mirrored Duchene's.

Did I forget anyone?

CRAIG ANDERSON

Words can't describe this man's awesomeness. We've been waiting for over 6 years to find a goalie that could backstop an Avalanche team. We've suffered through Aebischer, Theodore, Budaj, Raycroft, Kolesnik, and whoever else I'm failing to or not caring enough to remember. ANDERSON IS THE GUY. Not only does he know how to give one hell of an interview, Andy is a workhorse. He started 68 games this season and was still fantastic against the Sharks in the first round. He's the reason why the Avalanche were able to win games this season. Andy is the 2009-10 MVP. ANDY, ANDY, ANDY.

Video Fix Galore

Coming up this weekend, the best Avalanche moments of the year compiled in video format.


What a season. There are going to be plenty of good years ahead for this squad. After last year's horror, the 09-10 season was a joy to be apart of.
Go Avs.

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