Avalanche second in NHL standings
No one saw this coming. At least not this fast.
After being rewarded the first pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft as the one of the worst teams in the league, the Colorado Avalanche stand second in the NHL standings with 28 points nearly seven months later with a record of 14-3 (The Anaheim Ducks, a team the Avalanche soundly beat 6-1 in the season opener are in first place with 31 points).
The astounding fact the Avalanche roster wasn’t obliterated from a season ago makes the sudden transformation even more impressive. Currently, 15 of the 24 players on the Avalanche roster were apart of the team that finished dead last in the Western Conference and had the second lowest point total in the NHL, trailing only the Florida Panthers, just a season ago. The Avalanche had many pieces to become a successful team, but a few changes needed to be made in order for the team to catapult to the top of the NHL standings.
Reasons why the Avalanche are rolling:
Patrick Roy and coaching staff
To regain the success they enjoyed over a decade ago, the Avalanche wanted to incorporate some faces that were a part of the glory days. President Josh Kroenke wanted guys who know what it takes to win, and people the fans in Denver can trust.
Was there a better choice to coach this team than Patrick Roy? No. Along with Joe Sakic in the front office and Adam Foote helping coach the defense, Roy has noticeably brought an inspired brand of hockey back to Denver.
Since being hired, Roy has repeatedly said he sees himself as more of a partner with his players than a disciplinarian or dictator. No more doghouse, a staple in the Joe Sacco regime. Roy wants to be a coach that’s relatable to his players and has an open line of communication.
In the first quarter of the season the Avalanche look like they want to play for Roy and the results are showing, and quickly. In Scott Burnside’s Avalanche preview, the ESPN.com hockey writer wrote, “Here’s hoping the fans understand that even the presence of legends like Sakic and Roy isn’t going to be able to fix what ails this franchise overnight.” As it turns out, Roy and Sakic did just that.
This season Matt Duchene has emerged as the Avalanche’s best player. He’s tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, ranked 14 in points, and has developed into the perennial All-Star the Avalanche had in mind when drafting him third in 2009. His speed, quickness, and poise around the net makes him one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the NHL.
It was actually last season Duchene began to show signs of significant improvement. He tallied 17 goals and 43 points in 47 games after making changes to his diet and training. Duchene credits smarter workouts and a gluten-free diet with his improved energy. He says he lost 10 pounds thanks to the changes without sacrificing any muscle mass. Even though he blossomed last season, Duchene has said he was miserable playing in Joe Sacco’s slower system, and started seeing a sports psychologist to regain his confidence on the ice. With the success the Avalanche are having under Roy’s fast paced system, Duchene’s talents are being noticed across the league.
As of now, the Avalanche are tied with the Boston Bruins for first in goals against with 30. The defense has been solid, and is also chipping into the offense. Last season the defenseman had five goals combined, so far this season they have six. Erik Johnson is stepping up this season after a disappointing season in 2012-2013. He’s spearheading the strong defensive play, breaking out of the zone quickly and getting pucks on sticks of forwards exiting the zone. André Benoit, Cory Sarich, and Nate Guenin have all played well for the Avalanche as newcomers in front of Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Varlamov and Giguere have been spectacular for the Avalanche. If Varlamov can stay on the ice despite his legal troubles, he looks like a strong candidate to win the Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the NHL. As for Giguere, he’s no ordinary backup. He’s had a storied career which includes a Stanley Cup in 2007 and a Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003. (Giguere won the Conn Smythe Trophy after losing in the finals, only the fifth player to do so.) Giguere is not only undefeated with a 5-0 record, a 1.00 goals against average, and a .970 save percentage, but his veteran presence and experience in the young Avalanche locker room is immeasurable. If the Avalanche can make a deep run in the playoffs, Giguere will be a key member in keeping his young teammates calm and composed.
Why not us?
After such a great start, the Avalanche only have to win half of the remainder of their games to be in a good position to get into the playoffs with 93+ points. Playing the way they are now, the young Avs have every reason to think they are Stanley Cup worthy.