Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Duchene's Slow Start: No Need To Worry


Arguably Colorado's most talented player, Matt Duchene hasn't exactly gotten off to a stellar start this season. In six games, Duchene has just one goal, two assists, and only eleven shots on goal. He ranks tenth on the team in ice time and just sixth among forwards.

Duchene's stats look even worse when compared to those of John Tavares (five goals, three assists in four games), a player whose career has paralleled Duchene's since the two were drafted as the #1 and #3 selections in the 2009 draft.

Should Avalanche fans be worried?

The answer: Not at all.

Even though fans may not approve, Duchene is a notoriously slow starter, and his NHL career is evidence of that fact.

Fans may remember his rookie year in 2009, when it took Duchene seemingly FOREVER to get that first goal. He had just three assists through the first seven games before tallying his first goal in the eighth against the Detroit Red Wings (presented by Amway). Still, Duchene continued to struggle and had just two assists in the next five games after. Then, after scoring a goal on October 30th (his second), Duchene was pointless until November 18th, a span of seven games. Overall, he had just seven points in his first 21 games. Finally, Duchene began to take off. He tallied seven goals and five assists over the next eleven games and his campaign for a Calder nomination was finally launched. Dutchy finished the year with 24 goals and 31 assists in 81 games, leading all rookies in scoring and was third in Calder Trophy voting behind Tyler Myers and (gag) Jimmy Howard. Despite the slow start, Duchene still managed to impress in his rookie season.

Being a year older and more experienced didn't help in 2010. After scoring and assisting on a goal against the Blackhawks to open the season, #9 wound up with just one goal and four assists in the first seven games. For the next thirteen games, Dutchy found a way to pick up assists (ten), but he scored just two goals. Keep in mind that this stretch took place from October 23rd to November 20th. That's a long time for a top line/second line forward not to score. True to form, however, Duchene once again shifted into a new gear. He tallied ten goals in the next twelve games, and even though the Avalanche season turned out to be dreadful, the Dutch managed to improve on his rookie totals by compiling 27 goals and 40 assists in 80 games. He improved his shot total by 22 (from 180 to 202) and recorded eleven more even strength points than the year before. Overall, many considered this to be a successful second year for the '08 #3 pick.

A quick look at Duchene's starts in the OHL also support the idea that he isn't the greatest early season performer.
In 2008-09, the Haliburton, Ontario native put up 10 points (6g/4a) in his first 11 games with the Brampton Battalion. Not bad numbers by any account, but when you consider he ended up averaging nearly 1.4 points-per-game on the season, you can see how those stats weren’t up to his personal standard.

An even better example may be the 2007-08 season, his first in the OHL. That year, Duchene totaled 10 points (6g/4a) in his first 20 games before finding his groove and netting 40 points in his last 44 contests after adjusting to playing in the OHL.
So here's an early season message to Avalanche fans:

Don't worry too much about Matt Duchene's somewhat lackluster play. The kid is entering the prime of his career, and the points will start to come soon enough (Although, based on history, probably not until sometime around mid-November).

Yes, there's going to come a time when Duchene is expected to perform for a full 82 games. The Avs have gotten off to hot starts the last few seasons, but things aren't always going to turn out that way. In years when the Avalanche struggle at the start of the season, fingers will be pointed at Duchene and his ultimate performance on the ice. He'll need to contribute early and often.

That time hasn't come yet. The Avs are winning, the team has three solid lines, and for now, Duchene can wait a little longer to start going on a tear.

But hopefully he can break free a little earlier next time around.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

ANDY, ANDY, ANDY, ANDY, ANDY, ANDY, ANDY - Yeah, That's Seven

One of the few saves made by Craig Anderson in Colorado's 7-1 decimation of the Senators (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)

The Avs just got done dismantling former netminder, Craig Anderson, and the Ottawa Senators.

The numbers speak for themselves:

-39-16 shot advantage for the Avalanche, including an 18-4 first period

-4/6 on the power play

-Four third period goals

Looking back, this game could have gone in a completely different direction. The Senators scored just four minutes into the game (on the power play and on their first shot) and if this Avalanche team came close to resembling last year's, that might have been all the inspiration Colorado needed to pack it in for the night. Instead, the Avs capitalized on a power play of their own just three minutes later. From that point forward, they owned the night. They didn't let the Senators gain any momentum, and they put together a full sixty minute effort. Beautiful.

The goal scorers for tonight:

Milan Hejduk (PP)
Gabriel Landeskog (Second career goal, second straight game)
Joakim Lindstrom (Two goals in first career game)
Matt Duchene (First of the season)
Daniel Winnik (First of the season)
David Jones (First of the season)

Ryan O'Reily also added three assists, while Erik Johnson and Ryan Wilson each had two of their own.

