Monday, November 21, 2011

On Being Realistic versus Optimistic


The Avs have lost four of their last five, and they are 2-7-1 in their last ten. Their six regulation wins is tied for fourth worst in the league, and the six points they've earned in ten home games is the worst mark in the NHL.

The optimist in me is screaming to stay the course - things will get better when Matt Duchene and Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson really get going.

The realist in me says otherwise.

Back when the Avs were a league powerhouse (don't those days seem like so long ago?), Colorado could never really be counted out of a game. There was too much star power up front and too much consistency on the back end to simply assume that being down one or two goals would cause the team to fold.

But now, in the Post-Sakic era, there is a whole generation of Avalanche fans who have never known this team to be anything but mediocre.

Think about. A kid born in July 2001 has never seen an Avalanche Stanley Cup. Let's go out on a limb, and say that the kid didn't really start following hockey until around 2007-08. Consider what he (or she!) has been through:

Starting with 07-08: Cool, the Avs made the playoffs. The very next season? Crap, the Avs finish third-to-last. But hey, they get to draft Matt Duchene who will turn the franchise around. Sakic retires. Uh-oh. But the Avs make the playoffs! There's something brewing here! Wait, now they're second-to-last? Whatever, at least Gabriel Landeskog will make things better.

Which brings us, Avalanche fans, to the present day.

In the Post-Sakic era (aka the "Matt Duchene Era), the Avalanche has been an inconsistent and relatively disappointing club. The model has been set. Start the season hot, simmer down in November and December, collapse after January. That has become the culture. There is no Peter Forsberg to carry the team on his back. There is no Joe Sakic to score that game winning goal. No doubt, Duchene is a supreme talent, and his past couple goals have been nothing short of extraordinary, but he's not at the point where he can go out and dominate a game. If he is, he hasn't shown it on a night-by-night basis.

As fans, we want to be optimistic. We see the promise of Duchene and Stastny and O'Reilly and Jones and Landeskog. We see the ability of Hejduk and Johnson and Varlamov, and we believe, in theory, that the team should be set to, at the very least, make a run to the playoffs.

But the reality is very different. On a game-by-game basis, these players do not perform as we hope. There are too many nights when they are all invisible. There are too many nights when Johnson turns the puck over or Jones doesn't score or Stastny doesn't rack up assists. The Avalanche are averaging 2.5 goals per game in the month of November. Take away a 7-6 loss to Dallas, and that number drops to 2.1.

We're getting to the point in the season where a team's record indicates what they are. Teams that got off to bad starts (Detroit, Vancouver, Boston) are starting to play well and making moves to get into top playoff contention. Other teams (Colorado) are quickly fading and already starting to lose ground in the race for eighth.

Again, when I watch games and the other teams scores first, I always believe that the Avs will tie it up and go on to win. It's the result of being a die-hard fan. I want to be optimistic, and I don't want to give up on a game just because of a goal in the first ten minutes.

Slowly, it's becoming harder and harder to maintain that facade.

Colorado has reached a critical point in its season. As a group, they can either decide to turn things around right now, or they can continue to make Washington fans very, very happy.

The optimist in me says that the losing is going to stop, and the Avs will somehow find a way to pull things together and get back to where they were in October.

The realist isn't so sure.

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