Sunday, October 28, 2007

Avalanche Stay Perfect at Home; Defeat Wild 3-1

Let's play a game of good news/bad news.

Good news: The Avs won at home again.

Bad news: I'm still not feeling well so won't have a good writeup.

Good news: I'm in Denver on Thursday for the Penguins game.

Bad news: When I'm at live games I don't spend much time analyzing so it might be a sparse and lovey-dovey post when I can get one up ;)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Avalanche Toast Flames 3-2 in OT

I'm not feeling terribly well so this is going to be pretty quick.

First Period
Sakic scores on a great feed by Wolski from behind the net to make it 1-0.

Theodore makes a good save on a Tanguay break.

Tanguay gets another break, catches Theodore a bit off-center and buries it far side. Sauer was caught playing far too aggressively.

Second Period
The Flames strike early as Lombardi takes advantage of his speed and Jeff Finger's carelessness to strip Finger and put the puck past Theodore.

Third Period
I grow weary of the Sportsnet announcers saying you need to go high on Theodore. You need to go high on most goaltenders in the league so just shut up.

Just as a Tanguay penalty is about to expire, Svatos pokes home a rebound to tie the game. Good, dirty goal. I love it.

Sakic and Smyth coast in on a 2-on-1. Sakic feeds a saucer to Smyth and he buries it.

Odds and Ends
- Sakic got his 1600th career point (100 against the Flames)
- Quenneville got his 400th win

Related Links
TSN Recap

Leopold Out Two Months

Jordan Leopold will require surgery on his injured wrist and will be out for at least 2 months. Sigh.

On the plus side, we should see Finger in the lineup for those 2 months and get a few more glimpses at Cumiskey.

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Flames

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
It's that time of the week again. Time to kick some Calgary Flames butt. The Avalanche (5-4-0) continue their 4-game roadtrip in Calgary (5-3-2) tonight following a 3-day layoff since their 4-2 win against Edmonton on Tuesday. Colorado won the last meeting between these two in a shootout after rallying from a 4-goal deficit. Let's hope, for the sake of all fans sanity, they don't wait until 4 goals in to pick up the pace.

The Flames are coming off a big come-from-behind win of their own. They were down 3-0 against the Wild, the stingiest defensive team in the league, when they broke through and scored 5 unanswered goals to win the game.

There were a couple interesting news stories leading up to the game today. I didn't get a chance to cover them individually as most of my time over the last few days has been spent sick on the couch so here they are.

Starting Goaltender
Jose Theodore gets the nod in goal tonight for...some reason. I can only guess that Q decided that since Theodore got the shootout win in relief last time, it must be a given that he'll be able to do even better tonight without the 4-goal spot. Seems (il)logical. Budaj had a good start against Edmonton so it's a bit confusing, though not surprising, to see the goalie shift. Dario over at In the Cheap Seats has a theory on how Q broke the news.

Leopold Injured
Ah, the redundancy of that headline. I should just put "Leopold" and everyone will understand. He has apparently hurt his hand and is back in Denver along with Karlis Skrastins. Sigh. I admit I had high hopes for Leopold this season. He's been quite a disappointment with his play and his glass-like fragility.

Hejduk Out
Milan Hejduk is likely to miss his third game tonight. The Denver Post reported he was likely, the Rocky Mountain News said unlikely, I'm going with the Rocky Mountain News as they had a Quenneville quote to back it up.

Start Time
The game starts at 9:00pm ET and is on Altitude and Sportsnet West. So I get the privilege of listening to Roger Millions tonight. Score! /sarcasm

Related Links Preview
TSN Preview

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Avalanche Slide by Oilers; Win 4-2

(AP Photo/John Ulan)
Well, the ovation Ryan Smyth received was classy and sustained but not terribly boisterous. After the video tribute, the fans cheered for about 30 seconds and from that point on, Smyth was the enemy. During the tribute and ovation, Smyth and his wife were both leaking some strange, salty discharge from their eye area.

The RPM line of Smyth, Stastny and Svatos was the starting lineup. I guess Q wanted Smyth to get his jitters out early. Smyth started getting the Pronger treatment, though much more subdued. I've got no problems at all with the way the Oilers fans and management treated Smyth tonight. And I'm sure that means the world to all of them.

First Period
The Avalanche got a powerplay opportunity early but couldn't really do much. They gave up the usual 2-on-1 opportunity which thankfully didn't lead to a goal. Svatos had a breakaway chance but was denied going five-hole by Roloson.

At 9:44, the Avalanche got on the board first. Arnason and Lappy broke in on a 2-on-1, Arnason held on then wired a snap shot from the middle of the slot. It went to the far corner above Roloson's glove and the Avalanche have an early lead on the road. Has the world stopped turning? Or hell frozen over? Ok, just checking.

The top line of the Avalanche put on a great shift a couple minutes later but were punished for it. The Avalanche D got caught a little deep, Sam Gagner sprang Cogliano who deftly dodged a Clark hipcheck and fed Dustin Penner who made no mistake on his second goal of the season. No chance for Budaj on that one unless he develops Go-Go-Gadget legs.

The Avalanche didn't put up with that for long though. Q sent out Guite, Arnason and Hlinka and they cashed in 24 seconds after the Oiler goal. Liles took a shot from the point - yes! - and Hlinka buried the rebound in front. That's how you make the best of your opportunities.

Mathieu Roy then laid a big hit on Lappy and held on to him a second too long. Lappy had enough and dropped the gloves. Roy got Lappy's head off right away and got couple shots. Lappy then did the same and took Roy down. Lappy wins that one due to the takedown but it was even otherwise.

Another Avalanche powerplay, another shorthanded chance given up. This is getting real old, real fast. Again, the opposition had the best scoring chance on an Avalanche powerplay.

The Avalanche then got one late to go up by two. Finger took a shot from the point - yes! - and Wolski poked the rebound home after a brief scramble where it looked like Roloson had covered up the puck.

Second Period
The Avalanche got another powerplay chance. And gave up another 2-on-1 opportunity. This time it wasn't Liles that caused it and he made a decent defensive play to break it up. The powerplay unit looks anemic tonight.

Wolski then took the Avalanche's first penalty on a weird call. Sure, his stick was between the guys legs but he didn't trip him. The refs called him for a hold. I guess because he had trapped the guys stick from behind...or something. The PK unit did a good job of killing it off.

The period, a boring one might I add, ended just as it began with a 3-1 lead for the Avalanche.

Third Period
Well this one was dominated by the Oilers. They spent more time in the Avalanche zone than a 12-year old video game freak spent playing Halo 3 when it came out. Cogliano, Gagner and Penner were making fools of the Avalanche defenders for a goodly portion of this period. Thankfully, the Avalanche defenders were not complete fools as they kept the puck from getting to dangerous areas for the most part.

At 10:45 of the third, the Oilers were finally able to get another one past Budaj. Penner knocked Leopold off the puck in the corner, Gagner picked up, moved around Leopold to the front and lost the puck. The lost puck skidded through the slot past 3 Avalanche defenders and onto Tom Gilbert's stick. One second later it was in the back of the net and Oil were within one.

The first line then tried to settle things down and put in some good shifts. The second line also came on and Smyth got a couple chances. Ales Hemsky then took a late penalty with only 2:07 left to go while in the Avalanche zone. It was a bit of a weak call, but a call that's been made all season long.

Scott Hannan decided the game lacked drama so with just 52 seconds left, he took a holding penalty to give us some 4-on-4 hockey. Once the Oilers regained the Avalanche zone, Roloson headed to the bench and it was a powerplay for the Oilers. Thankfully, the Avalanche got the puck out of the zone and Guite fed the puck to Clark for the empty netter to seal the deal.

Hannan and Sauer led the Avs in ice-time with 23:52 and 22:05 respectively. Smyth was next with 21:25. Cumiskey got in 7 minutes and Leopold was held to just over 11 minutes. Clark had a more reasonable 19:27 in ice-time and played a good game.

Leopold managed to be on the ice for both Oiler goals.

Liles led the team with 3 blocked shots. He also gave up most of the 2-on-1 opportunities on the powerplay but who's counting.

Raffi Torres dished out 6 hits, more than the Avalanche's 4 combined hits. I caught more than 4 hits by Avalanche players though. Stupid subjective stats. What an oxymoron, eh?

