Early Season Thoughts
Hello once again Avs fans. The Avs are returning home tonight after a five game road trip through parts of the eastern United States and Canada, and what a road trip it was. After kicking off the season with a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at home the Avs managed to win five in a row on the road.
Hockey players are always talking about how they love going on the road early in the season as it helps to build team chemistry, and this trip has definitely done that for the Avs. The offense looked a bit shaky in the first two games of the season, but they started to gel as the trip wore on. Things came to a head on October 13th in Ottawa when the Avs slaughtered the Senators 7-1 and made ex-Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson wish he never left the Mile High City. Two nights later in Montreal the offense continued to roll and put up five goals against Carey Price and his Canadiens in a 6-5 shootout victory.
I have kept my eyes on a few players so far this season and the two who have impressed me the most have to be Gabriel Landeskog and Joakim Lindstrom. Landy appeared to be nervous in the season opener, which is to be expected. I assumed he would calm down and grow more comfortable as the season wore on. However, I did not expect him to score a goal in just his third NHL game. Granted, the puck hit him in the foot and found its way in to the net, but hey, a goal is a goal, right? Regardless of that, he scored a legitimate goal the next night that I’m sure he wishes would have been his first. Much like with Matt Duchene, Joe Sacco is playing Landeskog in all situations (even strength, penalty kill, and power play) and he is killing it. It’s great to see Sacco having so much confidence in him this early in his career.
Another player I have been pleasantly surprised by is Lindstrom. I have seen Lindstrom play live when he was a member of the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. He was a fan favorite back then and finished the season close to averaging a point per game. With that being said the AHL and NHL are two different leagues so I was a bit skeptical at first. He was scratched for the first three games, but got his chance in Ottawa and lit it up with two goals. Yeah, it was against the bottom-dwelling Sens, but he showed a lot of promise and potential. Lindstrom proved to me that he is ready for the NHL and that leading the Swedish Elite League in points last season was no fluke.
I noticed a BIG difference in this years defensemen compared to those from just a season ago. Off-season additions Shane O’Brien and Jan Hejda have already made an impact just six games into this long season. Their tough style of play is just what the Avs were missing last year. Opposing forwards no longer park themselves in front of the net without being punished. The D corps are always there to protect our new goaltenders and forces opponents to think twice before crashing the net. Not only is their physical aspect amazing to watch, but they know how to play defense.
Gone are the horrible turnovers of last year. The poor decisions made with the puck have been sliced to a minimum AND the best part is these guys actually know how to defend. The Avs were horrible with allowing quality scoring chances last season and the majority of the shots given up so far this year have been from the outside where it is generally difficult to score. If there is a minor lapse in the defense one of our two new goaltenders will be standing in the way of the puck and the back of the net.
The Avs gave up a lot (2012 first round pick) to bring in Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals, but it is paying off huge thus far. In four games Varly has stopped 135 of 144 shots, including all 30 in a 1-0 shutout victory over the Bostom Bruins on October 10th. He is a battler. Just when you think he is down and out and the Avs are about to give up a goal his athleticism and flexibility allow him to make the most outstanding saves at key times. Goalies like Varly who are able to make those big saves when the team needs them can single handily lead the team to victory. The Avs also have a new backup goalie who was signed over the summer.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere is a veteran goaltender who knows his role on this team. He understands that he is a backup goaltender and has been playing that role for a few years now, but Giggy is no slouch. When he does get a chance to play he also steps up and makes the big saves to keep the team in the game. Unlike in years past Sacco has given the backup starts very early in the season. Giggy has already started and completed two games, a 7-1 win in Ottawa and a 3-2 overtime when at Toronto.
Since this is a long ass post I’ll provide a summary for those of you who like to skim.
Gabriel Landeskog and Joakim Lindstrom are proving their worth in this young season and have both recorded two goals in six and four games, respectively. They have also both seen power play time and have impressed me each game.
The new defensive additions of Shane O’Brien and Jan Hejda have bulked up the defense and the blue line is now a force to be reckoned with. Not only do they know how to throw their body around, but they play good, positionally sound defense.
Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere are two great additions to the team. No matter which guy is in net the Avalanche still have a chance to win. Both come up with big saves when they have to and will be a key asset to the Avs as the season grows on and they attempt to make the playoffs again.
The Avs were plagued with injuries last season and in my “professional” opinion if the team stays healthy they have a very good chance of making the playoffs, and are already proving they belong there. I’d also like to add that I’m well aware there are guys currently out with injury, but the current lineup is outstanding and knows how to put the puck in the opposing net, defend against opponents trying to put it in ours, and successfully keeping it out of ours.
The Avs are back at home tonight to take on the Chicago Blackhawks in the first game of a home and home series. There will be a Live Game Chat for tonight’s game beginning at 8:45pm EST.