Here we are, fully one-quarter of the way through the 2010-11 NHL season and the Avalanche are right in the midst of a battle atop the Northwest Division. That being said, let’s talk about – and grade – the team thus far.
The team has been scoring goals, and scoring them in bunches. Averaging 3.52 goals per game, they are on top of the entire NHL. When the offense shows up for a game, it is not uncommon to see 5, 6, or even 7 goals reach the back of the opponent’s net. In 12 of the 23 games played, they have scored at least 4 goals and 11 of those 12 have resulted in victory. It’s nice to see the scoring coming from multiple lines and the young players have definitely stepped-up to produce. Let’s just hope that it will continue now that Chris Stewart will be out of the line-up for awhile with a fractured hand… GRADE: A+
This is an area that the Avalanche must improve if they are to become playoff contenders. Yes, there have been numerous injuries along the blue line, but excuses are just that – excuses. Currently, the team is allowing 30.5 shots per game and 3.09 goals per game (16th and 26th in the league, respectively). These numbers have got to be reduced if they want to remain competitive. Fellow Western Conference teams like the Blues and Kings are allowing less than 2.50 goals per game. Even the Columbus Blue Jackets are allowing only 2.33 goals per game! Scott Hannan, Ryan O’Byrne, Ryan Wilson, and the entire D-Core have got to start blocking shots and limiting scoring chances. GRADE: D
The Avalanche power play has been a pleasant surprise this year. Clipping along at a rate of 22.9%, the power play is ranked 6th in the league overall. Unfortunately, the penalty killing has been atrocious. The Avs have only been able to kill off 78.3% of penalties. There are only 4 teams in the entire league with a worse percentage. This portion of the game is paramount to success, especially when the playoffs come around. GRADE: C
Peter Budaj has been filling in admirably for the oft-injured Craig Anderson. Currently, Budaj is 9-5-1 with a .899 save percentage and a single shut out. Anderson is 4-4-0 with a .911 save percentage. Will there be a goaltending controversy when Anderson gets healthy? Will Budaj continue to play well in Anderson’s place? Only time will tell, but in order for the Avalanche to have a chance at making a push deep into the playoffs, one of these guys will have to stand on his head – especially if the defense doesn’t improve. GRADE: B-
Joe Sacco and his staff have been doing an amazing job. The injury bug has hit the team and numerous rookies have had to step-in and step-up. These kids have received the guidance and trust that they need to succeed. Coach Sacco has been supportive behind the bench and continues to show confidence in the abilities of the young team that he is guiding through the grind. GRADE: A
The Avalanche are definitely a talented bunch and they will certainly contend for a spot in the playoffs. With a bit more help along the blue line, solid net-minding by one of the masked men, and a little luck on the health front, this team could be poised to make some noise at the end of the year. Will they be a “one-and-done” again? I’m certainly hoping they can get past the first round… GRADE: B-