Overall, this was an important game for the Avs, even though it only counts as two points. Thus far, the team had been struggling to score. Now that a lot of key players picked up their first points of the year (especially Duchene and Stastny), the offense should start coming a lot easier.

It's also worthy to note that Peter Mueller was a healthy scratch tonight. It's going to be hard to take Lindstrom out of the lineup after his performance, so it should be interesting to see who Sacco chooses to sit. (Perhaps TJ Galiardi? He was promoted to the Stastny line in place of David Jones, but Gali put up straight zeroes on the board tonight and played a team low 10:14.)

In Retrospect

It was a fun game to watch. Still, it's only one game. Let's see if they can continue this streak against the Habs.

Three Avalanche Stars

1. Joakim Lindstrom (Two goals and five shots in NHL debut)
2. Gabriel Landeskog (GWG, one assist, three shots, living up to the early hype)
3. The Avalanche Team (Let's see more!)

Next Up

Montreal. Saturday. 7PM ET.

Video Fix

Here's Ryan Wilson sticking up for Gabriel Landeskog:

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Avs/Jackets Video Recap

Due to ill-timed working hours (7-10) and a lack of internet, I was unable to fully take in the joy that was last night's 3-2 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. I expect that some of you feel the same way.

Courtesy of several sources, here's a compilation of what you missed:

A full recap from Altitude, including Marc Moser's awesome calls

A game summary from the boys at NHL.com

A video of Gabriel Landeskog's first NHL goal, which tied the game with just 41 seconds remaining:


And finally, the shootout that decided everything:


The Avs are back at it tonight against Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators.

Go Avs

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Paul MacLean Doesn't Want Andy to Quit


It's obviously a ridiculously small sample size, but Anderson (after signing a 4-year, 12.75 million dollar deal in the offseason) is 1-2 on the year with an .867 SV% and a 4.36 GAA. He was yanked after forty minutes against the Maple Leafs last Friday, and he has yet to let up fewer than three goals this season.

Of course, all of this combined with the dreaded "curse of the former Avs" means that it's a sure thing that Andy shuts down the Avalanche on Thursday night.

h/t to The Avalanche Guild 's twitter for the link.

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Monday, October 10, 2011

DEFENSE. Avs Shutout Bruins

The monster was toppled

These were the kind of games that the Avalanche always managed to last season. Tied 0-0 well into the third period, the game became one of "first goal wins." Thankfully, that goal was Milan Hejduk's, as the Colorado veteran trickled one through Tuukka Rask's five-hole to put the Avs ahead at 7:57 of the third period. Hejduk's goal ended up being the only goal thanks to a superb effort by Semyon Varlamov who stopped all 30 shots he faced en route to a 1-0 shutout victory.

Some thoughts:

The Avs are harder to play against. Nothing illustrated this better than when Ryan O'Byrne FLATTENED Bruins giant, Zdeno Chara, in the first period. There's been a drastic improvement in defensive zone coverage from last season; namely, teams are no longer able to enter the zone and get set up. The Avs are holding strong at the blueline, getting their sticks into the passing lanes, and winning the physical battles along the boards. It's great to see.

Jay McClement will continue to be the whipping boy for this blog until he proves himself to be an asset to this club. McClement's role is to win faceoffs and kill penalties. He was 2/7 on draws today (the Avs as a whole were dominated in the circle), including two losses in the defensive zone as the third period was winding down. Not a great start to the season.

Altitude mentioned it, but check out the balance on the Avalanche roster. No forward played more than 18:23 (O'Reilly) and three defensemen played 22+ (Johnson, Hejda, Quincey). Keeping guys fresh will really help when it comes to playing a strong 60-minute game.

Only 14 minutes of ice time for Matt Duchene, who tallied his first point of the season on Hejduk's goal.

Gabriel Landeskog added five more shots today, matching the five he had on Saturday night against Amway. His line (O'Reilly, Winnik) continue to be one of Colorado's best so far.

Cody McLeod was the third alternate captain today. He had NINE hits!

Every Av had a shot except for O'Bryne and O'Brien. O'No!

Finally, what is there to say about Semyon Varlamov? He looked (obviously) thrilled after the game when he took his mask off to let teammates congratulate him. The Bruins have several great chances and a few odd-man rushes where a goal seemed inevitable. Varlamov shut the door.

Video Fix

Check out Varlamov's awesome blocker save on Milan Lucic late in the third:


In Retrospect

This was a huge start to the five-game road trip. The Avs defeated the defending Cup champs and out-worked one of the hardest working clubs in the league. They continued to be solid in their own end, and they have to be happy with the play of their newest goaltender.

