Oct 12, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; (EDITORS NOTE: caption correction) Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov (1) makes a save on Washington Capitals left wing Jason Chimera (25) during the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

What We Learned: Avalanche - Capitals

Anyone who thought the Avalanche would be off to the second-best start in franchise history raise your hand. Not you, liar. Put it down.

The fact of the matter is that while some thought this team would be drastically improved, nobody could have seen this start. The Avalanche have been nearly flawless. They’re getting top to bottom production from the forwards, over-achievement from the defensemen, and all-world performances from the goaltenders.

Can this last? Only time will tell, but the Avalanche have looked mostly dominant so far this season. Here’s what we learned from Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Capitals.

Start the Vezina Hype

Yes, I’m aware we’re just five games in and Semyon Varlamov has four of the starts. Yes, I’m aware that it’s a little ridiculous to start award hype this prematurely. But I don’t care.

Anyone watching these games can see that Varly has been outstanding in each and every one of his starts so far but just look at the numbers to date: 4-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .970 save percentage. And he’s not stopping 20 shots per night; this group is giving them up in bunches yet it’s not stopping Varlamov. That is bonkers. Will he keep those absurd numbers up? Doubtful, but I don’t see them getting drastically worse.

Why? Varlamov is playing with a level of confidence that we haven’t seen before. He looks sure of himself that no matter where the shot is coming from, he’ll be able to stop it. I don’t know if that’s confidence in his own game that he developed in the offseason or if that’s the Francois Allaire/Patrick Roy effect, but it’s showing.

Varlamov is certain he’s going to stop the puck each and every time and it shows. So far, he’s pretty much been doing that. So let’s start the hype train. And it doesn’t stop until Varly says it does.

This Might Be The Deepest Forward Unit In Hockey

I’ve been saying this before but it could use some reiterating: from top to bottom, this might be the best group of forwards going right now. They roll three quality lines that are a threat to score each time they’re on the ice, starting with the Duchene-Downie-O’Reilly line. The speed of this line combined with the grit and physicality of the latter two really makes it difficult for the opposition to handle, especially combined with the skill that Duchene brings to the table.

The second line of Landeskog-Stastny-Tanguay has been making noise so far but finally found the score sheet in a big way on Saturday, with Tanger picking up a pair of goals while Landy and Stastny each had a pair of assists. This line brings the skill and the playmaking ability in spades; it’s Landeskog as the physical presence that makes this a complete line. He gets in the muck, wins the battles, and drives to the net with aplomb. The top top lines will certainly benefit one another if they’re playing well.

And that brings us to the third line.  So far this season, it’s been the team’s best. The McGinn-MacKinnon-Parenteau line housed the team’s three leading scorers heading into Saturday and saw each pick up a point (Mack had a goal and an assist). I would call this the energy line, but the way the top line is playing, can you make any distinction really? McGinn flies around hitting everything, MacKinnon just flies around, and Parenteau is the veteran patiently picking his spots and usually finding them so far. This group could have a monster year as a whole because of their spot in the lineup and the opposition they’ll likely be facing all year. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep up the pace.

Either way, if you’re playing the Avalanche, the top line was enough to be worried about. But three quality lines that are ready to light the lamp at a moment’s notice? Good luck with that.

The Defense Is Still A Question Mark

Oct 12, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nate Guenin (5) battles for the puck with Washington Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski (84) during the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Wins are wins, sure, but the facts are as they are: Varlamov had to stop 41 shots in what looked like a blowout win. Not many of them were ridiculous, awe-inspiring saves, but with 42 shots on net, there are bound to be plenty of quality chances in there regardless. How long can this team realistically hope to give up those kind of shot numbers before they start seeing the repercussions?

They got a minor boost with the return of Ryan Wilson and the demotion of Matt Hunwick to Lake Erie, but Wilson will only add so much to this group. Nate Guenin continues to play above his head but how long with that last? They generally do a decent job of making sure Varly can see the shot and that it’s coming from the outside but this group doesn’t have an identity. They’re not big and physical, they’re not small and offensively gifted, they’re not a whole lot of anything. They’re just kind of six guys that are there, doing their jobs for now.

With the wins piling up, the group as a whole is safe for now but should the team slump and the fingers get pointed towards the defense, don’t be surprised to see some younger faces called up to shake things up. I hope it doesn’t come to that point because the play of this group as a whole has been better than expected, but could definitely use some shoring up.

Next up: Tuesday vs Dallas 

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Gabriel Landeskog Matt Duchene Nathan MacKinnon NHL Paul Stastny Semyon Varlamov Washington Capitals

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