The Colorado Avalanche have 21 games in the books. Just about a quarter of the way through an 82-game season. So far, it has been the tale of two teams; the team that got off to a red-hot start, winning 5 straight on the road and 6 out of their first 8 overall and the team that has struggled ever since. Here is my analysis of the first quarter of the 2011-2012 season:
MVP: Matt Duchene - After another slow start in October with only 2 goals and 6 points, Dutchy has come alive in November, scoring 7 goals and taking over the team lead in scoring with 16 points. Now skating with confidence, Duchene is the Avs' best player.
Biggest disappointment: Chuck Kobasew - The former 1st round pick signed a 2-year deal with the Avs to provide secondary scoring. Through 20 games (he was a healthy scratch in Minnesota last week, against his former team), Kobasew has accumulated an underwhelming 4 points. With Mueller out of the lineup, Kobasew was given a shot to be a top line winger. He has not delivered and has recently seen himself on the 4th line, or in the press box.
Biggest key to success: Semyon Varlamov - Varly came out of the gate flying. Racking up wins and very respectable numbers. He has struggled of late and has watched Giguere in net the past 3 games from the bench. Varlamov will get his chance to rebound though, and as he goes, the Avs will go.
Biggest reason for optimism: Gabriel Landeskog - The #2 overall pick has lived up to his billing. While rookies are often gun shy, Landy leads the team in shots, hits, and is 5th in goals and points. Look out ladies and gentlemen, this kid is the real deal.
Most pleasant surprise: Shane O'Brien - Over the summer, the Avs signed the journeyman, maligned defenseman to add size and grit to their blue line. SOB has proven his worth as an asset on the ice and as a leader and teammate.
Change that needs to occur: Coaching. Often in professional sports, especially the NHL, coaches are the scapegoats, plain and simple. However, after 2+ seasons, it is clear that Joe Sacco is not getting the most out of his young, talented team.