Arnason won 67% of his faceoffs. Color me surprised. Smith was only 2 for 7 while Hlinka and Guite were both 0 for 3.

Odds and Ends
- Cumiskey was in tonight as the Avs dressed 7 defencemen
- Finger CRUSHED Gagner behind the Avalanche net in the first
- Ben Guite's dad played for the Nordiques apparently (so the TSN announcers said)
- Hannan-Sauer is much better and more intimidating than Hannan-Clark
- Budaj made some big saves even if they didn't look too flashy
- the Avs are the worst faceoff team in league
- Smyth had a few chances but came away with no points on the night

The Good
- first road win
- not needing to come back
- first line was a force tonight

The Bad
- powerplay unit
- getting dominated in third

The Ugly
- Smyth's wife (just kidding, she's hot!)

Related Links Gamesheet
TSN Recap Recap
Jerseys and Hockey Love Recap
In The Cheap Seats Game Notes

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Oilers

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
It's homecoming time for Ryan Smyth and the question on everyone's mind is whether he'll get a hero's welcome or be booed off the ice. I'll admit to being mildly skeptical on him getting a raring ovation but I'm cynical that way. Although Smyth and Lowe both say there are no hard feelings, some fans may feel differently. Many felt that Smyth and his agent played hardball and he should have taken a bit of a discount to keep his services with the Oilers and when he didn't, he was a "sell out". Which is an overused term might I add.

The media demand for Smyth was so overwhelming that the Avalanche booked him for a press conference yesterday and he will not speak again until after the game. During yesterday's press conference, Smyth held it together until the very end when it became evident that he still cared very much for the city and all the memories generated in his time there. Hopefully the fans remember all those memories and not the sour ending.

To help remind them there will be a video tribute of Smyth that will run before the opening puck drop.

Now, in case anyone forgot, there will be a hockey game played tonight after all this! The Avalanche (4-4-0) are still looking for their first road win and have a good shot against a struggling Oiler (3-5-0) team with a depleted blue line. Free agent pickup Sheldon Souray is out with an injured shoulder and Joni Pitkanen has a tweaked knee which could keep him out of the lineup tonight as well.

The Avalanche have a few injuries of their own to contend with. Former iron man Karlis Skrastins remains in Denver with a shoulder injury while Milan Hejduk remains a game time decision with a sore back. The Avalanche recalled Kyle Cumiskey yesterday to keep 7 active defencemen on the roster and Scott Parker will suit up again if Hejduk sits out.

Paul Stastny continues to lead the Avalanche in points with 14 points which places him 2nd in the NHL behind Zetterberg. He had an off-night against Minnesota which broke his brief point streak. And by off-night I mean he was merely pretty good and not super excellent.

Oh, and Wolski leads the team with a +4 rating. Just wanted to throw that out there. For no particular reason.

The youth movement for the Oilers has to be keeping the fans in Edmonton excited as well. Names such as Kyle Brodziak, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner are being announced over PA systems with regularity. Cogliano is tied with Horcoff for the team lead in points with 6 while Brodziak and Gagner have 5 each. RFA signing Dustin Penner has 2 in 8 and 0 in his last 5. He's got to be feeling the pressure of that contract.

As long as the Avalanche come out in a similar fashion as they did against Minnesota (i.e. realizing they're playing a hockey game) they have a great shot at breaking the goose egg for road wins. However if they come out flat and soft and go down by 3 goals again, I just might curl up in a corner and cry. Or head to Denver early to give the team a pep talk. I'm thinking the James Vanderbeek one from Varsity Blues. "Let's be heroes" *pause* Oh, excuse me for a second there, I just threw up a little.

The game will be in glorious HD on TSN for those in Canada and it starts at 9:00 p.m. ET. Puck drop will be delayed due to the aforementioned video tribute.

Related Links Preview
TSN Preview
Yahoo! Sports Preview
Alanah's Official Smyth to Edmonton thread (with links to tons of stories)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Skrastins Injured; Avalanche Recalls Cumiskey

First, let me saw that although I understand the grammar behind it, it still feels weird putting "Recalls" instead of "Recall" in that headline.

The Avalanche announcers stated during last night's game against the Wild that Karlis Skrastins was back in Denver with an injured shoulder. So our iron man has been hit with a streak of injuries dating back to the knee injury which ended his streak.

In his place in the press box - well, Finger's place I guess - will be young Kyle Cumiskey who the Avalanche recalled today. Cumiskey put on a great showing in training camp but he's primarily an offensive defenceman and the Avalanche (supposedly) have enough of those. So off to Lake Erie he went.

He should get to watch at least one game from the press box but I've yet to hear if Skrastins is a long-term injury or not.

Cumiskey was called up once already this season when Jordan Leopold went down with a brief hip injury.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Avalanche Comeback Falls Short Again; Lose 3-2 to Wild

(Scott A. Schneider/Getty Images)
Gah. I know it's early but if this is how the Avalanche are going to play this year, something needs to be done. This team is soft, soft, soft. And they appear to lack intensity. I know Joe is a quiet leader and is very calm at all times, but sometimes the team needs to play with some desperation. Maybe one of the other leaders needs to lead by example in those situations.

In their defense though, the Wild are a good team, likely the second best team in the league right now (behind Ottawa and just ahead of Detroit - sorry). So a loss to the Wild is not cause for panic. It's just the trend that's rearing its head again that might lend itself well to panic.

First Period
Would have been nice to see this period but I missed most of it thanks to Center Ice difficulties. I have no idea where the issue was but this is the second Avalanche game that I've had troubles watching. Is this common with Center Ice or is Shaw still having growing pains?

It was a better period for the Avalanche in terms of...well...not giving up 3 goals. They had a plethora of PP chances (does 4 count as a plethora?) and, from the one chance I saw, they were looking a bit tentative. They've got to get in there and get dirty!

Nonetheless, they escaped with a 0-0 tie at the end of the first.

Second Period
They started this one on the PP as Rolston took a penalty with 20 seconds left in the first. And again they couldn't generate any chances. They really need to get in their and get gritty on the PP.

Jordan Leopold led a penalty box parade for the Avalanche. He took a holding call @ 4:30 which led to the Wilds first goal. Gaborik was in the corner and being covered by Hannan, Sauer and Hlinka. And what happens when you have 3 of your 4 penalty killers covering one guy? It means 3 other Wild players are likely open. Parrish was one of those open players and he had about 5 seconds uncovered in the slot and he made no mistake.

Leopold then decided he might as well head back to the box and Hlinka decided to join him. The Wild had a long 5-on-3 and they used it to get Rolston up near the high slot and he destroyed the puck. I wouldn't have blamed Budaj if he had ducked and covered on this shot. It went to the top left corner and the Wild were pulling away.

Then Center Ice cut out again but hey, nothing big should have happened right? Wrong. The Avs stormed back and tied the game in the span of just over a minute.

Arnason buried a loose puck on the powerplay to pull within 1. Seeing the highlight at the end of the 2nd showed that the team was scrambling down low, getting lots of traffic and lo and behold, they potted one.

Andrew Brunette then tied it up as he found himself open on a rush led by...Kurt Sauer??? Well, Wolski carried it in, then Sauer raced in, cut behind the net and dished the puck over Backstrom's pad and Brunette buried it. In all honesty though, Sauer was just trying to toss it out front, not make a beautiful play like that. However, it does show that good things happen when you rush the net and toss the puck out front.

Budaj made some excellent saves on another Wild PP. Guess who was in the box? I'll give you a hint. He wears #44, had taken 2 penalties in the period already, and his name rhymes with Schmeopold.

They held off the Wild, including a big shot block by Clark with 4 seconds left, and took a 2-2 tie into the third.

Third Period
The period started off on a good note. The Avs were generating a few chances and looking like they still wanted to win.

They got an early PP chance but, as per Avalanche style, the opposing team generated the best chance. A shot wizzed around the boards, deflected past Liles and then it was a foot race between Liles and Demitra and Gaborik. Liles held his own pretty well and ensured it was a 2-on-1, not a 2-on-0. Budaj read the play beautifully as Demitra fed Gaborik and Budaj denied him with the pad as he flew from right to left.

