NHL Betting: Colorado Avalanche One Of Biggest Surprises in Years
by Trevor Whenham - 11/11/2009
In my profession I end up making a lot of predictions, pronouncements and guesses. Some of them I am particularly proud of down the road, and others seem perfectly reasonable. Every so often, though, I make one that misses the boat so badly that I wish that I wish I could pretend that it never happened. Such is the case when at the start of the hockey season I said that the Colorado Avalanche were going to be really, really bad. Almost a quarter of the way through the season only the Sharks have more points than the Avalanche, and San Jose has played one more game.
Though it was clearly a bad prediction, it's not one that was unjustified. They had the worst record in the Western Conference last year, and the third worst in the league. Joe Sakic had long been the heart and soul of this team, but he retired in the offseason. They had clearly lacked talent last year, and had done little to remedy the problem this year. Their goaltending was a major question mark. New coach Joe Sacco had little to work with, and his only head coaching experience was two underwhelming seasons in the AHL. The West had gone through an offseason arms war, and the teams Colorado would be playing most had almost all improved more than they had. This team seemed destined to fail.
It goes without saying that the Avalanche are the biggest surprise in the NHL this year, and one of the biggest surprises in the last several years. So, how are they doing it? Here's a look:
Goaltending - There has been no bigger single factor in the early success of this team than the play of Craig Anderson. He has played 17 of 18 games for the Avs and, with very few exceptions, has been absolutely brilliant. He's thriving on the workload, and he has won a lot of games singlehandedly. It's amazing how much of an impact a good goalie can have on a team, and this is a clear example of that. He's in the top tier of the statistical categories, and he gives the young team the confidence to go about their job in front of him. Anderson was a risk as a free agent acquisition because he was moving on to his third team at just 28 years old, and had never been a clear No. 1 starter. There were reasons to be optimistic based on his play in Florida the last two years, though, and so far he has lived up to all of the potential he had shown - and probably more.
Protecting home ice - To be a good team you have to perform well on home ice. There's no way around that. Colorado has done very well on that front so far. They won their first six home games, and the only loss was against Edmonton when the Oilers were impossibly hot, and lucky, on the power play. The home dominance is always impressive, but especially so when you consider that the fans, typically among the most loyal in the league, have been absent in large numbers this year. Attendance is way down and the crowd has been flat compared to the norm, so the team doesn't have the home wave of emotion to ride on. That makes their accomplishment more impressive.
Strong road play - Almost as important as strong home play is taking care of business on the road. We got an early sense that this team was for real when, after two home wins, they had to go on a seven-game road trip. That could be a crushing way to start the season for many teams, but the Avs made the most of it, winning four games and taking 10 of a possible 14 points. They won the first two on their next trip as well, and those were in the tough back-to-back Alberta stretch. The Avs aren't the best they could be on the road, but they are significantly better than they were expected to be.
Dominated the East - Your own conference is always going to be a war, so it is very important that you play well against the teams that you don't see as often. Non-conference play can often make the difference between a success and a disappointment. So far on that front Colorado has been perfect - four wins in four tries. Three of those wins have been on the road as well, so they are especially impressive.
Rookie impact - When you are a young team it goes without saying that you need your young players to shine. Colorado has definitely had that. Matt Duchene was the third player picked in the draft last year, and like John Tavares and Victor Hedman, who were picked before him, he has been very good. His offensive production hasn't been what it will be later in his career, but he plays with as much energy as any player in the league, and that makes a visible difference to the players on the ice with him. Even more impressive, though, has been Ryan O'Reilly. You almost never expect a second-round pick to be an immediate contributor, but Reilly has been. He has 14 points in 18 games. Even better, he is +13 this year, the second best plus/minus total in the whole league. You expect rookies to make more than their share of mistakes, but O'Reilly has been incredibly responsible and effective on both ends of the ice.
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