When the season started, it seemed as if the Chicago Blackhawks were going to have an easy time not only getting a playoff spot, but winning their division. With the new format of the NHL, the top three teams in each division make the playoffs and, aside from the St. Louis Blues, there weren’t many other teams in the Central Division that stood out as being able to give the Blackhawks a run for their money, not only as a top three team, but as the top team in their division this year. That has all changed, however, with the surprisingly stellar start of the Colorado Avalanche.
Led by new head coach Patrick Roy, Colorado has one of the best records in the entire NHL. This is extremely surprising to many, though, because just last year the Avalanche found themselves with the worst Western Conference record and second worst record in the league. Now, they are 14-2-0 and are one of the top teams, not just in their division, or in the Western Conference, but in the entire NHL. There are a number of reasons why the Avalanche are doing so well thus far this season, and it is the mix of this spectacular play in all aspects of the game that has enabled them to do so.
One of the biggest reasons for the Avalanche’s early success has been their dominant offense. The Avalanche, led by great young talent, average 3.38 goals per game, which is fourth best in the NHL. Matt Duchene, the 22-year-old center, leads the team with 11 goals and 19 points on the season, and 18-year-old rookie Nathan MacKinnon is tied for the team lead with eight assists. Other prolific youngsters who score are captain Gabriel Landeskog with six goals and 13 points and assistant captain Paul Stasny with six goals and 13 points, who at age 27 can ironically be considered one of the veterans on this young team. The Avalanche are also finding scoring from each line they put out on the ice. All of their players who play every game have at least one point, showing that their 3.38 goals per game average is spread among the whole team, not just their top line, which gives them the ability to score even when some of their best performers are not playing their best hockey.
What has been even more impressive for Colorado has been their outstanding goaltending thus far. In the NHL, you can score all you want, but good goaltending is what is going to win the Stanley Cup. The Avalanche currently have two outstanding net minders who are performing excellently. The Avalanche have given up just 1.75 goals per game, which is best in the entire NHL and, while the defense is playing well, it is largely in part to starter Semyon Varlamov and backup Jean Sebastien-Giguere. Varlamov is 9-2 with a 2.00 goals against average and a .936 save percentage, and Giguere has been even more impressive than him. To call Giguere a backup, even though he is one, is almost insulting considering his two shutouts, 1.00 goals against average and .970 save percentage are all tops in the NHL along with his perfect 5-0 record. Varlamov and Giguere are proving to be one of the best goalie tandems in the entire NHL, and if they continue this kind of play, it’s going to be hard for any team to score on Colorado.
Finally, what would a dominant team be without some excellent special teams play? The Avalanche have one of the best penalty kills in the game. Their 88.5 percent success rate on the penalty kill is third best in the entire NHL. Led by Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda, even when the Avalanche are prone to give up goals the most, when they are a man or two down, their penalty kill steps up and usually stops the other team’s power play. Combine great scoring, outstanding goaltending and a superb penalty kill and it’s no wonder the Avalanche are one of the best teams in the league.
The big question is whether this young Avalanche team, led by a first-year head coach, will be able to sustain this type of dominance the entire season. Well, looking at how they have plenty of offensive weapons to turn to, two great goaltenders that can step in if one or the other is having an off night and a superb defense that is highlighted by an amazing penalty kill, it’s hard to argue that the Avalanche are going to roll down the Western Conference standings any time soon. I expect the Avalanche to continue their dominance, which will most likely lead them into the Stanley Cup playoffs and, who knows, maybe even the Cup itself.