It stayed fairly uneventful and I was not paying enough attention - hungry, cooking supper - to make any good observations. I'm sure DD will have that covered with his game notes.

At about the 5 minute mark it looked like the teams were playing for overtime. In the cramped NW division, it's not a bad idea to try and guarantee yourself a point. It's much better if you deny your opposition that point though. And that's exactly what the Wild did.

In another soft play be the defence, Clark to be specific, Koivu came around the corner, cut to the front of the net, and buried one past a surprised Budaj. Budaj wasn't expecting the cut in so he was still vertical in his net. Clark, likely not expecting a cut either, had given enough of a gap between himself and Budaj to allow Koivu room to manouevre.

Odds and Ends
- that's 2 road games in a row where they came back, but couldn't overcome the deficit and came away with nothing
- Svatos was on the 2nd line with Smyth and Stastny for the most part
- Skrastins is back in Denver with a shoulder injury

Ryan Smyth led the team in ice-time with 23:43. Clark and Sakic were close with 23:38 and 23:24 respectively. Parker had 3 shifts total but with Boogard out, not much he could do tonight. Hlinka only logged 7:27 tonight. Could the physicality of the NHL be getting to him already?

Sakic fired off 5 shots and Liles and Wolski each had 4. If you keep firing, sooner or later they start to go in.

Liles, Finger and Hannan were the shot block leaders with 3 each. Nice to see Liles getting in there defensively.

The Wild had only scored 2 PP goals all year, they came away from this game with 2 more. Glad the Avs could help them out.

Guite was 4 for 6 in the faceoff circle but the team had a 47% win percentage. Paul Stastny had a rough day going 6 for 17. Ryan Smyth took 2 draws and won them both.

The Good
- coming back against the Wild
- Budaj played well and had a couple highlight reel saves

The Bad
- having to come back against the Wild
- 0 points when they had a chance to steal at least one

The Ugly
- having the same plot line for the last 3 games

Related Links Recap
Jerseys and Hockey Love Recap (Tapeleg was at the game)
In The Cheap Seats Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Wild

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
I just finished watching UFC 77 and have volleyball from 9:00 until 12:30 tomorrow morning so this will be short and sweet. I ramble on too often anyways.

The Avalanche head to Minnesota for game 2 of their 4 game roadtrip and it's not going to be easy. The Minnesota Wild are the leagues only unbeaten team in regulation (6-0-1) and they've been winning in style. Defensive style.

Nik Backstrom and Josh Harding are the best goaltending duo on the league at the moment as they have given up only 8 goals in their 7 games which is tops in the league. On the flip side, the Wild have only scored 14 goals in those 7 games. But if you give up less goals then you score, the odds are pretty good that you're going to win. Almost 100% as a matter of fact.

Colorado, on the other hand, has scored 23 goals with their high-octane offense. Unfortunately their solar-powered defense/goaltending combination has been playing under a cloud as of late, giving up the same amount of goals as the team has scored.

If the Avalanche have any hope of winning, it lies in getting the jump on the Wild early and never letting off the gas. The Wild have given up over half their goals in the first period and have only let in 1 goal in the third. It sounds like the opposite of how the Avalanche like to play.

Though I didn't go looking for anything official, as I should be getting my beauty sleep, Peter Budaj should be back between the pipes tonight which should set most peoples minds at east. Most reasonable peoples minds anyways. Milan Hejduk is questionable after leaving Chicago's game with a sore back. It's the same injury that kept him out of the Calgary game.

I wouldn't expect to see any line changes except on the fourth line. I hope they sit Wyatt Smith and dress Parker. That way Parker can beat the snot out of Boogard and Guite will stay in the lineup. So far Guite > Smith IMHO.

Well, that wasn't too short. Sweet enough for you though?

Related Links Preview
NHLDigest Interviews John Bugicross
Terry Frei Interviews Jordan Leopold

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NHL Digest Interview With ESPN’s John Buccigross

The Neil Show at, a site which I have the privilege of contributing content to, recently had a chance to interview John Bugicross, ESPN’s Sports Center anchor, hockey columnist and author of the new book Jonesy: Put Your Head Down and Skate.

It's a great interview and I definitely recommend checking it out. Here are a few excerpts to wet your beaks.

TheNeilShow - Do you see the NHL and ESPN working together again? Any specific reasons why or why not?

John Buccigross - ESPN is always interested in any major or minor sports league who is in the last year of a contract. Whether it’s the NFL, NBA, MLB, Arena League, MLS, or professional golf and tennis they will always at least investigate if it makes financial sense to do something. If it makes sense they do it, if it doesn’t, they don’t.

TheNeilShow - Do you see Peter Forsberg coming back this year? if so who do you bet he signs with?

John Buccigross - I think Forsberg will sign with the Rangers or Flyers.

TheNeilShow - Your early “rookie of the year” pick?

John Buccigross - Jonathan Toews will win rookie of the Year

Click here to read the entire interview.

Related Links
Jibblescribbits Reviews Jonesy: Put Your Head Down and Skate
Mile High Hockey Reviews Jonesy: Put Your Head Down and Skate
Alanah Interviews Keith Jones

Friday, October 19, 2007

Avalanche Fight Back But Come up Short; Lose 5-3

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Good grief. This better not be indicative of how the Avalanche will play most of their games this year. Come out flat, give up a big lead, come back firing, catch up and then late fate take over to decide the game. It's going to get real old, real fast. In fact, it already is old as the Avalanche were prone to this last year and we've now seen back-to-back games played out in this style.

Quenneville better learn how to light a fire under his team. And quick. Yes, they're calm, they're experienced, they can score. That doesn't help when the other team is already up by 3 or 4 goals though. And it's no excuse for shoddy play.

First Period
Flipping brutal. It was a complete repeat of the performance against the Flames. Turnovers at will, lack of intensity, odd man rushes galore and lack of goaltending to bail them out.

The Avs got an early powerplay and they were fairly effective. If by "effective" I mean "giving up 2-on-1 chances". Sure, they got a shot or two off on Khabibulin, who did make some nice saves, but it was nothing that felt dangerous. Even the "backdoor" play they tried wasn't crisply executed.

Arnason had a bit of jump in him in the first and a couple times he stole the puck and got a scoring chance. On the first one, it was apparently the most brilliant steal ever as McNab remarked "When Arnason is on, he's one of the best in the world". Expletives cannot define what went through my head but I'll just say this: Is McNab on crack all the time? Or just some of the time?

The expletives that came next were out of sheer amazement and awe. Jonathon Toews scored the goal of the year as he broken down the left side, slipped past Hejduk, split past our shutdown guys Clark and Hannan, and deposited the puck past a surprised, and fairly stationary, Theodore. Now, it was absolutely gorgeous. But behind every gorgeous goal there is typically an act of boneheaded idiocy on the part of a defending player. In this case, it goes to both Hannan and Clark. Hannan for doing his stupid "lean over at the waist and try to block the pass" move - which has yet to work this year - and then Clark for deciding he'd sweep the ice off for Toews. Maybe he thought if he made it a bit slicker that Toews would slip and fall? That's all I've got to explain how terrible that play was by those two defenders.

The announcers marvelled over the brilliance of the goal - we all did - and then proclaimed "Not that I want to point out when anybody does anything wrong..." and proceeded to point a finger at Hannan and Clark. Are you kidding me? Honestly. If you can't be realistic in your assessment of the game, you should take your ball and go home. These two announcers nearly crap their pants at the beauty of every opposing teams goal in the hopes that us simple-minded fans don't notice that somebody must have screwed up to lead to said goal. It's like listening to Tony Snow.

And as I was ranting on about this in my head...the Hawks went up 2-0 on a Guite giveaway and Theodore bobble. Guite laid out a nice hit but had a pass - which I think would have ended up in the slot anyways - deflected right to Jason Williams. He tossed a quick shot on Theodore to which Theodore replied with "Good one. Hey Patrick, want to try?" and tossed the rebound out. Sharp gobbled up the huge rebound in the slot and buried it up high.

Feeling left out, Jordan Leopold decided he wanted to get in on the action. So he gave the puck away at the blueline which led to a 2-on-1 with Kane and Patrick Sharp. Sharp fed Kane and Kane put a beauty of a shot high glove on Theodore. 3-0 Blackhawks and they haven't broken a sweat yet. Also, "Kane" is an awesome name. Whether it's your first or last name. But if it's your first AND last name, that's a bit weird.