Three Avalanche Stars

1. Semyon Varlamov (For the second game in a row, Varly takes the cake)
2. Milan Hejduk (Only 19 more goals for his 12th straight 20-goal season)
3. Daniel Winnik (Involved offensively, did a nice job in his own end, too)

Next Up

Columbus. Wed 10/12. 5PM ET.

Go Avs

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Avs Lose Opener; #21 is Raised to the Rafters

Michael Martin/NHLI/Getty Images

Peter Forsberg's #21 became the retired number in Avalanche history last night, as it was raised to the Pepsi Center rafters in an emotional pre-game ceremony.



It was a great ceremony (especially the beginning, when Forsberg entered by shaking hands with some of the fans in the crowd and then taking a lap around the ice on the red carpet) and a satisfying goodbye to one of the most beloved Avs ever.

Colorado also took a moment right before the opening faceoff to honor Wade Belak, Ruslan Salei, and Karlis Skrastins, the three Avs that were lost this past summer.


The team also announced that they will wear a decal in remembrance on their helmets during the season.

As for the actual hockey game - the first meaningful one in over five months - it got off to a pretty good start, with the Avs taking a 7-2 advantage in shots on goal. But by now you know the story. The Avs lost 3-0 and were outshot 39-29.

Some observations:

Semyon Varlamov had a very strong debut. He stopped 36 of 38 shots and really displayed his athleticism. Both shots that beat him were wicked slapshots that came on odd-man rushes. Keep in mind that the goal scorers (Franzen, Zetterberg) aren't exactly slouches, either. Varly is going to be a great goaltender if he can stay healthy. For once, Avalanche fans weren't cringing every time a shot got through.

Jay McClement turnover at the Detroit blueline led to the odd-man rush that led to the first Detroit goal. McClement has to be better, as there are plenty of players vying to take his spot. On a positive note, he was 7/9 on faceoffs, and that's a stat that shouldn't be taken for granted. (It was nice to see that the Avalanche dominated the faceoff circle. Duchene was 10/14, O'Reilly was 8/12, and Stastny was 8/16)

Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda were the only Avs to play over 20 minutes. Johnson was a bit shaky, and he made some turnovers which didn't look good coming from the franchise defensman. Hejda, on the other hand, proved to be rock solid in the defensive zone. He may have slightly misplayed a 3-on-2 on the second Detroit goal, but overall he was very impressive. It was also nice to see Hejda put pucks to the net. Though he was only credited with one shot, there was more than one occasion that Hejda let shots go from the point.

Gabriel Landeskog's debut saw the rookie pocket five shots and just over sixteen minutes of ice time. Landeskog also saw time on the power play and penalty kill. The rookie looked comfortable and drove the net at every opportunity. He did make one egregious turnover in the defensive zone, but I think Avalanche fans have a lot to be happy about from the #2 pick.

Loved seeing Ryan O'Reilly more active in the offensive zone. He's going to score 20+ goals this year.

Peter Mueller just missed scoring his first goal in a long while. He's another guy in for a big year.

I really liked Shane O'Brien. He didn't play a perfect game, but he was physical throughout and was pretty quick to jump into the play when necessary.

Wasn't it nice to see the Avalanche not be pushed around for a change? The defense was physical and made the Red Wings pay for going to the front of net.

Penalties really killed Colorado's offensive flow. Three penalties in the first period contributed to the Red Wings taking control of the game. Still, the penalty kill was a perfect 4 for 4.

The power play was anemic. That's going to have to change for this team to be successful.

In Retrospect

Losing 3-0 (especially to the Wings on opening night) is never fun. Avalanche fans need to keep in mind that this was only one game on a long journey to what is hopefully a postseason run. If anything, fans should be encouraged that it was the offense that sputtered in this one. The goals will come, and if the defense plays well in front of Varlamov, perhaps Colorado will see some hockey in mid-April.

Three Avalanche Stars

1. Semyon Varlamov (Kept the team in the game, no soft goals)
2. Jan Hejda (Felt really comfortable when he had the puck, good decision making)
3. Gabriel Landeskog (Not flashy, but he's going to score a lot of dirty goals)

Next Up

Boston. Tomorrow. Freaking 1 PM ET.


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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kyle Cumiskey Traded

It's the first intermission of the Avalanche's home opener against the Red Wings. I'll put up a ton of videos from around the Internet over the next few days that will highlight Peter Forsberg night, and there will be a recap of the game tomorrow.

But Bob McKenzie's Twitter has reported that the Avs have traded defenseman Kyle Cumiskey to the Anaheim Ducks for Jake Newton and a 7th round pick.

Newton is an undrafted defenseman and is 6-3, 200 pounds, proving that the Avalanche defense CAN get bigger.

In other news, Kyle Cumiskey will get his first career hat trick when the Ducks play the Avs on December 31st.

Favorite Cumiskey Moment:

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thoughts on a New Season [2011-12]

Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America

That was the longest offseason ever.

