The boys in Maroon and Blue really enjoy keeping the Avs fans on the edge, right until the very end. It has become a common trend to see more competitiveness amongst the teams in the NHL, especially from the Western Conference. Last year the Avs clinched the final spot in the West just five points ahead of the 90 point Blues and Flames. This year it seems to be even closer than last year. Just after the mid way point of the season, the Avs sit alone in that final playoff spot with 52 points. The Sharks, Wild, Kings and Blues trail the Avalanche by less than five points; sitting in the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth spot of the Western Conference respectively. Then you look at the teams who are in front of Colorado being the Coyotes, Predators, Hawks and Ducks sitting in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh respectively all being within 3 points.
There is no more guarantees in hockey. You would think that the team which won the conference last year would have a better first half to the season, but that is not the case. The Sharks sit one place out of a playoff spot and will continue to battle until the end of the year for a post season birth.
The Avs are going to have to play above average hockey if they want to continue to fight towards a playoff spot. Which means smart/fast/reliable/physical hockey. The Avs are young and continue to show signs of greatness followed by brutal games and even more so, brutal decisions.
First and foremost the goal tending, HAS TO BE BETTER. Anderson, showed us a glimpse of last season with the great saves in the most recent game vs. the Wild. We need Andy to be that stand on his head type guy, or we are going to be in a lot of trouble. I really like Budaj, as a backup and a person. That being said, not as a starting goalie, he's just not good enough. Plain and simple. I like how he can come in and have a great game every once in a while, but he couldn't string a bunch of good games in a row.
Now to me, that main thing in today's NHL that wins you championships is defence: and ours is weak. There's been games, when they've looked better than others, but as a group they make terrible decisions, turn over the puck far too often and seem to be out of position a great deal. The offensive part to the D is visible. Liles and Shattenkirk continue to impress me on a regular basis. But, the defensive part is horrendous. Hunwick (Who screwed us of a big, young, right handed cannon from the point) is atrocious. He turns over the puck more often than he doesn't. He adds little to the offense and can't move the puck, because he loses it so often. Foote (Love the guy for all he's done), but he is slow and is usually always behind the play. Wilson is almost scared out there. We haven't seen those bone crushing Wilson hits from last year. I don't know what is going through his head, but we need him to be a stay at home guy that uses his frame. Sure, you can jump up into the play, but that's not your primary role, and it's very frustrating. O'Byrne has been our best defensive man, and I love the fact that he throws his size around, yet he still hasn't been that great. But, it's not hard to be the best defensive D-man on this roster, it's a known fact.
Hopefully with Cumiskey coming back it bumps Hunwick out of the lineup. But much like Porter the Avs coaching and management staff seem to have a huge hard on for them. I don't know what it is. Porter is at BEST a third liner and Hunwick is and AHLer.
The focus at the deadline has to be D. Look at somehow trying to get something for Hunwick, and adding something towards a true stay at home guy, that is extremely solid in his own end.
I know, rumors say Beauchemin isn't going any where, but he would be a great addition to this Avs defense. Other guys to look at and consider would be Coburn out of Philly or Montador out of Buffalo. These are guys that may not put up huge points, but they solidify the defensive aspect towards a D group and may be possible to get.
Colorado's offense has been the best part of their game all year long. Strong play from in the middle to numbers put up by the wingers continues to help the Avs scoring. I was watching TSN the other day, and they were arguing how Colorado has the best offense in the league. Interesting enough, they said the only other team that roles four lines as good as the Avs are the Canucks. Hockey central said the Avs when healthy are bar none the best offense in the league, no one else competes with them. After the Fleischmann trade went down, they said the Avs are now cup contenders. Now, before we jump the gun on anything, we need to realize that no teams score seven goals a game in the playoffs on a regular basis. Therefore, you need to have solid D and goal tending to win Cups. There isn't too much I would do as far as the offense goes. I would keep the players we have (Unless Parise is available, do everything you can to get him; although very unlikely.) The one thing I would do if I was Sacco is let some lines build chemistry. Enough with the shuffling of lines. I realize that injuries have played a factor but, after radar gets back begin to identify certain combinations up front.
The obvious offense would look like,
Fleischmann - Duchene - Hejduk (Yep Aaron, Duchene is the number one C now)
Jones - Stastny- Stewart (Put Stas and Stew back together)
Galiardi - O'Reilly - Winnik (Dirty 30's as someone mentioned)
McLeod - Dupuis - Yip (Throw some hits and create some chances down low)
It's going to be about consistency and hard work for these kids. But, we got just as good of a chance as any other team fighting for a playoff spot.
Oh and Go Packers Go!