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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Monday, November 14, 2011

The Duke Becomes a Captain

Captain Hejduk

Fresh from the Avalanche twitter account, the Avs finally have a new captain.

In a tweet at 10:57 ET this morning, the Avalanche revealed:
MILAN HEJDUK NAMED CAPTAIN: Veteran winger to become third captain in Avalanche history. Details to follow.
For many, Hejduk is the obvious choice to captain the Avs. In terms of all-time Colorado statistics, Hejduk is near the top of almost all of them.

For the regular season, Hejduk is:

-1st in games played (910)
-1st in game winning goals (58)
-2nd in goals scored (357)
-2nd in points (757)
-2nd in power play points
-3rd in assists (400)
-4th in +/- (120)

Hejduk also has the third most playoff points in team history (behind Sakic and Forsberg) and was part of the 2001 Stanley Cup team. He is the only active Avalanche player remaining from that group.

He is also tied with Joe Sakic for most consecutive 20-goals seasons (11) and is on-pace to top twenty goals (once again) this season.

Many have been calling for the Avalanche to name a captain. After the Avalanche fell to the Flames last Monday, Adrian Dater wrote,
My game story from tonight centered a lot around the fact the Avs still don’t have a captain. Which begs the question: is there one on this team? Or, is it just a team full of complementary guys? I think, at this point, it’s a fair question.
In a move that seems (on the face of it, anyway) to be more symbolic than anything (are the younger Avs suddenly going to be looking up to Hejduk more than they were already?), Hejduk will need to help right the ship for the struggling Avs, who currently hold a putrid 2-6-0 record at home.

Fans have never known #23 to be the most vocal of players, but there's no doubt that he still works hard and does the right things on and off the ice. He's a winner, and a guy who has been clutch in key situations before.

I can't help but feel a little disappointed that I'm not writing about Ryan O'Reilly taking this role. He has really elevated his game this year, and by all accounts, is the hardest working player on the team.

Then again, maybe the 20-year-old isn't quite ready to assume the role.

Congratulations to Mr. Hejduk, who will no doubt be one of the last Avalanche players (after Adam Foote) for a long while to get his number retired upon finishing his career. He's been one of my favorite players for over a decade now, and he is fully deserving of the "C."

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Monday, November 7, 2011

BREAKING: Winning at Home is Pretty Important

Pictured: (Apparently) The Friendliest Place on Earth

Last night's 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames dropped the Avs to 1-5-0 at the Pepsi Center.

That's two points out of a possible twelve, folks.

Luckily, a 6-1-1 road record has kept the Avalanche season afloat, and if they could figure out how to score goals at home, we might just see them in the playoffs this year.

Indeed, in the six home games, the Avs have been outscored 17-7. On the road, the Avs are outscoring opponents at a 33-25 clip.

I'm not going to speculate as to what's going on. There are plenty of theories, mostly revolving around "fan enthusiasm" and "coaching." I don't buy into the former, but the latter may have merit at this point. Still, I don't think it's Joe Sacco's time to go.

Let's save that one for another post.

Instead, let's take a look at some interesting numbers regarding the playoffs, the Stanley Cup, and home rink success.

--Out of the sixteen current playoff teams, just one (Buffalo) has a losing record at home (3-4-0)

--The six division leaders have a combined home record of 32-5-5. That's good enough for 67 points out of a possible 77.

--Of the sixteen playoff teams, only five (LA, Florida, San Jose, Toronto, and Ottawa) are being outscored on home ice. But the combined margin is just twelve goals.

--Every single playoff team in 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2004 had a winning record at home. The streak is broken in 2003 when the eighth-seeded Islanders were 18-18-5 at the Colosseum.

--The last five Stanley Cup champions have combined for a 131-49-25 record on friendly soil. That's a 76% point percentage. Again, the Avs are currently on pace for about a 15% point percentage.

In other words, it's pretty simple.

Win at home, or get rid of any shred of hope for success.

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