Are the Avalanche stocking up on redheads for a playoff run? No doubt. (Left-handed shots don't hurt either.)
Week 7 was a big one for the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs hung tough in the tight Western Conference with a blowout win over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.Â Showcasing their depth, fourth-liner Greg Mauldin stepped in for injured teammates and played on every single offensive line (plus logging time on the PP & PK.)Â Mauldin scored two goals when the game was close and logged two good assists as Colorado pulled away in the 3rd.
The win came at a cost, though, as the thuggish Wild took out top Colorado scorer Chris Stewart.Â Stewie will miss 4-6 weeks after surgery to repair his broken hand.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche organization has bought in 100% to the youth wave overtaking the team, if only by necessity.
Defenseman Scott Hannan, one of only a handful of healthy Avalanche veterans, was traded to the Washington Capitals for Czech forward Tomas Fleischmann.Â Colorado needed a left-handed shot at the forward position with Stewart out. Â Plus we have watched a host of young defensemen step into prominent roles in recent weeks, so the front office is clearly hoping that the young D will continue improving at an NHL pace.
This is a dangerous move to be sure.Â These young Colorado defenders are not sure-things.Â But the Avalanche did hedge their bets by trading rookie defender Colby Cohen to the Bruins for third-year D-man Matt Hunwick.Â Young Mr. Hunwick has had a solid defensive season in 2010 after struggling in his sophomore campaign last year in Boston.
Now we get down to the meat of the matter: a six-game stretch against Eastern Conference teams.Â Colorado has a chance to pull away in the West by beating up on a few defensively inferior teams from the East, but it wonâ€™t be all that easy.
After opening up at home against the Atlanta Thrashers, the Avalanche will head out for five games in nine days along the East Coast.
Tuesday, November 30th vs Atlanta Thrashers (8:00 MST)
Last season the Avalanche & Thrashers met only once.
That thrilling 4-3 OT victory was capped by a Kyle Cumiskey goal nine seconds into the extra period.Â Kyle grabbed the faceoff win and skated right down the middle of the flat-footed Atlanta defense to put home an uncontested wrister.
Expect plenty of similarly loose play, open ice and scoring in this rematch of youthful offensive-minded teams.Â The Thrashers are on a five-game winning streak behind the hot goaltending of Ondrej Pavelec, who did not allow more than one goal in any of those wins.Â But if the Avalanche can unnerve him with an early score or two, he should open up like a Christmas clam.
PREDICTION: Avalanche 5, Thrashers 4 (SO)
Friday, December 3rd @ Carolina Hurricanes (5:00 MST)
Carolina is the perfect team to showcase the difference between the Western Conference & the Eastern Pretenders.
The Hurricanes sit in 9th in the East three points out of the last playoff spot, but their sub-.500 record (10-11-3) would slot them just a half-step out of next-to-last in the West.Â They give up goals at almost as frenetic a clip as the Avalanche, and have lost five of their last six contests.Â Â Now, three of those losses were in shootouts and Colorado has historically struggled at Carolina, so there is reason for caution.Â But I like the Avalanche to open up a can of whoopass in a speedy game between two well-rested clubs.
PREDICTION: Avalanche 4, Hurricanes 3 (SO)
Thursday, November 25th @ Edmonton Oilers (7:00 MST)
The Avalanche will continue their reality TV show â€œBad Defensive Teams of the Eastern Seaboardâ€ with a trip to Tampa Bay.
The Lighrning are the only team in either conference currently sitting in a playoff spot that has a plus/minus differential in the red.Â They are -5 on the year and are also the only club in the top half of the league to give up more goals per game (3.25) than the Avalanche (3.08).Â Those numbers get better for Tampa Bay on home ice, though.
Colorado could get lucky here and see some timely scores or a standout goaltending performance, but going against a fellow burner like the Lightning does not bode well for the Avalanche in the second half of back-to-back road games.Â Maybe Craig Anderson gets healthy in time to smite his former team, but it looks like a long road back from the IR for Andyâ€¦ and a long road for the Avalanche without him.
PREDICTION: Avalanche 2, Lightning 4
Both new Avalanche acquisitions are red-heads.Â Teams with a healthy dose of the fire-brood win hockey games.Â Do not underestimate this indisputable fact.
Every NHL Championship team contains gritty gingers.Â In fact, the only Eastern teams that regularly compete have a host of them.Â Pittsburgh, Philadelphia & Washington all have big, mean redheads fueling their collective fire.Â And while Colorado already has Cody McCleod prowling the ice with burnt orange locks in tow, the additions of two young redheads will surely curry favor with the mighty hockey gods.
Tomas Fleischmann occasionally sports a bright red beard, and will join fellow Czech winger Milan Hejduk in striking fear into the hearts of slow defenders, Eastern-European Style.Â Matt Hunwick is a Michigander with a serious case of helmet-hair to flame-fro.Â Lookout league, here come the recharged Avalanche.