Avalanche Week 20 Preview: Wed vs Thrashers, Fri vs Coyotes, Sat @ Kings
With less than a week left before the Olympic Break, Iâ€™m shifting my Avalanche coverage to individual player profiles.Â Even in Denver, many of these Avalanche players are unknown for two main reasons.Â First, Colorado sucked their way to worst in the West last season.Â Second, more than 50% of the current roster consists of call-ups, rookies & offseason acquisitions.Â Below youâ€™ll find write-ups on the five players that made the difference in last nightâ€™s 5-2 win over the Saint Louis Blues.
(To see a summary of the last weekâ€™s action, just check out my Week 19 preview.Â Colorado went 3-1 over that stretch and, as I predicted they would, lost in Nashville to the dangerous Predators.Â The Avalanche are right back in the thick of the playoff field now, and are tied for points with Vancouver. Â The Canucks will catch up in games played tonight at Tampa Bay.Â So start pulling for the Lightning now.Â Readyâ€¦ setâ€¦ go!)
Chris Stewart logged a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (a goal, an assist & a fight) 4:11 into the first period Monday night versus the Blues.Â My spiritual adviser & practicing Snake Handler, Dan Olson, believes that it may be the fastest Gordie Howe Hat Trick (or GHHT) in the history of the modern NHL.Â I believe him, if only because Stewie deserves recognition for the workmanlike way he plays the game.
Brandon Yip logged two goals in his first three shots in this game; a bit of retribution for Mr. Yip who missed most of the first half of the season after injuring his finger in a pre-season game against these same Blues.Â I love that Yip only shoots when heâ€™s reasonably certain it will be a goal.Â The rest of the time heâ€™s looking pass.Â Just another character guy fueling these upstart Avalanche.
David Koci broke his hand on DJ Kingâ€™s face during a first period fight.Â It looked like he might have caught some of the top of Kingâ€™s helmet mid-throttle.Â The fight was most definitely won by David, and was an early turning point for the Avalanche.Â You cannot overstate the importance of winning a big fight early against a physical team like Saint Louis.Â Koci is an enforcer in every sense of the term, and he will be missed.Â He just goes out and plays great defense from the forward position and hurts people.Â This is an underestimated skill set, and David is among the best.Â Luckily, he has the Olympic Break to heal upâ€¦ or learn how to punch left-handed.
Scott Hannan spends every TV timeout patrolling the ice between the Avsâ€™ bench and the logo at center ice.Â Even if heâ€™s not due out for the next shift he skates in circles, back and forth, side to side.Â Hannanâ€™s not a huge guy, but the image has to be a bit unsettling for opposing players.Â The man is simply so high-strung during games that he will take any opportunity to skate around looking menacing.Â I bet Scott was the kid in pee-wee league hockey that skipped intermission orange slices to practice slap-shots on the oppositionâ€™s net.Â Heâ€™s got so many intangibles that benefit this young team, and he leads by example.
Craig Anderson took a stinger to the neck on a puck shot ridiculously high from a Blues player just left of the slot.Â He went down for about a minute, shook it off, and pitched a shutout the rest of the way.Â Anderson was playing in his 13th straight game with capable backup Peter Budaj ready to take the iceâ€¦ and Colorado had a comfortable leadâ€¦ but he shook off the shot and just kept playing.Â He is such a dedicated competitor.Â I wish I could sit David Aebischer & Jose Theodore in front of game-tape of Anderson during a tight divisional contest.Â â€œDo you see?Â Look at his eyes.Â Watch him throw his body across the crease.Â Do you see?â€
I get the feeling that it is more a Craig Anderson decision than a Joe Sacco decision when it comes to the goaltending â€œrotationâ€ for the Avalanche.Â Budaj only plays when Anderson is hurt.Â It may be that Craig has never been an NHL starter before and heâ€™s just relishing the opportunity.Â (He played 1 in 4 games or less most of his career.) Â Personally, I think he wants to get himself ready for the NHLâ€™s Second Season.Â To be sure, the NHL playoffs are like a long-distance sprint, and Craig Anderson intends to be in Cup-run shape come April.
The Avalanche have a pretty rough schedule to close out the pre-Olympics portion of the â€™09-â€™10 season.Â I like getting Atlanta fresh off the Kovalchuck trade.Â The Thrashersâ€™ D is awful and Ilya was the only thing keeping the team competitive.Â After Atlanta it gets dicey, though, as the surprisingly powerful Phoenix Coyotes come to town, and then the Avalanche fly to LA for a next-night game against the mostly unbeatable Kings.Â (LA lost last night after recording a 9-game win streak.)
The stretch-run starts early for the Avalanche, as they will combat two of their primary opponents for playoff position just before the break.
Wed, Feb 10th vs Atlanta Thrashers (7:00 MST)
PREDICTION:Â AVALANCHE 4, THRASHERS 1
Fri, Feb 12th vs Phoenix Coyotes (7:00 MST)
PREDICTION:Â AVALANCHE 3, COYOTES 2 (OT)
Sat, Feb 13th @ Los Angeles Kings (8:30 MST)
PREDICTION:Â AVALANCHE 3, KINGS 4
WEEK 20 PREDICTION: Â 2-1
Big Baby Blues
Two more Avalanche players took high slappers in the ten minutes of game time that followed the Craig Anderson stinger on Monday nightâ€¦ and each one looked intentional from my seat.Â No deflections, just high slappers.Â Either the Blues are a really bad team (a very real possibility) or really bad sports.
If the Blues have given up on their season to the point that they waste offensive opportunities to put high slap-shots on opposing players, maybe they should just stay home for the rest of the year.Â No need to travel outside of beautiful ::chortle:: Saint Louis if youâ€™re more interested in throwing frozen rubber at folksâ€™ heads than winning hockey games.Â I know itâ€™s a rough â€˜n tumble sport, but aiming for injury is just pathetic.
If St Louis does decide to make the trip to Colorado March 6th for the first of two remaining matchups between these teams, it is my sincere hope that David Kociâ€™s right hand is sufficiently healed to put some more hurt on the Big Baby Blues.