Not the start the Avs were looking for last night.
You see 5 goals on 20 shots and you think the goalie must have had a terrible game. And while Budaj certainly did not have a good game, it's hard to lay the blame on him for the actual goals that were scored. Maybe the most stoppable shot was the first goal, but it should be noted that it was an unopposed shot from the top of the slot - prime scoring area. The D were standing still. And that was really the theme for the game - surprisingly poor play from the defense. Yes, Sakic coughed up the puck on that first goal, but the near side D man needs to step up, not stand and watch. Budaj can't be blamed for the nice 3 on 2 goal - but the defense can be. While the high forward should be responsible for preventing a 3 on 2, when the situation occurs, the d has to be able to force a shot that isn't a one timer from 8 feet. The goal that deflected of the Avs player is really no one's fault, that's just bad luck.
But let's talk about the really inexcusable goal - Ryder's goal. Reading Dater's piece in the Denver Post, he blames Liles because Savard beat him to the puck in the corner, but that take just shows Dater's ignorance. The guilty party clearly was Hannan for not picking up Ryder in front. It was just beer league embarrassing. As angry as I was, after watching the replay I almost felt bad for him it was so ugly. And then I remembered he's getting paid a crapload of money to play hockey. The reality is that it was a nice corner dump in - more of a pass really - to Savard. Savard didn't have to break stride so of course he's going to get there before Liles who has to pivot and accelerate to get to the same spot. That's why Hannan HAS to be able to find Ryder. He had a full 60 feet to pick Ryder up before he received the pass, and couldn't do it. And Ryder was the only other forward in the zone, so it wasn't like Hannan was caught trying to figure out who to pick up. Just awful. This team cannot afford for Hannan to play like garbage again this year for the first 30 or 40 games before he figures it out. No "new team adjustment" excuses this year. This may sound harsh, but please remember how much the Avalanche are paying this guy be a "stay at home defender". Not acceptable.
The last goal I also put squarely on the shoulders of the defense - Leopold in particular. In that situation - late in a tie game, not outnumbered in front of the net - Leopold has to be able to tie up Krejci. Budaj is properly focused on the shooter at the top of the slot. There was an Avs player challenging, so there's not a worry of him walking in any closer. And there's two D men in front of the net. Again, there's just no excuse for Leopold allow Krejci to get that puck. Krejci should be on his back in that situation, but at the very least he should be tied up enough so that Budaj can reset off the semi-whiff from up top.
Enough venting; its just one game. The point is that while it would have been nice if Budaj could have come up with a couple saves, the focus should be on the defense. They've got to play better, and I'm sure they would all agree.
The good news is that if they do play better, there appears to be plenty of firepower to win games. Both top lines played very well offensively and accounted for 24 shots on goal. I liked the look of the 4th line; they seemed effective on the forecheck. If the Avs can get this kind of offensive effort consistently, it will be enough to win most games.
While the Avs did score a PP goal, it came off of an unsettled situation. When they were in their settled PP formation, I was not impressed. I was disappointed to see the exact same #1 PP unit from last year, in exactly the same formation, with everyone in the exact same spot. Liles was a bit better at getting the puck to the net in the correct situations. The PP was 28th in the league last year, one would think that some changes might at least be attempted. Granato must feel its a matter of execution, not scheme. The nearly 2 minutes of 5-3 time the Avs had was nuts-in-a-vice excruciating to watch. They did not even get a shot off until the very end. Fortunately, the Avs managed to score just after the penalties expired, so it didn't seem as miserable as it really was. And let's not forget the shorthanded breakaway the Avs allowed and Budaj stopped. 1 for 2 on the PK ain't gonna cut it either. Special teams must be better.
Personnel - it was nice to see Clark and Svatos back in the lineup. I'm sure there is a bit of an adjustment, and I expect their play to continue to improve. Tucker had an assist and 3 shots, but I didn't really notice him that much out there except when he got nailed once. I'm sure he's still settling in as well.
A perception among many is that Arnason is stealing time from Hensick right now at the NHL level. I'm not sure if I agree with that if only because I believe Hensick can continue to improve in Cleveland. The question for the organization should be if Hensick's development is better served as the #1 center (including all the PP time) in Cleveland, or the #3 center in Denver. Due to Hensick's size and style, I'm willing to believe management that he is better served at Cleveland for now, to be called up if there is an injury to Sakic, Stastny, or Arnason, or if Arnason really stinks up the joint. If Hensick tears up the AHL, then the club should look to pawn Arnie off on someone for a 5th rounder or something and get the kid up with the big club (and on the #2 PP unit).
Looking to Sunday, it should be a very entertaining game against the Oil. As I mentioned previously, I believe this is a matchup between the top two contenders for the NW division title this year.
Also, the implosion clock on the Calgary Flames is now officially ticking.