The Colorado Avalanche are the 6th team this season to clinch a spot in the NHL playoffs. They improved their record to 47-21-6 with their victory over the San Jose Sharks today by a score of 3-2.
They are now the 5th team in the NHL with over 100 points this season as well. This is something that has not been accomplished by this franchise since the 2003-2004 season, which was before the season-long lockout from 2004-2005. Throughout the franchise’s time in Denver, it has finished with more than 90 points 14 times now in 18 years. 12 of those 14 years, however, came in the first 12 years the franchise was in Denver. They have only had over 90 points once since 2008-2009, and that came in 2009-2010 with 95 points. That was also the last time the Avalanche made the postseason, where they were beat by the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
The Avalanche are truly embarking on a worst-to-first type of season, after finishing last season at the bottom of the league and earning the first overall draft choice in the 2013 NHL draft, which they used on the current Calder Trophy candidate, Nathan MacKinnon.
MacKinnon is a star in the making. He already has made waves this season by breaking a record set by Wayne Gretzky – longest point streak by an 18 year old. He is also one of only 2 players on the Avalanche roster that has played in every game this season, with the other being Patrick Bordeleau. MacKinnon has 23 goals and 33 assists this season, both best in the league for rookies, and has a +20 plus/minus rating, which is third best among rookies.
Another key player that is growing into his own this year for the Avalanche is Matt Duchene. He was selected to represent Canada in the Sochi Olympic Games, and although he did not get as much ice time as he probably has earned this year, he got invaluable experience from being around several key NHL players who have a winning history, specifically Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. For the Avalanche this year, Duchene has 23 goals and 47 assists, and has played in all but three games to this point. He was injured in the game today against the San Jose Sharks, and his presence will be severely missed if he has to miss time going into the playoffs.
Ryan O’Reilly should be a front runner for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for his efforts so far this season. Until the game today, O’Reilly had not taken a single penalty, yet leads the league in takeaways and has amassed 26 goals and 33 assists this season. The penalty he took in the game today was the result of playing the puck while he had a broken stick.
All of the aforementioned players have been key contributors to the team’s success this season, but they would be nowhere this year if they did not have Semyon Varlamov playing at a world-class level. Varlamov now leads the league with 37 wins, and has a .926 save percentage to go along with it. However, that is not the most impressive part of his game. Varlamov is an amazing 18-4-0 in games in which he faces 35 or more shots from his opponents, including today’s game against the Sharks in which he made 47 saves on 49 shots. This Avalanche team defies most hockey logic in that they are frequently out-shot by their opponents, but they continue to win regardless of that fact. The reason they are able to do this is because they have a net-minder standing on his head behind them.
The Avalanche still have 8 more games remaining in the regular season, leaving them enough time to get everyone healthy for a run deep into the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.