The Avs then got another PP chance which meant a couple more Hawks 2-on-1 chances. They couldn't cash in but at this point, they were likely just feeling sorry for the Avs. The period ended 3-0 for the Hawks. Just like the other night against the Flames. Sigh.

Second Period
The Avs had a bit more jump to start this period. Svatos had a brief shift with Sakic and the two worked well together. Not well enough to put the puck in the net of course. The Avs put a couple big point shots on net but Khabibulin got a hold of both. There were rebounds on each but he was able to keep them out as well. *hint, hint*

The Avs kept pressure on and the Hawks eventually iced the puck. Q tried to hurry up the faceoff but Savard called a timeout to give his players a break. So Savard has used up his only timeout but he had to be thinking there would be no need for one later on in this game the way things were going.

Patrick Sharp got another chance on another Avalanche turnover and Karlis Skrastins defended him the best way he knows how. Yep, he just sprawled on the ice as big as he could, closed his eyes and hoped for the best. Sharp didn't score, but Skrastins managed to trip him and take a penalty. Defence. It's what's for dinner.

The Avs looked ok on the PK but Leopold decided there weren't being tested enough. So he smashed Toews into the boards from behind and headed to the box. Although McNab tried to be an apologist and do the "He turned at the last second" bit, Leopold had plenty of time to let up and he didn't. It didn't help that Toews was off-balance when he got shoved but that's about the only saving grace for Leopold on that play. Thankfully they killed off the 5-on-3 and the remainder of the Leopold penalty to keep the game from running away. Farther away I mean.

The first line, which had been buzzing all period long finally broke though and got rewarded for their effort. Wolski was holding the puck in deep and decided to get rid of it and head to the front of the net. Andrew Brunette saw him heading there, fed him a great pass and Wolski buried it past the Bulin wall. Sakic was factor in that he had 2 Hawks players defending him in front of the net, freeing up Wolski to pull the trigger.

Theodore made a few more saves on which he looked very shaky. He's really bobbling rebounds and not looking confident. He's not kicking them out far or to the corner, but he's not putting them close enough for him to cover up. He nearly made a huge save on a 3-on-1 but turns out...the post did it. He likely wasn't there for it anyways judging by the reverse angle.

Third Period
It was a good start to the third. Svatos worked hard to keep the puck in, raced to the net, got the puck and made a beauty of a backhand that got up high past Khabibulin. A sweet, sweet shot. Not as nice as the Selanne backhand on Theodore in the 06 playoffs - remember that one? - but very nice. Anyways, 3-2 Hawks at that point.

The Avalanche then went back on the PK which again looked pretty good. Brett Clark was able to negate the penalty after he lost an edge and the trailing referee called Robert Lang for a hold. It was not, but I'll take it. Liles successfully defended the inevitable Hawks chance on the PP as he broke up a HUGE up ice pass to Kevyn Adams. The Avalanche then did the unthinkable.

Joe Sakic circled back in the neutral zone, took a slash to the wrist, put on the after burners, broke in past the Hawks blueline, dished it to Brunette who immediately fed it to Smyth and Smyth made no mistake as he redirected it past Khabibulin's outstretched pad. Yep, the Avs have fought back from deep deficits twice in two games. Be still my beating heart. Wait...that can't be right. I want it to keep beating, don't I?

Wojtek Wolski then got sprung on a breakaway, was in the clear and being hooked by two Hawks players, didn't get the shot off... but was not awarded a penalty shot. I thought the NHL wanted to call more penalty shots this year? Well, maybe these refs didn't get the memo. Maybe it didn't have had a cover sheet. Unfortunately the Avs couldn't take advantage of the penalty but were able to generate some chances.

Brett Clark decided to make it a perfect repeat of the Flames game as he took a silly holding penalty late in the game. My heart may have stopped beating during this PK, I'm not sure. Thankfully they killed it off so Clark won't be the scapegoat of this game.

The Avalanche than took an ill-timed icing call and they paid for it. Savard quickly put out the young guns and they were flying. Kane circled the net, fired it out to the far point, Johansson blasted it and Ruutu deflected it home. With just 1:25 left to play, that one definitely ended the game.

And just to make sure, the Hawks put in an empty netter and that was that. 5-3 Hawks and the Avs still don't have a road win. Minnesota is up next. Good luck guys.

Brunette and Sakic had 2 assists each, Svatos, Wolski and Smyth were the goal scorers and Stastny got his 9th assist of the year.

Wolski and Sauer were the only players in the + column. Hlinka was at -3. Clark, Hannan, Guite, Lappy and Stastny were at -2.

Clark led the team with 24:10 in ice time. Sakic was next with 22:06 followed by Stastny with 20:49. Liles put in 20:08, a shade more than Hannan's 19:59. I don't want to look it up, but that sounds like the least ice time Hannan's had so far. He still managed 34 shifts which tied with Clark for tops in the game and put in 6:22 on the PK.

Stastny and Svatos got off 5 shots while Wolski had 4. Laperriere, Guite and Sauer were the only Avs not to record a shot.

Yanic Perrault was 100% in the faceoff circle. 12 for 12 including a crucial defensive zone faceoff against Sakic late in the game.

- Toews faced off against his hero Joe Sakic to start the game
- Svatos was all over the ice with tons of energy
- Toews and Kane are dynamite
- Kane is only 5'9" and 160lbs (that's as "big" as me)
- Guite had some good energy and hits (but a terrible giveaway on 2nd goal)
- Leopold turned the puck over a lot (don't trust the scoresheet)
- every Avs PP led to a 2-on-1 for the Hawks at some point
- Liles unloaded some good point shots
- Stastny took a hard shot to the back of his leg but didn't miss a shift
- Pierre Turgeon is coaching the Women's Select hockey team in Denver

The Good
- fighting back from a lead again
- decent PK (killed all 5, now 30 for 31)

The Bad
- in a deep hole early on
- lack of stand-up defensive play (flopping is not defending)
- I think I've said enough in the rest of my comments

The Ugly
- Brian Engblom (get a haircut!)

Related Links Scoresheet Recap
In The Cheap Seats Recap
Toews Goal on Youtube

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Blackhawks

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
It's time for the Avalanche to embark on a 4-game roadtrip as they head into Chicago tonight. Well, I'm sure they're already there and are enjoying the Windy City. The Avalanche are headed in on a 2-game winning streak, both wins coming at home, while still searching for their first road win.

They will be attempting the feat with Jose Theodore in net. Well, he'll be starting the game anyways. The Denver Post reported on the starting goaltender choice yesterday afternoon and DD from In the Cheap Seats subsequently had an embolism. Ok, he wasn't that upset but judging by Dater's headline, sensationalism is where it's at when writing so I figured I would jump on the bandwagon.

In other goaltending news, Jeff Hacket is now a full-time goaltending coach with Theodore and Budaj. To that I say...he wasn't before? Why not? Wasn't it obvious that the team had goaltending issues? Or was everyone living in the glorious land of Oblivitarion?

Milan Hejduk is set to rejoin the lineup after sitting out a game with a sore back. The offense didn't suffer without him in terms of production but the jump he's shown all season long might have helped their anemic first period against the Flames. This means we'll see Marek Svatos back on the third line as the original RPM line is reunited after their brief breakup. It's unfortunate that Svatos has to work on the third line but you have to make the best of your opportunities.

I'd also expect Wojtek Wolski to remain on the JAW line with Sakic and Brunette. And that's just where I'd like to see him stay. Wolski has improved his game noticeably this year and I've been very happy with what he brings each night. He's stronger on the puck, he's stronger in the corners, he's stronger on the forecheck and he's starting to learn how to backcheck. He may not be the most defensively responsible forward out there, but is that what everyone truly expected him to be?

I've seen people dismiss the "He's young and learning" line of thought when it comes to Wolski's "liabilities" using an argument of "Well Stastny is young and look at him". Now I know I'm not the only one who sees the flaw in that logic. I never expected Wolski to be a 100 point getting, Selke winning machine so maybe that's why I'm not on his case as much. But he got 50 points in his rookie season and has 4 points in 6 games so far this year. So what exactly is the problem?

