Colorado Avalanche Predictions: Strong Start will Continue

Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) screens Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene (9) screens Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the first period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /
colorado avalanche
Oct 5, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Calvin Pickard (31) faces the Dallas Stars attack during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche will probably continue their strong start in the regular season. However, we won’t truly see what the team is made of until November.

The Colorado Avalanche have a new coach. If you’ve read one of my recent posts, you’ll know I’m unhappy about that. However, it’s a fact — the Avs have a new coach.

Here’s another fact — teams almost always perform better right after they get a new coach. We even saw this last season with my personal arch-nemesis team, the Minnesota Wild. They went on a four-game winning streak when Mike Yeo was fired and John Torchetti took over.

That four-game winning streak, while good enough to allow them to limp past the Avalanche to the playoffs, didn’t necessarily herald much more of an improvement in coaching. Bruce Bourdreau is Minnesota’s coach now, and I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that Torchetti was better.

Anyway, the Colorado Avalanche surprised the hockey world — and the majority of Avs Nation — by getting off to the strongest of possible starts. They won all six of their preseason games. They outscored their opponents an impressive 16-5. Colorado goalies even threw two shutouts.

The Avalanche have the latest start of any NHL team — they don’t even hit the ice for the regular season until Saturday, October 15. At the time of writing, we’ve already seen four games completed — including a command performance by Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews, who became the first player in history to score four goals in his NHL debut.

Once the Avs get rolling, though, let’s see what might continue to happen.

Injury Implications?

It’s probably a good thing that the Colorado Avalanche start so late. The injury bug has already started biting the players.

The most notable is center Matt Duchene, who came into the preseason after powering through a separated shoulder in the World Cup of Hockey. Yes, he was cleared by the Avalanche to play in the tournament anyway. Yes, he’s supposed to be good to go.

However, the regular season consists of 82 grueling games. After their home start against the reigning Central Division champions, the Dallas Stars, the Avs go on the road to face the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, plus the reigning President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals. And it’s not like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Florida Panthers are any walk in the park.

Anyway, could Duchene’s injury be one that lingers and causes problems for him this season?

Besides Duchene, center John Mitchell missed all of the preseason with hip issues. Winger Blake Comeau also missed some of camp and the preseason, and even veteran Jarome Iginla had a moment of injury.  That’s a pretty good slice of the team’s offense that’s already starting the season below 100%.

Goalies Settled

More from Mile High Sticking

I was worried about the goalie situation. Semyon Varlamov has been very inconsistent his entire career, and he has an injury-prone groin.

Calvin Pickard has strong skill and a killer work ethic. However, he’s very green. As much as I’d like to see him take over the starting goalie job one day, that day isn’t actually now. Yet, if Varly’s groin gives, that’s what will happen.

I trust Pickard, though. What really worried me more was who his backup would be. Well, that man would most likely be Spencer Martin, and he certainly impressed in the preseason.

Barring a freak accident (like what happened to Reto Berra… twice), Martin would be unlikely to play much if at all as Pickard’s backup. If he did, he could do an adequate job.

Ideally, I’d like to see Varlamov and Pickard sharing goalie duties almost 50-50 to begin the season. That way Pickard gets valuable experience, and Varlomov’s groin won’t be taxed too soon. Additionally, the team’s goalie situation would be settled once the important playoff-making stretch begins.

Strong Start

Going back to my original premise about having a new coach, the Colorado Avalanche should have a strong start. They finished last season in a humiliating fashion, losing eight of nine games at the end. The playoffs were in their grasp, and they let it slip through their fingers.

And that’s a large part of the reason their team-hero coach, Patrick Roy, resigned.

Anyway, the point is that I fully expect the team to come out of the gate as fired up as they did in the preseason. They’re embarrassed, and they want to show they’re not the losers they looked like at the end of last season.

When Roy took over as coach for the golden Why Not Us season, Colorado made an historic 12-1 start. They could match or even exceed that record this season. Hells, they could match the Montreal Canadiens’ nine-game winning streak from last season.

The Colorado Avalanche face four Central Division rivals in a row at the beginning of November:

  • November 1: Nashville Predators
  • November 3: Chicago Blackhawks
  • November 5: Minnesota Wild
  • November 6: St. Louis Blues

That will be a very important stretch for them. They need to knock those games out of the ballpark like it’s preseason hockey again.

However, I’ve predicted more than once that the real Colorado Avalanche will emerge a little later, around the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks games that frame Thanksgiving. By then the team will have settled into the grind of the regular season without any of the excitement of preseason still lingering.

Next: Potential D Pairings for the Avs

I know Avs Nation would prefer I be positive. Well, I’m afraid the Colorado Avalanche is still a playoff bubble team. The Central Division is the toughest in hockey, and it only got tougher over the summer. I seriously doubt Colorado will go Why Not Us again and win the Central.

They could make the playoffs, especially if their start is really that strong. I’m going to save judgement on that until I see how the games against the Penguins and Capitals go. That said, let’s just bask in the fact that, at least for right now, the Avs look like a relevant team again.