When we last saw the Avs, David Jones scored his 27th goal of the season to defeat Edmonton in an OT thriller. Adam Foote bid farewell to the near-capacity crowd at Pepsi Center, and Peter Budaj secured a win in what turned out to be his last game in an Avalanche sweater. The win capped off a 30-44-8 season, good enough for 29th in the NHL and the right to draft Gabriel Landeskog.

Hey, at least the Avs have a chance to continue their winning streak when they take on the Detroit Red Things on Saturday night at the Pepsi Center. The home/season opener will also consist of a tribute to Wade Belak, Karlis Skrastins and Ruslan Salei, three former Avs who were tragically lost this past summer. There will also be a celebration for Peter Forsberg, who will become the fourth Av to have his number retired.

The last time Colorado retired a number, they came out and shocked the hockey world by defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-2, en route to a surprising playoff berth. I expect the same to happen after #21 is raised to the rafters. The Avs will win the opener by a score of 5-2.

Here are some other thoughts for the 2011-12 NHL season:

-The Avalanche will begin the season without a captain for the first time in team history. But only because they're afraid Ol' Man Stastny will cry when Paul isn't the choice.

-Chuck Kobasew is the new second line left winger. That experiment will last for 10 games, when Chuck Kobasew becomes your fourth line left winger.

-Gabriel Landeskog will not win the Calder because the favorite never wins the Calder. Oh, he's not the favorite? It's his to lose, then.

-Avs I'm most excited to watch: Landeskog, Mueller, O'Reilly, Johnson, Hejda, Elliott. Of course, last year I put Brandon Yip in this category.

-Colorado will start strong (as usual), begin to fade (as usual), but then (for a change) they will level out and play consistently (instead of tanking).

-Tyson Barrie, Stefan Elliott and Brad Malone will all get called up and stay up with the big league club.

-Kevin Porter, Brandon Yip, Kyle Cumiskey, and Matt Hunwick will not stick around past midseason.

-Semyon Varlamov will start 59 games, JS Giguere will start 22, and Joe Sacco will go with an empty net when they both somehow find their way into his doghouse.

-Props to the new and improved Avalanche twitter feed for in-game updates and practice reports. The Avalanche's media relations as a whole have improved drastically this summer.

-Washington will not get a chance to pick in the Top 5, as the Avalanche will make the playoffs. Eighth seed, baby!

-Western Conference Playoff Teams: Vancouver, Colorado, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago.

-I know, really creative. St. Louis and Dallas are the teams most likely to usurp one of the above.

-The team most likely to be usurped? Crap.

-But Dallas is going to have a tough time replacing Brad Richards' production. I don't see them having a very successful year.

-I can't see Phoenix at all.

-Rick Nash is not going to score 50 goals just because Jeff Carter is his center.

-Jeff Carter is going to score 50 goals because Rick Nash is his winger.

-Eastern Conference Playoff Teams: Boston, Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Washington, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, New York...Islanders? (Sorry, Dani)

-I'll get ripped on for taking the Isles over the Rangers or Hurricanes, but there is some really impressive firepower on the Island. This could be the year they finally break through.

-You know who won't be breaking through? The Flyers. But only because Chris Pronger won't be 100% for the playoffs.

-Evgeni Malkin may score 100 points this season. Sidney Crosby may still outscore him - even if he's not back until November.

-Boston will finish 3rd in its division, 7th in the conference, and fall to the Capitals in the first round. Stanley Cup hangover.

-Winnipeg will win its first game at home...and then lose the next five.

-The Winter Classic will again be the most watched one yet. Of course, that's until the NHL announces that Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are scheduled to play in 2013, much to the dismay of the 49 other states. (NHL: "What other states?")

-Award Predictions: The awards show won't be watched by anyone.

-But seriously:

Hart: Evgeni Malkin
Vezina: Marc-Andre Fleury
Norris: Shea Weber
Calder: Gabriel Landeskog
Lady Byng: Martin St. Louis
Selke: Frans Nielsen
Jack Adams: Jack Capuano
Art Ross: Evgeni Malkin
Richard: Jeff Carter

-Colorado will defeat Vancouver in the first round, but ultimately fall short against the Kings in the semi-finals.

-The Kings won't reach the Cup, however, as Drew Doughty puts the puck in his own net to give the San Jose Sharks the series clinching win. Now that's sticking it to Dean Lombardi!

-Washington loses in the second round again. Alexander Semin doesn't understand why.

-Pittsburgh wins the conference and advances to the Cup. This marks the millionth year in a row I've picked the Pens.

-San Jose v. Pittsburgh. Pens in 6.

-The NHL will have its most successful season ever.

Hockey is back. Let the fun begin.

Go Avs!

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