We have a Raycroft sighting! And what a good one it was.
In my last post, I stated that teams getting the better of special teams play and goaltending win at least 90% of NHL games. On Monday night, the Avs were that team. Raycroft played an excellent game, the Avs scored an early power play goal to go along with Leopold's penalty shot goal, and the penalty killing was perfect. These were enough to defeat even the Red Wings.
On top of all this, the Avs were the team that was ready to play from the first drop of the puck and the Wings were asleep at the wheel. All too often this season, the Avs seem like they have needed a few shifts to get in to the game, and I have criticized Granato for that. Now, you wouldn't think that teams would need much preparation to play the defending Stanley Cup champs - that's part of what makes defending the Cup so difficult. But Granato should be given credit not only for having this team sharp immediately, but also for finally giving Raycroft a start.
I wrote last time that Budaj looked a bit tired and wondered when he would be given a break. Granato must have felt the same way about Budaj's performance on Friday, and Raycroft got the start. The negativity from Avs "fans" was incredibly high. Thankfully they are not paid to make decisions. Perhaps the strategy was along the lines of "hey, we're not gonna beat the Wings anyways, so might as well put Raycroft in", but I believe it was more pragmatic than that. With back to back games on the road, it made sense to give Budaj a rest in one of them. He already looked tired on Friday, why even play him again in a situation where he could get shelled?
Whatever the rationale, it worked out well. Raycroft has proven he shouldn't have to wait another 6 weeks for his next start and Budaj gets his break. The most important part is that the goal I set for this roadie to be above .500 now not only seems much more possible, it would be a downright disappointment otherwise. This game should give this team a much needed dose of confidence. The power of truly believing you can win any game in any situation should not be underestimated, and a win in Detroit with the backup goalie should give the Avs that belief.
The Avs certainly didn't dominate this game from start to finish, the Red Wings are too good for that. But the Avs were able to play well with the lead - kill penalties, keep the puck deep in the offensive zone, and clog the shooting lanes in their own end. Again, Smyth had a great game, and again, not by coincidence, this team won. His work along the boards in the corners and behind the net in the offensive zone was fantastic and kept the Red Wings from applying their own offensive pressure. Smyth and Jones are truly bringing a power forward element that this team has not had since Forsberg was at his peak.
All four lines played well and contributed to last night's success. It seems the reaction to Svatos' injury has been to put Hensick at wing with Woski on a line centered by Arnason. They looked pretty good, but I still think it's a strange move for a team that is so challenged at the center position to move Hensick to wing. Perhaps this means that Guite's return is imminent and Granato is basically giving Hensick a tryout at wing to determine if he will be sent down or not. I still don't think Lappy should be left at center though. I would have Hensick centering my third line and Guite my 4th and send Dupuis back down. In any case, I think it can be taken as a statement by the coaching staff on Hensick's ability to be an NHL center right now - they must not think he's ready yet. Personally, I don't agree with that assessment.
Tonight will be another great test for this team against the rolling Flyers in Philly. A win tonight would be a big step forward for the consistency of this club, and would set up the very real possibility of a 4 game road sweep - a huge feat going in to the holidays. Looking forward to a great game.
On the trade front - I wonder if the Avs are holding off on dealing a d-man and/or acquiring a center until they see what this team looks like with Guite back in the lineup. If he comes back and looks good, then the Avs may feel they have more freedom in what they will accept in return for a d-man and put them in a better bargaining position. Just a thought.