The past two games may have been the Avs worst combined performances all year. Colorado is now outside the playoff race at No. 9 with 54 points, 1 back of No. 8 San Jose, and 2 back of No. 7 Chicago.
With a 5-1 and 6-2 lose to the Preds and Bruins respectively, it appeared that the Avs were sloppy and defeated at every position on the ice. With the exception of Matt Duchene, the team just hasn't had that fiery determination that we have seen on and off all season. While certain players or lines had excellent shifts both in the defensive and offensive zones, it never remained consistent. Duchene has that determination and energy every single shift no matter what zone he is in. We are lucky to have him.
Why has this team been so streaky this year? For an impressive period of time, the Avs and Canucks exchanged places within the Conference every other night. Vancouver later took off on an amazing 17 game point streak while the Avs began to struggle for wins. The gap between the two teams is currently 13 points.
Up to this point the Avs have remained in the playoff race despite the random slumps and the incredible tight conference that is the West. It appeared that the Hockey Gods contentiously granted them the ability to come back and take 2 points however they rarely jumped at the opportunity. The Islanders game in Denver comes to mind, the Avs did not deserve to win that game, or even come out with that single point. Yet they got the game into overtime with 4 seconds left in the 3rd, only to fall to a great goal from Tavares. These 1 point games have enabled the Avs to maintain a playoff seed. Now they are facing a pointless drought, and are paying for it.
So what is it about this team this year exactly? I think that they are beginning to realize how hard and demanding this league really is. Last year they were a shock to the entire league. Nobody predicted they would maintain the No. 1 spot in the Northwest division for the majority of the season. Or even qualify for the playoffs. The expectations were so low that they just played their game, and coupled with the brilliant play of Anderson they took teams by surprise. The Avs are no longer a surprise. Teams expect them now and understand that they need to clog up the neutral zone in order to slow them down.
The young Avs are learning what expectations are and how to handle their failures. There needs to be more structure to this team. They seem to run and gun to often. The LA Kings have done a superb job this year in limiting the Avalanches speed. The Avs seem to go into panic mode when this happens. They make poor choices with and without the puck and it results in scoring chances against. Colorado are not passing wizards like Vancouver nor are they big and tough like the Flyers. Their asset is speed. Now they need to learn how to utilize it.
Instead of constantly trying to fly through the neutral zone, and blow down the wing for a quick scoring chance, they need to set up within the offensive zone. This is the key to their success. When the oppurtunites arise to blow through the neutral zone they should absolutley take them. However we have seen it to often this year where a forward will fly into the offensive zone while 1 or 2 D man are back and simply lose the puck. With the exception of Stewart, we don't have big strong power forwards.
In the Nashville game on 1-20 Duchene showed signs of Forsberg in the offensive zone. He flew around the net up to the point and down to the far side circle with incredible speed, this pulled the Preds out of position. I don't think they expected that and it showed. He threw the puck at the net and it resulted in a scoring chance. The play was actually reviewed to determine if the puck did indeed cross the goal line however it was ruled a no goal.
That is the kind of speed that is needed. The truth is that we are not as good between the pipes this year. While some blame is on the net-minders, the play of the forwards and D-men are also to blame. If the Avs are able to exhaust the opposition in their own zone with speed and puck movement, then when the opponent does gain control of the puck they will have no choice but to dump it and go for a line change. Enabling the young Avs to get back in their and do it again. This team needs to learn how to play puck possession hockey and how to utilize their strengths to achieve this.