After a disappointing loss on opening night to the Detroit Red Wings in which the Avs played well but just could not get a win or a goal, the Avs headed out on a 5-game road trip. Honestly, I thought that if the Avs won 3 out of the 5 games and earned a winning % of over .500, it would have been a successful trip. However, the Avs decided to just run the table and sweep all 5 of its opponents. With all of the great teams the Avs have had over the years, this is the first time that an Avalanche team has won its first 5 road games to start the season. The 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche team is already in the history books.
The first game of the trip was a Columbus Day matinee affair with the defending champion Boston Bruins. Being the defending champs, the Bruins are the measuring stick for the other 29 teams in the league and the Avs were no exception. They brought their best defensive and goaltending effort against the champs and skated to a tight 1-0 victory with Semyon Varlamov earning his first shutout in an Avs sweater and veteran Milan Hejduk netting the only goal in the 3rd. Bruins goalie Tuuka Rask was good, but Varly was one save better.
The next game came against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who, as of this blog, are still seeking their first win of the season. For most of the game, the Avs looked pretty flat. Perhaps it was a bit of a hangover after a dramatic first win of the year. TJ Galiardi scored his first of the season to give the Avs an early lead, but a turnover by Jay McClement gave Jackets captain Rick Nash a goal. Columbus got another in the 3rd and just as it looked like Columbus was going to get in the win column, former Blue Jacket Jan Hejda took a slap shot from the point that hit a jumping Gabriel Landeskog and beat goalie Steve Mason. A very timely goal for the Avs rookie! He became the youngest player to score a goal in Avalanche history and the youngest Swedish-born player to score a goal in NHL history. While Nash did score in the shootout, Varlamov stopped the other 2 Jackets shooters and Milan Hejduk and Matt Duchene both converted to give the Avs a shootout victory.
The next night, the Avs traveled north of the border to face the Ottawa Senators and former Avs goalie Craig Anderson. I honestly thought Anderson was going to stand on his head against his former squad. Former Avs player have been known to burn us in the past. Also, going into that game, the Avs were only averaging 1 goal per game despite being 2-1-0. That night however, the Avs offense came alive, shellacking Anderson for 7 goals and giving Jean-Sebastien Giguere his first Avalanche victory despite facing only 16 shots. Landy had a goal and an assist as did Duchene.
Continuing its Canadian swing on Saturday, the Avs took on the Montreal Canadiens. Another former Avs goalie, Peter Budaj, now plays for the Habs, but Carey Price was in net against Semyon Varlamov. Varly played well, but the defense had its worst game in front of him. Fortunately, the offense continued their momentum from the Ottawa game, scoring another 5 goals. Another late equalizer by Kyle Quincey gave the Avs the opportunity to turn a loss into a win, which they did with Hejy and Dutchy again converting shootout attempts and Varlamov turning aside both Montreal attempts. The Avs shooters (Hejduk and Duchene) are a perfect combined 4 for 4 on the season and Varlamov has turned aside 4 out of 5 shots.
The Avs ended the road swing last night against former defensemen and fan-favorite John-Michael Liles and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Another close game that required more than 60 minutes to determine a winner as it was tied 2-2 after the 3rd. However, quickly into OT, Kyle Quincey took a slap shot, which goalie James Reimer made the save, but was unable to control the rebound. David Jones was at the right place and the right time, picked up the rebound and put it home to secure the Avs 5th win in as many road games. J-S Giguere picked up his 2nd win of the year against his former team and the goalie who took his starting gig in Toronto last year.
My take on the Avs so far...the team looks good. Anytime you win 5 out of 6 games, 5 of which coming on the road, you cannot complain about that start! Varlamov has been solid in each of his 4 starts so far. If he stays healthy throughout the year, he could certainly solidify himself as a legit #1 goalie in the NHL. J-S Giguere is a reliable veteran backup. He does not look as quick as he once did when he was winning Conn Smythes and Stanley Cups in Anaheim, but his positioning is solid and he is the best backup goalie the Avs have had in years, if not ever. The Avs defense is certainly bigger, stronger, and meaner. Thus far, the moves to retool the defense seem like good ones. I like the additions of Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien. Hejda brings a veteran presence and solid defense. O'Brien brings that grit that every team should have on the blue line. While none of these guys have the leadership of Adam Foote (Edge could potentially grow into that role), the overall size and grit of the D-men is there. I think Footer would be proud of the Avs new back 6. The game against Montreal wasn't their best. O'Brien took some bad penalties, although one was a very weak call and O'Byrne did not have a good game against his former club. Hunwick has yet to see action this season, which I don't particularly mind, but what Sacco's and Sherman's intentions with him are remain a mystery. I also can't help but wonder if the Avs will try to ship Ryan Wilson or Kyle Quincey out. Both of whom have played very well so far, so their trade value will be high and believe both are in the final years of their contracts. A move of either of these defensemen could pave the way for Stefan Elliott's and/or Tyson Barrie's NHL debuts. I would like to see Quincey kept and re-signed. He had probably the 2nd best offensive ability of any Avs defenseman behind Erik Johnson. Wilson may be expenable. I like Wilson, and I like the physicality he brings to the game. Last year, especially when Foote was hurt, Wilson was the Avs most physical defensemen. Ironically, with the Avs new revamped D, Willy is now the smallest. And while he still brings his physical game, the Avs brass may determine that he can be moved with guys like O'Brien and Hejda on the blue line. You never know. I will stick by my theory that whether it's due to a trade or an injury, Elliott gets the call-up sooner rather than later.
