What We Learned: Avalanche – Stars

It wasn’t as easy as some thought, but the Avalanche are 6-0-0 and Patrick Roy has matched the best start for a head coach in NHL history.

Though the effort certainly was there, the team looked sluggish at times; sloppy others. Still, they turned it on at the right times, got bailed out by Semyon Varlamov and Matt Duchene, and now head into Thursday with a big matchup with rival Detroit on home ice.

It’ll be the first big test for the Avs since they escaped Boston with a victory despite being outplayed for the first time. If the Avalanche can walk away from Thursday 7-0-0, it might be time to consider this team as being for real.

Until then, here’s what we learned from Tuesday night’s 3-2 win.

Matt Duchene Is A Superstar

It seems like every game I say “this was Matt Duchene’s best game”, but here we are. Duchene was superb all night, creating chances with his speed yet again. He had a pair of goals on the night, but easily could’ve had four or five if not for a pretty solid game from Dallas’ Dan Ellis.

Duchene got a little bit of an assist from the Dallas defense on his first marker; a weak pass trickled to the wide open Duchene who wired it past Ellis to tie the score at one. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of creating it all yourself and you need a little break. Dutchy got a break and made the most of it as you should.

It was the second goal, however, that really got everyone’s attention. Behold:

That’s some superstar level stuff right there. The way he bursts through, the way he wires that shot high short side, all of it. He’s been excellent in every game so far in this short season and it’s showing not only when you watch him but on the stat sheet. What’s even more incredible is that he’s only tied for the team lead in points with Nathan MacKinnon and PA Parenteau with seven in six games.

He may not challenge for the scoring title this year, but Duchene is starting to inch closer to fulfilling his potential. When he’s finally maxing out? Look out.

Leaning On Varlamov Like This Can’t Continue

Chew on these numbers for a minute:

Varlamov has a league-best .965 save percentage. He’s second in the league with a 1.20 GAA and second in wins with five. But here’s where things get a little scary and I’m not talking about the performance of Varly: he’s fourth in the league in both shots against (173) and saves (167).

Oct 15, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) blocks a shot from Dallas Stars defenseman Trevor Daley (6)during the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It’s those shot and saves totals that are the scary part. Of the top five in shots against, only he and Ryan Miller are having “good” years (Miller has a 2.39GAA and .939 save % for a really bad Buffalo team). One has to wonder just how long a goalie can sustain that sort of success while facing that much rubber on a nightly basis.

Looking at last season, of the top five in shots against, only Antti Niemi (2.16 GAA, .924 save %) and Henrik Lundqvist (2.05 GAA, .926 save %) had truly good seasons. Evgeni Nabokov wasn’t bad for the eighth-seeded Isles (2.50 GAA, .910 save %) but Miller and Ondrej Pavelec were at 2.80 and 2.81 in GAA respectively. Obviously, part of that is the product of bad teams, but for the most part, it’s not reasonable to expect elite performances with those kinds of shot totals.

Varly has been superb so far, but it will be interesting to see if the heavy shot totals catch up to him or if he continues to turn shots aside with regularity.

This Was A Game Of Firsts

A lot of them at that.

Rich Peverly broke in on Varly last night all alone, burying his breakaway chance in the first period to give the Stars the 1-0 lead. This was the first time the Avs had surrendered a first period goal this season.

When Cody Eakin beat Varlamov with his shot in the second period, it accounted for a pair of firsts. It was the first time this season the Avalanche had given up multiple goals in a game (not bad for this being the sixth game). Not only that, but Eakin scored with just :01 left on the power play, marking the first time the Avalanche had surrendered a power play goal this season, their first in 16 chances against.

The final first was also tied to that Eakin goal: it was their first time this season surrendering a lead to an opponent. Considering it took until the sixth game for those things to happen, that’s both impressive and leaves little to wonder as to why the Avalanche are unbeaten. Kudos to all involved.

The Defense Is Really, Really Questionable

Forget the fact that they surrendered 41 shots last night. Forget the previously mentioned stats regarding Varlamov and that they gave up 39 in JS Giguere’s shutout.

Oct 15, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Dallas Stars center Jamie Benn (14) passes the puck between Colorado Avalanche defensemen Erik Johnson (6) and Jan Hejda (8) during the third period at Pepsi Center. The Avalanche won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

No, let’s instead focus on the actual chances. If you watched last night (or any night so far), there were several times when Varlamov had to make multiple saves in quick strike fashion. Some of them were bang-bang plays that usually end up in goals.

More concerning? The pair of breakaways the team allowed, one of which resulted in the first goal of the game. A pair of breakaways? C’mon guys, this isn’t that hard. The group is generally overachieving but it’s also being masked heavily by the play of Varlamov. If he has a bad game, those flaws are going to come to the forefront BIG TIME and the questions will start rolling out.

Their next game against the Red Wings will be a huge test for this defense and a chance to get things on the right track.

Next up: 10/18 vs Detroit

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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Topics: 2013-14 Season, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, NHL, Semyon Varlamov

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