During the blogger roundtable, I gave Wolski the runner-up choice on being the new whipping boy. I hope that doesn't turn out to be right as I don't believe he deserves it. But it does give me a pedestal to stand up on and rant which is always fun.

So with that rant behind me, let's get back to the upcoming game. The Blackhawks will ice a lineup that won't include their leading scorer from last year, Martin Havlat. He is undergoing rehab on a shoulder he injured in their season opener. But fear not Hawks fans, youngsters Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane are making up for his absence and then some. Toews has 4 points in 4 games while Kane has 4 points in 6 games. Young blueliner Brent Seabrook is at magic number 4 as well. The youth movement is strong in this one.

With Khabibulin turning back into the Bulin Wall, the Hawks aren't a team to be taken lightly this year.

Oh..and Stastny for President.

Related Links Preview On the Road Feature
Tapeleg Tears Dater a New One

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stastny Atop the ESPN Power Rankings

Paul Stastny Head Shot
ESPN has updated their power rankings and the Avalanche's very own Paul Stastny sits atop the list. There has been much love thrown around on Paul Stastny since he opened the season with a hat trick and it's well deserved. Sophomore slump is an over-rated "phenomenon" as myself and others have said before. And Stastny is doing his best to make us look smart about saying that.

He only sits at 6th on TSN's recently updated power rankings behind Zetterberg, Campbell, Thomas, Kolzig and Backstrom. Yep, 3 goaltenders atop the leader board followed by a defenceman. Gary Bettman is rolling in his grave. Or office chair. Whatever.

I find it hard to argue with TSN's choices. They are obviously weighting goaltending performances and point producing D-men a bit more heavily than forwards but that's how they chose their formula and who am I to complain? If they weighted defense and goaltending less, Stastny would be #2 behind Zetterberg And it would be hard to argue that if you've caught any of Zetterberg's performances this year.

But either way, if you haven't got a man-crush on Stastny yet...what's wrong with you?

ESPN Power Rankings

TSN Power Rankings

Related Links
Stastny Set to Improve on Stellar Rookie Campaign
Stastny Love from Dear Lord Stanley
Tapeleg Wakes Up, Rolls Over, Sees Paul Stastny
Stastny Heads NHL Three-Stars of the Week
Jes Golbez - Under the Radar Stars: Paul Stastny
Shawn P. Roarke - Paul Stastny Carves Out His Own Niche

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Avalanche Win Barn Burner 5-4 in SO

(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Tonight it was your typical Avalanche-Flames matchup and damn was it exciting! I don't know what it is about these two teams but they have some amazing games with back and forth action leading me to have tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Shouts of agony and shouts of joy. It's a good thing I'm young because I don't think my heart could take this if I was older.

Be prepared for a lot of reading.

First Period
Phew. I said it about the third period against the Blues but that distinction is now owned by this period. Worst. Period. Ever. The Avalanche looked like a bush league team with their miscommunication and turnovers. The period didn't actually start too terribly but 5 minutes in, it was becoming evident that the team wasn't here to play.

The Avalanche had some early chances against Kiprusoff but he was easily up to the test. The Avs then got a powerplay which was negated by a Sakic hook which was negated by an Erikkson trip. So it was a 4-on-3 for the Avs with Stastny and Liles on the point and Brunette and Smyth up front. They had a couple chances but couldn't get past the Flames D or Kiprusoff.

Ben Guite and Wyatt Smith were showing some energy early on for the team and had a good 2-on-1 but Kipper held them off. The Flames then headed in on a 2-on-2 and had much better results. Dion Phaneuf burned right past Leopold and made a beauty move on Budaj for the first goal of the game. I know it's Phaneuf and he's a defenseman but it was obvious he wasn't stopping so I'm not sure why Leopold let up on him. Leftover feelings from their time together in Calgary?

Scott Hannan then took his turn jumping into the play but hesitated way too long and Kiprusoff made an easy save. Surprising to see Hannan jumping in like that but he's been doing it a fair bit in the last couple games. Keep that in mind, it'll come to play again before the period is out.

The Flames then made it 2-0 off a strange play. The puck took a weird bounce off the boards - which it seemed to do all night tonight - and that seemed to screw everyone up. Once the smoke had cleared, Liles had slid into Budaj and Nilson had slid the puck under Budaj. Budaj had no chance as he was gloriously interfered with by his own player trying to make a snow angel.

Ryan and Smyth and Jaroslav Hlinka both had a couple bursts down the right wing but neither were able to cash in. The chances are all coming from far out and that's not how you're going to beat Kiprusoff. Edit: I will be proven wrong about this in the second period.

Budaj then made a huge glove save on a giveaway (didn't write down who and don't care to back up and find out) and he was pissed. As soon as the play was whistled, he tossed the puck towards the faceoff circle and went for a quick skate to cool down. None of the goals were his fault and it's easy to see why he was mad. The D is just running around and doing nothing in their own zone except coughing up the puck.

And as I was marking down about miscommunication, running around, etc, the Avs showed a great example. Sakic got the puck and wanted to start a rush so he reversed to Hannan and headed up ice. But Hannan, the only D back, was already starting to jump into the rush leaving Jarome Iginla about 10 seconds to decide how to beat Budaj. And if you give Iginla that much time, he'll beat ya. What was Hannan doing jumping into the rush already with just Sakic back? Think before you jump in. It was only 2-0 at that point so there should have been no panic to get a goal.

Terrible, terrible period. Oh, and they ended it while on the PK. Thumbs up guys!

Second Period
Terrible, terrible start to this period. Iginla is handed a free shot again and beats Budaj high blocker. That was the end of Budaj's night though it was no fault of his own. Theodore comes in, fans shudder, but the Avalanche respond in a huge way.

A mere 13 seconds after the Flames fourth goal, Svatos drives hard to the net, Smyth fires and the puck ends up bouncing in off Regehr who was fighting with Svatos for position. Again and again and again it's been said by myself and people smarter than myself. Go to the net and good things happen. Right from Tiny Tots hockey through to Midget - which is much larger than Tiny Tot though you wouldn't know it to hear it - through to the big leagues. Why do the big guys forget that aspect so often?

Parker and Godard then square off as Parker tries to keep the blood flowing through the Avs veins. Parker wins the uneventful fight with some body shots and a takedown. Godard looked resigned to having to take that fight.

Lappy and Guite then tag-teamed Phaneuf in the corner. Neither went for the puck, they just waited for Phaneuf to touch it so they could crunch him. I like to see that attitude. Except when it's Phaneuf doing it.

The Flames then pulled an Avalanche and gave the puck away deep in their own zone. Stastny fed Smyth but he was denied by the post. That didn't deter Smyth though as he got the puck back shortly after, fired it from outside the circle on Kiprusoff who made the save but the rebound bounced off Erikkson and in. Yep, 2 "own goals" by the Flames tonight but it was all from hard work by the Avalanche. And on a shot from the perimeter. Guess I'll eat my words.

And if you thought the Flames were done putting the puck in their own net, shame on you! Iginla took a double-minor for high-sticking Hannan and the Avs made them pay. Brunette took the puck down low, tried a feed to Smyth in front of the net and had it bounce off Aucoin who was defending against Smyth for position. So once again, hard work in front of the net pays off.

Brunette and Stastny had an amazing chance to tie it but Stastny sent the puck wide of an open net. Have no fear though! The Avalanche continued their hard work and were again rewarded. Wolski put in a great forechecking effort causing the puck to get coughed back to the blue line. Sauer's eyes lit up and he stepped into that puck with all his might and rocketed it past Kiprusoff.

So the Avs had a huge period of their own and took a 4-4 tie into the third period.

Third Period
The Avalanche came out working hard this period. The fourth line and first line were both putting some good pressure on the Flames with some solid forechecking and cycling.

Jarome Iginla took another penalty at the 5:42 mark but the Avalanche couldn't take advantage. The Flames nearly took advantage as Lombardi appeared to have a clear break but 37-year old Joe Sakic was able to catch up to him and strip the puck. I've said before how impressed I am with Lombardi's speed and Sakic was able to match him step for step.

The Avalanche then got trapped in their own end and took a penalty of their own but successfully killed it off. Theo has settled in to a groove by now and is playing fairly well positionally.

