Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cautious Optimism

In my last post, oh so long ago, I wrote about the interesting dichotomy we face as fans about being optimistic about our team's chances versus the need to be realistic about who that team actually is at this point in the season. I ended the post with this:
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.
Three wins later, including a really solid 60-minute effort against the Detroit Red Wings [presented by Amway] tonight, there are certainly reasons for Avalanche fans to start feeling some hope that this team is back on track and ready to turn this season into something memorable.

Those reasons start first and foremost with "The Factor," Ryan O'Reilly. The 20-year-old kid who many thought would be named captain a week ago started centering the newly formed second line during this eight-game stretch at home consisting of Gabriel Landeskog and Milan Hejduk. The trio has been tremendous, with O'Reilly leading the way. Over the last five games, he has four goals and five assists, and he has been named the first star for two games in a row. He basically took over during the third period against the Blues on Friday night, and he helped decide that game in the shootout.

But it hasn't only been O'Reilly making fans smile lately. Semyon Varlamov had some rough goings in November, and a lot of the Colorado faithful began to wonder if there was going to be a goaltender controversy on the horizon. Though J.S. Giguere still might see some increased time due to his stellar play, There shouldn't be a question that "Varly" is still #1. Since he gave up six goals to Pittsburgh on November 15th, Varlamov's GA line reads as follows: 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2. His lowest save percentage in that span was .929, and he stopped over 30 shots three times.

Finally, big time shout out to rookie defenseman Stefan Elliott. No, he hasn't been perfect. Yes, he made some bad mistakes tonight and saw little ice time due to the Avs rolling seven defenseman, but in his first five NHL games, he has made a big impact. In his debut against the Oilers on November 26th, Elliott scored the game winning goal with one of his nasty wrist shots. The offensively inclined blueliner followed that up with an assist on the 28th against Dallas, and yet another goal against the Devils on the 30th. In his fourth game, Elliott played a (short) career high 22:11 and more than held his own against the red hot St. Louis Blues. With Erik Johnson's return, Joe Sacco will have a tough decision to make about whether or not to keep Elliott in the lineup. But as Sacco has said, if he sits, it won't be for long.

The Avs went 5-3 during their franchise long 8-game homestand, and they now sit in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race with 27 points. A .500 record in tow and a big matchup coming up against the Canucks on Tuesday night, there is more than one reason to be cautiously optimistic about how this season will play out.

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