The offense got off to tremendously slow start. That is obvious by looking at the scores of the first few games. The best forward line this season pound-for-pound has been the line of rookie Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O'Reilly, and Daniel Winnik. This line was put together in camp and played together every regular season to this point. These three have really clicked and have produced much more than you would expect from a 3rd line, especially one where 2 of the players are not even old enough to drink! This is good and bad for Landy. While it's certainly good that he has gelled with O'Reilly and been able to produce, the fact that he has played so well with O'Reilly has virtually eliminated the possibility of him being moved to a top line with either Stastny or Duchene. Being 18 and being a viable part of the Avs roster, I don't think he really minds. David Jones was the Avs overtime hero last night and been the most prominent Avs forward through 6 games, leading the team in scoring with 4 goals and 5 points. Under the radar, as he always seems to be, is Milan Hejduk, who also has 5 points. Jonesy and Hejy have by far been the Avs' best wingers. Peter Mueller played 3 games with 0 points and then missed the next 3 under enigmatic circumstances. When Muells was out of the lineup, red flags of course arose as to whether or not his concussion problems had returned. While the Avs are still hush hush about this, the good news is that he was listed as "available" and a healthy scratch in Toronto. We may see his return on Thursday against Chicago. In Mueller's absence, Joakim Lindstrom has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. In his Avalanche debut, he scored 2 goals in his Avalanche debut against Ottawa. Lindy led the Swedish Elite League in scoring last year before attempting to resurrect his NHL career with the Avs this year. Chuck Kobasew has 1 goal in 6 games. Stastny and Jones deserve a better 3rd winger. Perhaps Lindstrom will be moved to the Stastny-Jones line when Mueller's back or, like I said before, Galiardi has top line potential and could be effective with Stats and Jones providing that grit on the top line. Gali, who had a goal against Columbus, was scratched against Montreal, but reinserted into the lineup against Toronto, as Kevin Porter was ineffective in his 1 game played thus far. Hopefully Mueller will regain his form soon, and the Avs could use a bit more depth at wing. Duchene and Stastny have been good. Sure, they may not be leading the team or the NHL in scoring, but they've both contributed positively thus far. Duchene has been money in the shootouts and Stastny had a great steal from PK Subban and breakaway goal on Price. Do they need to be better? One could make the argument, but as long as the Avs are winning, I'm not one to complain. If we win, it doesn't matter if Stats and Dutchy score 60, 80, or 100 points. Last year, the Sedin twins scored 104 and 94 points respectively while Boston's two leading scorers (Krejci and Lucic) had 62 points respectively. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Who do you think was happier?
As promised, Joe Sacco has kept Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk as alternate captains, while rotating the 3rd "A" between Erik Johnson, Cody McLeod, and Jay McClement. I'm not going to get into this too much, as I've already addressed my thoughts on the captaincy. Edge makes sense to be a 3rd alternate and even an eventual captain. Actually, he seems like the most likely candidate. If Hejduk or Stastny were going to be named captain, that would have happened during the off-season. Sacco likely wants to name Johnson captain, but feels he should get some more games under his belt in an Avs sweater. Pay his dues with the club, so to speak. I don't mind McLeod as a third alternate. He seems like a good leader and a vocal guy, but I would rather see someone like Duchene wear it, a player who is the future of the club. McClement makes no sense to me. Sure, he could be a good lockerroom guy and good leader as well. Fans like you and me will never know what takes place behind closed doors, but McClement's stats speak for themselves. 0 points thus far and a handful of key turnovers. To give credit where it's due, his penalty killing has been good over the past few games, but don't slap an "A" on a guy's sweater for killing a couple penalties well! J-Mac's play indicate borderline scratch, not alternate captain. But, that's just my opinion. I'm not the coach, Joe Sacco is, and like I said, while the Avs are winning games, who am I to criticize? Let's hope they can carry the momentum from that 5-game sweep back here to Pepsi on Thursday against old coach Joel Quenneville and his Chicago Blackhawks. Should be a good one, they're just a little over a year from their Cup win and still have stars like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and up-and-coming netminder Corey Crawford. With only 6 games in the books, no one's hoisting any banners for the Avs just yet. But if Avs continue to play like they have, it's going to be a fun season!