As soon as Lappy stepped out of the box, the Avs went on a 3-on-1. It was played perfectly by the Avalanche and even more perfectly by Kiprusoff who made a game-saving stop.

Then Kurt Sauer tried to mess things up. Matthew Lombardi went streaking down the right side and Sauer had no choice but to hook him. Well actually, he could have chosen to step in front of him and knock him on his ass. Anyways, thanks to some goaltending from Theodore and blocked shots from Guite, the Avalanche were able to take the game to OT for the first time this season.

Overtime was a pretty measured chess match by both teams. Each team had opportunities but weren't taking any crazy changes. You could tell this one was headed to a shootout early. I was actually so into the game I really didn't have any notes written down for the 5-minute OT period.

Wolski makes good on a gorgeous move. Kiprusoff bit on the backhandmove and he pulled it back to the forehand. Almost a reverse of the famous Forsberg move.

Phaneuf gets denied trying to go high blocker on Theodore.

Smyth went in and pulled the classic "open him up on the deke and through the five-hole" move.

Iginla had the game on his stick and he came through going over Theodore's left pad.

Then Sakic had the game on his stick and he...chokes! Ok, it wasn't a huge choke job but he had Kiprusoff beat after Kipper tried a poke check. He just lifted the puck high and wide.

And finally the game was on Tanguay's stick. He needed to score to extend the shootout but Theodore stuck with him the whole way and made the save.

It's a 5-4 come from behind shootout win at home!

The Avalanche came out terribly flat in the first but were able to rebound in a huge way. This was a huge, huge comeback win and should go a long way to defining the teams capabilities, will and determination. Sure, I'd prefer they not come out and suck horribly but now they won't panic when down early on as they know they can come back. Of course, that could backfire too but I'm staying optimistic.

Stastny had 3 assists and Smyth had 2 goals, both from rebounds that went in off Calgary players. I guess that's what the Sportsnet guys took into account when giving Phaneuf the third star of the game.

Hannan led the Avs in ice-time with 26:57. Paul Stastny was right behind him with 25:12 and Clark rounded out the top 3 with 25:00.

Stastny and Smyth were +2 and Svatos was +1, the only Avs players in the + category. Arnason was the worst with a -2.

The Avs won 49% of their faceoffs, thanks mostly to Stastny winning 64% of his 25 draws. Wyatt Smith was a measly 25% with 2 wins in 8 tries.

- Wolski had a great backcheck on Iginla to strip him of the puck
- this is rumoured to be McGeough's last season as a ref
- this was Cory Sarich's 394th consecutive game
- Brunette is right behind at 377
- Theodore should stop playing the puck
- Theodore is gold in shootouts
- Phaneuf is still a dick

The Good
- Wolski was backchecking, forechecking and strong on the puck (not sure why people think he should be sent down to the AHL)
- the fourth line worked hard all night
- the first line was dangerous on nearly every shift

The Bad
- coming out to a terrible, terrible start
- running around in defensive end too much
- taking shots from perimeter on Vezina-calibre goaltender
- giving up 3 goals in first period on your home turf

The Ugly
- deserting Budaj in the first period

Related Links
In the Cheap Seats Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap
Jerseys and Hockey Love Recap Recap
TSN Recap

Hejduk Out - Listed as Day-to-day

In mildly bad news, Milan Hejduk is out for today's game against the Flames with a stiff back. Hejduk has consistently been one of the top players for the Avalanche, even in their losses to St. Louis and Nashville.

Marek Svatos will take his spot on the second line. So we should see Guite and Parker in the lineup tonight unless Q decides to dress seven defensemen.

Click here for the Denver Post article.

Ryan Stoa Blows Out Knee

Ryan Stoa is set to undergo knee surgery which will cause him to miss the rest of the season with the Golden Gophers. It's a tough break for a young player and I'm sure he'll have a great season next year.

Jori at Avs Prospects has the story. Click here to read more.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Flames

(AP Photo/Will Powers)
It's the first game of the year between two teams who found themselves entrenched in a playoff race for the ages last season. The Flames got in by 1 point - in case anyone had forgotten - and the Avalanche were stuck on the sidelines. They both hope to get off to a good start to avoid another race this season and this game could go a long way to swinging the tide for either team.

The Avalanche are coming off a big 5-1 win against Columbus Saturday night. And by "big" I'm talking point margin, not big as in they just beat Detroit or Ottawa (flame away at me if you must). However, the team was looking to be moving well, the line combinations seemed to be clicking, defensive assignments were being followed and they've got me feeling very optimistic about the game today.

A large part of my optimism lies with the line combinations coach Q went with against the Jackets. He moved Wolski back up with Sakic and Brunette while bumping Hlinka down to the third line with Arnason and Svatos, leaving with Smyth with Stastny and Hejduk. Those are exactly the lines that about 99% of Avalanche fans were hoping for during the off-season. If only the staff would read the blogs, read the forums and answer my phone calls, then we wouldn't have had to sit through 4 games of line tinkering.

With the new lines, Sakic netted a hat trick, Hedjuk potted two goals and an assist, Brunette and Wolski both had 2 assists and Smyth and Stastny each had an assist. Smyth also contributed on two other goals but there is no stat tracked for "distracting the goaltender". Yes, it was against the Jackets but it was also against a hot goaltender in Pascal Leclaire while coming off a tough loss to St. Louis the night before.

Peter Budaj gets the call in net tonight which hopefully comes as no surprise to anybody. Jordan Leopold will also be in the lineup after sitting a couple games with a hip injury. Let's hope this game against the Flames doesn't end with another broken wrist for Jordan. *knocks wood* As for who will sit on D, I'd prefer to have Skrastins sit again but odds are Finger will be the one watching from the press box.

The Flames got off to a slow start but are on a 2-game win streak after a 3-2 comeback win against the Stars Friday followed by a 7-4 win against the Predators on Saturday. Miikka Kiprusoff has not posted up Kipper-like numbers with a 3.33 GAA and .875 save percentage but it's only a matter of time before those start to improve. Meanwhile, Daymond Langkow is off to a great start with 5 goals and 2 assists in 5 games.

Both teams have been off since their respective Saturday night wins. The Avalanche are still perfect at home this season and were 5-3-0 against the Flames last season. Hopefully my "the more things change" philosphy takes a hiatus tonight.

Colorado - 3-2-0, 2nd in NW, 6th in West
Calgary - 2-2-1, 4th in NW, 10th in West

BREAKING UPDATE: According to the game notes, Mick McGeough will be one of the refs. Set your phasers to "STUNNED!" in anticipation of a crazy call or two tonight.

Related Links Preview
Mile High Hockey Preview
Oft-Injured Leopold Ready to Return
Svatos Hustles to Make his Point
Sakic Receives NHL Foundation Player Award

Liles Getting His Priorities Straight

Photo by Layne Murdoch/Getty Images
The Denver Post has an excellent article up on John-Michael Liles and how he's been changing his game. He's tired of being labeled a one-dimensional blueliner and has been working on improving his defensive game.

I've been very happy with his play so far this season and as he's been avoiding Q's doghouse, it would appear he's on the right track.

View the original article

Sidenote: The article also has a quick piece on the Stars "wooing" Forsberg. Who isn't trying to get Forsberg on their team though? If someone finds an article about a team who says "Nah, we don't want this guy" - and not for salary cap reasons alone - send it along.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Avalanche Bury Blue Jackets; Win 5-1

(AP Photo/Will Powers)
Well that was much better. The Avalanche came out ready to play, and the ended the game ready to play some more. That's what you need to win games. Luck never hurts either but the Avalanche didn't need any of that tonight. From start to finish they worked hard. It doesn't mean they won all the battles but it means they were there for every battle and that half the battle. Hmm. 1..2..3..uses of "battle" in that sentence. Nicely done.

First Period
The Avalanche got an early 5-on-3 with Mike Peca and Adam Foote in the box but failed to capitalize. It wasn't for lack of chances though. They fired off 6 shots but Pascal Leclaire was up to the task.

Shortly after Leclaire had snagged the Blue Jackets franchise record for a shutout streak, Joe Sakic fought for position in front of the net and had a puck bounce in off of him as he was being dumped to the ice. A good, hard-working goal.

