Good afternoon sports fans. The Avalanche have had some ups and downs so far and generally played like a young team that’s still looking for an identity and some chemistry. I’ve asked the staff to tackle a few questions about what’s working and how that might project over the next few weeks. Here’s what we came up with:
We all know we’re dealing with small sample sizes so far but there are some noticeable differences in the way the Avs have been playing. What stands out to you as a change that could stick around long term?
Rudo: The Avs have embraced the youth movement by giving them defensive responsibility. J.T. Compher is one of the team’s leaders in PK time and Tyson Jost when healthy has been getting significant time as well. Building the defensive forward core from the ground up sets this team up to be a defensive powerhouse as the team gains valuable experience.
Jackie: It’s been nice to see improvements in areas such as shot suppression and possession plus some glimpses of encouraging play on the power play but the drum I’m probably going to beat all year is just simply scoring goals. In seven games the Avs have scored 20 goals from 12 different players. They are getting scoring from every line and the youngerfaster depth is chipping in. Hopefully this is a good indicator of improved scoring all season long.
Prof Oak: One of the biggest differences I’ve seen is that the Avalanche seem to be playing with a little more creativity. I don’t know much about systems or anything, but I think this comes down to two factors: actually having time to learn Bednar’s system, and acquiring some new players who aren’t afraid to play with a little creativity. A large amount of this team was not here at the beginning of the year last year, so the attitude on and off the ice seems entirely different. It seems invigorated with youth and energy and I think you can see that in how the players are playing.
Vlad: I was all set to go with the “play a full sixty” mentality, but I think I’ll go with more mobility on the power play. Seeing the guys move their legs and not feel planted to the ice is a refreshing look compared to what the power play offered last year. The power play units look spirited–dare I say creative to a certain extent?–and are causing the shorthanded teams to continually adapt to such a fast and mobile series of players. If this team can continue to generate shots and convert on the man-advantage, this is where it’ll begin, and I would love to see this up-tempo play on the power play continue throughout the season.
Steph: The Avalanche spent most of the last few seasons, defensively, chasing the play. Whether that was by design in Roy’s brief man to man experiment or by chaos as the team had no discernible system last year, it’s cleaned up a lot so far this year. Even when things break down in the defensive zone, they still are playing in a structured way. They’re still hitting their breakout passes instead of punting. There is some semblance of support back there.
Ace: Energy – the energy that’s resulted from #youngerfaster has made games enjoyable to watch again.
earl: I’m going with a subtle point that isn’t 100% integrated yet but is a big change from seasons past. When an Avs player has the puck and encounters pressure, instead of the usual turnover they’re popping the puck into open space where a teammate has a shot at a 50/50 battle at the very least. I’ve seen plenty of good teams do this with success and it works. If you can’t pass to a teammate out of pressure, put it somewhere that isn’t dangerous/tragic that gives you a shot at retaining possession. Seems simple but not doing this in the past has led to oodles of goals against.
The Avs hit 20 games at Thanksgiving, will they be over or under 20 points by then?
Rudo: Over, a young team should be expected to come out of the gates hot, they can provide a significant spark while they still have their legs under them. The question is can they find consistency as the season progresses and fatigue sets in.
Jackie: Over. They have eight points already so earning 12 in the the next 13 games should not be too much to ask this group. Hitting .500 for the season still seems a possible but yet lofty goal however in the short term they will still have the energy, health (knock on wood) and positive momentum to hit that fairly easily.
Prof Oak: I think the Avs will be over 20 points my Thanksgiving. Their goaltending has been absolutely phenomenal and their penalty kill has shown recent improvements (which wasn’t hard to do, but still). As long as Varlamov and Bernier don’t fall off a cliff, the Avs should be good to go.
Vlad: This is impossible. Thanksgiving was last Monday–oh. You weren’t talking about Canadian Thanksgiving. Oops!
Kidding aside, I think this is a challenging benchmark. The Avalanche have already pocketed eight points on the season. Winning seven more games to eclipse the twenty point marker is doable, but it certainly won’t be easy. There are no fluff opponents on the schedule (I certainly won’t turn my nose up at Vegas given their hot start), but in order to prevent a repeat of last season’s nuclear winter, the Avalanche have to string together some very important wins against some skilled Central Division foes they’ll be seeing between now and the totally non-Canadian iteration of Thanksgiving.
Steph: Oh, over 20 at thanksgiving, surely.
Ace: Over, but just barely. Let’s say 24. I predicted this team will end up at about .500. So far they’ve come out of the gate winning .677.
earl: I won’t be surprised if they manage to break 20 points but if I had to bet I’d take the under. Games are somewhat more random in the early season but I see the Avs getting better in the standings over the season rather than worse. I’ll say 18 or 19 points by Turkey day
What player is your MVP of the first couple of weeks?
Rudo: Matt Duchene. Love him, hate him, speculate about him, he has been an offensive force for the Avalanche and a fantastic mentor for Kerfoot and Yakupov.
Jackie: Duchene, Andrighetto and Yakupov were in consideration but Varlamov has been the guy to show up and perform each night he’s been asked to this season. Bernier has also been solid but Varlamov is showing the ceiling of what the team can be if the group in front of him performs to their ability.
Prof Oak: The 2 MVPs I have for this team as it currently stands are Varlamov and Bernier. You can have average offense, and still win games with great goaltending (ask the 1998-99 Buffalo Sabres, they know). The Avs are middle of the pack currently averaging 3.17 goals per game, however they are top 4 by giving up 2.17 goals per game. The Avs are 6 games in, and have allowed three 5v5 goals. Three. Even though Matt Duchene is playing out of his mind, and carrying the offense, these two goaltenders are hard-carrying this team. Bernier’s stats are average, but we all saw that New Jersey game that could have very easily gotten out of hand. Varlamov is currently posting 1.76 GAA and .944 Sv% and in my opinion, hasn’t had a bad game yet. If these goaltenders keep playing this way, playoffs, here we come.
Vlad: No question my MVP right now is Semyon Varlamov. The injuries that have plagued him the past few seasons look to be a thing of the past, as he has looked very sharp in the crease. He has that quickness in his lateral movements and doesn’t appear to be over-exerting himself to try to make a save. When the team has been down, he has not been pulled in favor of Jonathan Bernier, illustrating the faith that Coach Bednar & Co. have in him as the team’s undisputed number one goaltender. I am encouraged to see this start from Varlamov and I absolutely believe that if he continues to play this well, the rest of the team will look to him as that model of consistency to feed off of. No teammate wants to let their goaltender down, and with the way Varlamov has been playing, that locker room will want to ensure they play as hard as their goaltender has been playing thus far.
Steph: It burns because he needs to be traded but Matt Duchene. He shares the team point lead (going into the Predators game) and is carrying a widely-regarded catastrophic bust and an NCAA rookie to be the Avs most dangerous line every night.
Ace: Since everyone else chose Dutchy, and well deserved I might add, I’m going with Landeskog and Johnson. They’ve haven’t shown up on the scoresheet as much as we’d like but they are playing the hard defensive minutes that allows the Duchene and Mackinnon lines to put up the points.
earl: I like the choices above but I’m going to go a little off the board and say Tyson Barrie. Much maligned for his defense, he’s finally “getting” the Bednar-Pratt system and holding his own while returning to the offensive form that makes him a special player. I think he’s criminally overlooked as far as what he’s brought to the offense so far this season and I’m pretty sure losing him would have drastic effects on the rest of the lineup’s production. If you want depth scoring, a great way to get some is to have a defenseman that can make depth guys better.
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What say you, dear reader? Who’s your MVP so far? Will the Avs break 20 by the fourth Thursday in November?