Let me be clear, I don't think for a second this idea is new or revolutionary. The simplicity is the point. You can analyze 200 aspects of any individual hockey game and the players therein, but due to the unprecedented parity in today's NHL, game results can usually be traced to goaltending and special teams.
The Avs were certainly on the short end of both functions of the winning equation last night against the Flyers. 2 PP goals and a shortie against, only one PP goal for, and outplayed at the goalie position equals a loss. Sure, being on the road in the east on the end of back to back games doesn't help, but it still comes down to special teams and goaltending.
I won't criticize the effort except perhaps after the Flyers scored in the third period to go up 5-2. The Avs basically mailed it in after that. But I thought that the Avs played hard up to that point. There wasn't a listless or detached attitude from the team like there had been a few times several weeks ago. No, the Avs came out playing well and Stastny capitalized on a strange play on the PP where both Flyers d-men were tangled up with the other two Avs forwards behind the net. Of course the shorthanded goal was an absolute killer, but when the Avs scored late in the second to make it 4-2, they still had a chance. And were still skating hard. Unfortunately Leo takes a bad penalty before the Avs can even really start to press for a third goal, the PK unit (including Budaj) doesn't get it done, and it's game over.
After a couple of great games by Smyth, his play wasn't at that high level for this one. And again, not by coincidence, the Avs lose. He seems to be the key offensive player for the Avs now. They go as he goes. I hope he understands his importance to this team right now.
All is not lost for the road trip however. If, before leaving Denver, you had asked most players and fans if they would be ok with a 1-1 record in these two games, I think they would have said yes. Now heading to FLA, the Avs need four points. They absolutely have to beat non-playoff teams from either conference if they want to get back in to the Western Conference playoff race. It will be up to Granato to get these guys over Philly and ready to pounce on the Florida teams.
Dupuis was sent back down after the game after a respectable fourth line performance in his stint with the big club. He proved he can win faceoffs and not be a defensive liability. The big question is who is coming back tomorrow night - Svatos, Guite, or Tucker? They are all on the trip. I would guess Guite as Dupuis was basically filling his role.
If/when Guite, Tucker, and Svatos all come back, what will the lines look like? Let's try one out:
Guite-Tucker and a Cody
One Cody and Arnason are out of this lineup. The coaching staff needs to decide whether to keep Hensick at wing and whether to keep Lappy at center. Then they will need to decide on what to do with the Codys. I don't think McCormick has done much lately, but McLeod has had his moments. They can keep these guys around and dress one as the 13th forward to rotate in on the 4th line. But what to do with Arnason? I still don't believe he's going anywhere, so I'm sure the above combo is incorrect.
I wonder if Hensick won't be sent back Cleveland. As I mentioned, having him at wing right now does not speak well for their opinion of him as an NHL center right now, so when they get wingers Svatos and Tucker back, he may well be the odd man out. Stewart has played too well to go back. Which means plug in Arnason for Hensick for a more realistic look at the healthy lineup.
Will we see another Raycroft start in FLA? At this point I hope so. Budaj has not impressed lately. I have not been nearly as negative on Budaj as most people, but his trial period is approaching an end. Which brings up another point - I think a decision will be made on Budaj here around the new year. The Avs have the cap space to pursue a goalie and that decision will be based on the standing of the team as well as Budaj's play. If Budaj has several more mediocre games and this team is sitting a couple points out of a playoff spot, I would expect a move.
Looking forward to what this team looks like when healthy. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long. On to sunny FLA.