The Avalanche were then hit with some penalty trouble of their own. Andrew Brunette was shoved into Leclaire, then cross-checked from behind, then kicked while he was down...and got sent off for goaltender interference. Interesting. The Blue Jackets were not able to capitalize as the PK continued it's solid work.

Jiri Novotny was finally kicked out of the faceoff circle on a draw around the midway point of the period. He had been cheating on every faceoff he was taking and it was driving me batty. And speaking of faceoffs, the Avalanche came out flying in that category. More on that later.

Jeff Finger continued his hard-nosed play with twosolid checks in the span of a couple minutes. The announcers said it best. If Finger keeps playing like he has, he's going to force Quenneville to keep him in the lineup. Unfortunately I still don't see Q sitting Skrastins or Sauer regularly in favor of Finger.

After the way Clark played Nash towards the end of the first - belly diving to stop a power forward - maybe he should sit.

The period ended 1-0 for the Avalanche with a much improved effort.

Second Period
The second period didn't start out quite as well. The Blue Jackets were able to tie up the game fairly quickly. Rostislav Klesla shot the puck from the point and it was headed well wide. Until it hit Kurt Sauer's skate and found it's way behind Budaj. The announcers were all over this as a screened goal but Budaj saw it. He just expected it to go wide and got surprised by the deflection.

The Avalanche didn't let that goal get them down and they kept plugging hard. They were rewarded when Milan Hejduk corralled his own rebound, hesitated for a split second and buried it under Leclair's outstretched arm. Just a supremely confident play by Hejduk.

Ian Lapperriere was working hard out there, as always, and when he skates you can tell he's trying so hard. Some people are naturally smooth skaters and some have to work really hard. Lappy works really hard for his speed.

Milan Hejduk then cashed in for his 2nd goal of the night. He and Smyth appeared to get mixed crossing the blue line but Smyth headed for the net - like he should - and Hejduk tossed the puck towards the net. Leclair was distracted by Smyth, and likely playing for the tip, but it went right under Smyth's stick and into the back of the net. That's how Smyth will pay off for this team. A distraction for goaltenders.

The period ended 3-1 for the Avalanche as they continued a solid effort.

Third Period
Heck of a start to the third period. The Blue Jackets took an early penalty and Super Joe made them pay. With Smyth causing havoc in front of the net again, Sakic crept in and fired a hard wrist shot past Leclaire. Fired a hard wrist shot off his front foot. Unlike the shot he took in the first which missed by a country mile which he shot off his back foot. I have never seen Sakic shoot off his back foot before and I hope he never does it again unless he has no other option.

I then took a break from intensely watching the game and started writing up my post. The game was well in hand and my response to my girl asking "Will they win" was "If they don't, my head will explode".

It needed not explode as Sakic put the icing on top of the frosting that he had put on the cake earlier. Wolski and Sakic were sprung on a 2-on-1 thanks to some hard work by Bruno and they played it perfectly. Sakic swept in, sucked back to the outside, Wolski held onto the puck long enough for Leclair to commit, then fed a beauty backhand to Sakic who buried it into an open net.

That completed the hat trick for Sakic and the hats were raining down. Do they get to get their hats back after the game? I've always wondered. Cause when I'm there when they play the Pens, no way I'm tossing my hat on the ice for anybody. Sakic could get 6 goals and I wouldn't toss it. I like my hat.

Ryan Smyth and Tyler Arnason both had great chances in the period but Leclair flashed some quick leather to deny them. 5 goals against sounds bad but boy did Leclaire play well.

The Avalanche then got a late powerplay which say Lappy and Smith getting some PP time. Lappy had a great chance but whiffed on the slap shot. I think I read his lips saying something like "Oh darn" after the play

I read Parker's lips real well after he took a cheap cross-check from Duvie Westcott and I won't repeat what they said. Man, Parker had fire in his eyes and I was a bit frightened myself. Lappy helped keep Parker from tearing someone's head off but I think the devil himself would have been frightened of Parker at that moment.

He then ripped open the penalty box a minute later to give Tollefsen a piece of his mind after Tollefsen started jousting with Sauer. He was promptly escorted out of the game before he ended up beating someone over the head with their own appendage. My goodness. Why would anybody want to piss that guy off?

Budaj played a solid game from start to finish. On the first goal, I think he should have followed the puck towards the corner rather than standing there but what can you do. He made some good solid saves, controlled his rebounds, and did a decent job at controlling the tempo of the game.

Brett Clark, though I yelled at him when he flopped on Nash, had a decent game overall. Finger put in a hard hitting game though he finds himself out of position at times. Skrastins was a "meh" to me. He's not hard enough on the puck in the corners or on clears. Hannan put in 24 minutes to lead the Avs in ice-time. Liles is impressing me with his game this year.

Faceoffs. They finally started putting things together in the circle. However they got progressively worse as the game went on. They won 55% in the first, 44% in the second and 33% in the third. So they finished at 50% which is much improved from swimming in 40%-30% land in previous games. Stastny put in a great showing winning 7 of 11 draws. Wyatt Smith was 0 for 5.

I hope the Avs don't turn into the Flames where they win with ease at home but struggle on the road.

- Nash is incredibly strong on the puck
- Wolski using his size much better to control the puck
- Leclair looked sharp even though he gave up [X GOALS]
- Smyth is starting to look like the Smyth I remembered
- Budaj had his rebounds under control tonight
- Wolski had a 2 point night as did Brunette and Hejduk
- Parker in, Guite out
- Leopold should be good for Tuesday's game against Calgary

The Good
- solid effort from start to finish
- not letting up after the 3 goal lead

The Bad
- umm...

The Ugly
- Westcott's cheap shot on Parker

Related Links
In the Cheap Seats Recap Recap Gamesheet
TSN Recap
Denver Post Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Blue Jackets

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Well, it's time for the Avs to pick themselves up, brush off their jerseys, and pull out a big win at home. After being mildly embarrassed last night against the Blues, they better come out pissed off and hungry for a win.

I'm pissed off and I'm not even on the team. The effort put in last night was reminiscent of last season's team and I really really really hoped that was all behind them. I truly don't understand how a team with players such as Sakic, Hannan, Smyth and Laperriere can be lacking drive, passion and intensity. My mind is boggled.

They'll be coming up against a hot goaltender in Pascal Leclaire. Leclaire has shut out the Ducks and the Coyotes and has yet to let in a goal this season. But as they say - or is that just what I say? - the more things stay the same, the more likely they are to change.

Colorado will have Peter Budaj between the pipes as the plan all along was for Budaj and Theodore to split time in goal this weekend. Theodore put in a non-brilliant performance against the Blues while Budaj is coming off a back-and-forth set of games.

So again, the Avalanche are seeing hot/cold/lukewarm goaltending from their duo and that's another thing that must change. Budaj should put in a solid showing tonight as he tends to rebound well.

Jordan Leopold is likely to sit out again with a hip injury. I don't often buy in to the "injury prone" moniker but this guy is fitting it to a "T" with the Avalanche. Just look at his injury history. That's just since March of '06.

The Avalanche are unbeaten at home this season (2-0) while the Blue Jackets lost their only road game this season against the Wild. However those don't feel like long enough streaks for the aforementioned "change philosophy" to come into play. Or so my brain is telling me.

Related Links Preview
TSN Preview
Mile High Hockey Preview

Friday, October 12, 2007

Leopold Injured

Jordan Leopold made Q's decision on which of the 7 active defensemen to scratch against the Blues. He sat out the game against the Blues with a hip injury. Sigh.

Read the Rocky Mountain News report

Avalanche Singing the Blues: Lose 4-1

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Well, it was a tough start as I figured it would be. The Avalanche weathered the storm and came away with a 1-1 tie. The 2nd period was uneventful but the game broke wide open in the 3rd. A two-goal outburst by Dan Hinote sealed the fate of the Avalanche as they were never able to solve Manny Legace except for one flukey goal.

First Period
Yikes. Tough start to this period as Brad Boyes scored a goal 1:14 into the period. Paul Kariya burned in to the zone around Brett Clark (I believe it was #5), Theodore made a close-in save off Kariya, then another off the trailer. However, Brad Boyes was coming in unimpeded and Theodore was well out of position at this point so it was a tap-in for him.

