No Sakic, no Stastny, no problem? Not exactly, but "No Excuses" is hopefully the mentality that Granato has instilled in this team.
When I last left your Avalanche (before heading to family Christmas Center Ice-less purgatory), they were finishing up their road trip with two games in Florida. Although the result was a disappointing split, getting 4 out of 8 points on the road isn't bad considering the difficult first half against Detroit and Philly.
Raycroft played well in Tampa and the Avs got a break on the shootout and took 2 points. Nice to see another solid performance from Raycroft saving 37 of 38 shots.
The game in Miami was a disappointing finish to the road trip. The Avs have to beat these lower tier teams, and the effort was just not there. Budaj kept the Avs in the game by keeping the Panthers off the board for the first 25 minutes, but the Avs just did not generate enough scoring chances to come back, even when they picked up their play in the 3rd period. A real shame that Liles' goal didn't count at the end of the second period; that would have given them a real shot to steal this game in the third.
On to the Phoenix game which was entertaining but troubling. Give the Avs credit, they came out and outworked and outplayed the Coyotes for most of the game. But that first goal against Raycroft was absolutely awful. It didn't seem like it would matter when the Avs scored twice in the third to go up 4-2. But a lack of discipline and situational awareness allowed the Coyotes to tie up the game. Fortunately, Clark is able to rip a shot by Bryzgalov in OT to secure the 2 points. Hopefully that point that the Avs giftwrapped for Phoenix doesn't come back to haunt them at the end of the year.
Of course, bigger than the 2 points for the Avs or the garbage point for Phoenix was the injury to Stastny. Every team in the NHL must deal with injuries over the course of the year, but it is simply amazing the amount of games the Avs elite players have missed in the last couple of seasons. I can't think of another club that has had three or four top players miss significant time each season for the past three seasons other than the Avs.
That's enough whining for now. That's the process: curse the hockey gods and then start looking ahead. So the Avs (and fans) prepared to play without Stastny for the next six weeks. I don't know how the team dealt with it, but I can say with certainty after reading blogs and comments that Avs fans were not dealing well. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth could be found. Again, the chorus of "rebuilding" in some form gained volume, with some people even putting forward the ridiculous assertion that this season would only be a success if the Avs secured a certain draft pick. All I have to say to that is any season in which the Avs don't make the playoffs cannot be considered a success in any form.
So when the Avs were thought to be at their lowest point, the best black hats ride in to town for game 1 of the Arnason era. So of course, the Avs come out and score 3 power play goals in the first period. Ah, but its never that easy, and the Wings lived up to their billing as one of the most explosive teams in the league. It can happen so fast. The Avs were actually playing pretty well in the 2nd period. A surge from the Wings was expected. But that unlucky first goal against Budaj seemed to rattle this team more than it should have. And after Detroit's 2nd PP goal, the Avs were positively quaking in their skates. If I'm the coach, I call a timeout after the second goal and try to make sure that I get to the locker room with a one goal lead. As it stood, the 4th line made a mistake that cost the Avs the lead with 2 minutes to play in the period.
But give Granato credit, he calmed the team down at intermission and they came back out with level heads, killed off two penalties, and played solid, disciplined hockey to push the game to a shootout. They were in a shell a bit too much for my liking (the Avs were outshot 14-6 in the third), but it was hard to blame them after getting burned for 3 goals in 4 minutes in the second.
Bottom line is 2 points against Detroit is a great 2 points. My keys to winning for the Avs have boiled down to goaltending, special teams, and Ryan Smyth. Now with Stastny out, it will be even more true. Conklin played poorly, Budaj played well, Smyth played well, and the Avs scored one more PP goal than the other guys. Even against the Wings, this is a formula for success.
Arnason looked ok centering the top line between Hejduk and Smyth. While I'm not pleased about Arnason being this team's top center, he does have offensive ability. Hopefully he can chip in - he will definitely get some chances playing with those two.
I don't understand though why the Avs don't just move Wolski to center already. Avs brass has stated that if Sakic had retired, that was their plan. That indicates to me that Wolski's future is at center. What else could happen to get Wolski back to the middle? Get him in there now and get Lappy back to wing. Here's how my lines would look:
Hejduk - Wolski - Smyth
Svatos - Arnason - Jones
Stewart - Hensick - Tucker
McLeod - Guite - Lappy
The Avs are now entering a phase of their schedule where they are home game heavy for the next month or so. On my next blog I'll focus a bit more on where this team is heading, but it's obvious that if this team is going to make the playoffs, this next 20 game stretch is where they have to make their move. Afterwards, the brass will have some decisions to make base on the performance of this team.
Next up: Smashville tomorrow night. Need to beat these bubble teams.