The Avalanche are off on a 5 game road swing to begin the month of December. This trip is an eastern swing that will pit them against the entire Southeast Division – the ‘Canes, Lightning, Panthers, Thrashers and Caps. Although the Avs are sporting a decent road record (6-5-1), this trip will be a great challenge.
Currently, there are 6 players riding the pine on IR, including their biggest offensive threat – Chris Stewart. Will the young but talented “fill-ins” continue to produce? Rumor has it that Craig Anderson will accompany the team on the trip, but whether or not he plays is yet to be determined. Given the way Peter Budaj has been performing, should Anderson even play? How are the new Avalanche acquisitions going to fit the overall scheme of things? Will there be any chemistry with the new Fleischmann-Stastny-Hejduk line?
Let’s take a look at the road trip opponents…
First-up is the Carolina Hurricanes. Scoring first will be huge in this game. Of the 5 teams the Avs will face on this trip, the ‘Canes have the best winning percentage when scoring the first goal (.800). If the Avalanche can get up on the ‘Canes early, this is a very winnable match.
Next in line are the boys from Tampa. I only have two words here – Steven Stamkos. If the Avalanche defense can figure out a way to limit his chances, they will have a chance to win the game. Also, special teams will be HUGE in this game. Currently, the Lightning have the #7 power play, converting 23.1% of their chances and their penalty kill is just as good – ranked #5 at 86.5%. Stay out of the sin bin, boys.
The Florida Panthers are a team that is still searching for an identity. They are currently in last place in their division with a record of 10-14-0. Their power play is anemic (8.4% conversion) and they just can’t seem to score when it counts. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve won 10 games and still play as competitive as the rest, but this should be an easy win for the Avs (of course, so should every game versus the Oilers and that doesn’t happen).
The 4th game of the trip is against the Thrashers of Atlanta. They just took an OT win from the Avalanche earlier this week, so revenge would be sweet. Atlanta is a good team and they are trying to maintain pace with Tampa and Washington. They are 14-9-3, have a great home record (6-2-2 ) and score at a pace of 3.12 goals per game. This will be a tough battle.
The boys will end the trip with a face-off against the Caps. What can you say about the Caps. They are #1 in the NHL with 38 points, their power play is tops in the league at 24.4%, they score an average of 3.38 goals per game, and they have 2 stellar young netminders in Varlamov and Neuvirth. This will be the Avs biggest test to date.
All-in-all, if the Avalanche can come back from this trip with 6 or 7 of the possible 10 points, I would say that it was a very successful trip.