So first game in, first scoring rush, first goal against for Jose Theodore. It's an easy one to hang on Theodore's head immediately. However the Blues announcers were right...this one can be mostly be hung at the feet of Joe Sakic. He dogged the backcheck and Boyes made him pay big time. I don't like saying it but I call it as I see it - and as the Blues announcers see it I suppose as that's what their assessment was as well. listed it as a shorthanded goal. It was not. Keep up the good work guys. Next time test your new system out a bit better before rolling it out.

However, Paul Stastny had an answer less than 3 minutes later. With Ryan Smyth in front of the net, Stastny sent a pass cross-crease which ended up deflecting in off of Paul Kariya's skate. What can you say about Stastny. When you're hot, you're hot! That's 5 goals and 9 points in the first 4 games. Be still my beating heart.

After the quick opening, the game tapered off a bit. There were only 5 shots on goal per team with about 6 or 7 minutes to go. The teams picked it up back up a bit towards the end but Theodore and Legace were both up to the test.

The period ended 1-1 with 9 shots on goal for each team.

Second Period
The Avs opened up this period on the powerplay but weren't able to get much done. The PP was followed up with a good shift by Wojtek Wolski as he had the puck follow his stick all around the ice while getting a couple good chances on Legace.

The Blues then got a powerplay of their own off a completely bogus call. Yes, I said bogus. Dude. Hejud was breaking in towards Legace from his off wing, Kariya pushed him out and into Legace. The refs saw this as Hejduk not trying to stop from interfering with the goaltender. Even the Blues announcers - who were actually very fair - thought this was a terrible call.

Thankfully the Blues got nothing done as the PK continued to look much improved. They were looking very aggressive and didn't give the Blues time to set up. At times they got a bit too aggressive and found themselves stacking one side, but the Blues couldn't capitalize.

Jeff Finger then put Lee Stempniak flat on his keester. I have nothing more to say. I won't say it. No. It's too obvious. I will not say that he gave him the Finger! Curses, foiled again.

Manny Legace then stepped up and made two great saves. Hlinka was streaking down the left side and Andrew Brunette fed him a mind-numbingly gorgeous pass from across the ice. However Legace got over quickly and made an excellent save on Hlinka. Then Joe Sakic broke in down his off wing, fired a shot which Legace got enough of to direct wide. He then scrambled back into position to cover up a rebound chance by Jaroslav Hlinka.

Paul Stastny then drew a penalty on Ryan Johnson. Johnson rubbed out Stastny, Stastny grabbed Johnson, down they went, into the penalty box Johnson went, out of my mouth came a chuckle. The Blues announcers actually thought it was legit but I saw Stastny taking down Johnson, not the other way around.

However, the refs noticed their mistake on the replay because they then called Milan Hejduk on another ridiculous penalty. Hejduk came flying back to stop Hinote from getting a shorthanded opportunity, rubbed him out, and the refs called him for interference. And they say "even up calls" don't exist. Right.

The period ended 1-1 with the Avs getting off 10 shots to the Blues 3.

Third Period
Oh my. Worst. Period. Ever. It was opened with a good save by Theodore on a breakaway but it quickly turned sour. McClement scored at 4:57 off a scramble in front followed barely a minute later by Hinote on another scramble in front.

The Avalanche put some pressure on the Blues but couldn't get past Legace. Hinote then put the icing on the cake with just 4 minutes left.

It was a less than stellar defensive effort as the D again looked confused and unsure of themselves. They also got pushed around in their own crease - which led to the third goal - and just aren't battling it out hard enough.

The offense came up flat as well though there were many opportunities. Most of the opportunities came from the newly coined RPM line (Ryan-Paul-Milan) and Milan Hejduk was the most dangerous of the night for sure.

The top line of Hlinka-Sakic-Brunette didn't generate many chances though when it did, it was typically Hlinka and Sakic together on a rush. Poor Andrew just can't keep up to the young 'uns. Hey, Joe is young at heart.

The faceoff percentage was 42%. Not horrible but still needing improvement. Guite started the night off terrible in the circle but ended at close to 50%. Arnason still doesn't seem to give a rats behind whether he wins faceoffs or not.

Clark had the most ice time with 23:07. He made some pretty weak plays, one which led to a goal when he got shoved out of the crease by Hinote who then buried it. You've got to be stronger in your crease. He ended the night at -3.

Svatos again saw limited ice time and he wasn't really buzzing as much as he was the first few games.

I've got nothing too particular to say about Theodore. He was neither exceptional nor terrible.

- Leopold out, Skrastins and Finger in
- Wolski is finishing his checks and fighting hard
- D is still out of sync with each other
- Liles is playing well positionally
- Smyth doesn't seem to be competing like the Smyth I remember (or hoped for)
- PK was looking much better

The Good
- Hejduk looked sharp
- the 2nd line was still looking good
- at least they got one goal

The Bad
- going into the 3rd 1-1 and leaving with a 4-1 loss
- Dan Hinote giving it to his former team
- Legace continuing his Avalanche-killer ways
- poor defensive effort
- lack of intensity

The Ugly
- Jackman hitting the boards hard in the 1st period

Related Links Scoresheet
TSN Recap
Denver Post Recap
In The Cheap Seats Recap

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Blues - Oct 12

Jose Theodore
(Photo Courtesy
Whew! That was a long break from Avalanche action. Thankfully there was plenty of action from coast to coast to keep me entertained during the dry spell.

The Avalanche now have back-to-back games to play against the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets this weekend. They will then await the Flames on Oct 16th for the Avalanche's first divisional matchup. The Blues and Avalanche are both 2-1-0 heading into the game tonight.

This game against St. Louis will be the first real look the Avalanche get against a team who upgraded themselves this year with the additions of Kariya, Tkachuk and Mike Johnson. Mike Johnson is a player I would have liked the Avalanche to sign some, lose some.

A couple of the rookies I was anxious to see - Erik Johnson and David Perron - are not likely to be in the lineup. Erik Johnson, their top draft pick on '06, is out with a broken foot and David Perron has yet to see regular season action. Jay McKee and Eric Brewer are also out with injuries so their defensive corps is a bit depleted.

The Avalanche are coming off a big win against the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. After a big win followed by a long layoff, it's hard to gauge how the Avalanche will look against the Blues. Teams often come out flat after long layoffs so don't be surprised if the Blues storm the Avalanche for the first period. The Avalanche need to weather the initial attack and then find a way past the Avs-killer Manny Legace if they want to come away with points tonight.

The big news of the day of course is Theodore getting the nod in goal rather than Saturday against Columbus. It was expected that Theodore would get some action this weekend since the games are back-to-back with travel, but the expectation was that he would start against the Jackets - an arguably weaker team than the Blues - for his first NHL action this season.

This decision may come down to starting at home vs starting on the road. Road games have much less pressure attached to them - in my eyes anyways - and the coaching staff may have felt this scenario was the better option for Theodore's return. There's nothing worse for your confidence than being boo'd on home ice. No matter what sort of "he's a professional" argument you make, he hears them and I'm sure it gets into his head.

So I'm looking for three things tonight:
1 - Solid start from Theodore
2 - Solid PK effort
3 - Improved faceoff percentage (I'd be happy with 45% even!)

They've had plenty of time to work on #2 and #3 but #1 is still a wildcard. So it should be an exciting game!

Related Links
Sakic Just Like Your Ordinary Joe
Jordan Leopold Answers Your Questions
Adrian Daters Mailbag Returns (with a strange answer to the uni question)
Adrian Dater on Jose's Return and Other Musings
Lacroix to be Inducted into Colorado Sports Hall of Fame Game Preview
TSN Game Preview
Mile High Hockey Game Preview

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Paul Stastny Conference Call Transcript

Alanah at Kukla's Korner has posted a transcript of a conference call with Paul Stastny.

I may have a comment or two to add later on but for now, I should continue working.

Don't forget to check out Kukla's Korner every day for a slew of hockey-related links and information.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Avalanche Reassign Weiman

The Avalanche announced that they have reassigned Tyler Weiman to Lake Erie where he will take over as the starting goaltender.

Weiman saw only 10 minutes during his time with the big club where he stopped 10 shots in relief of Peter Budaj and looked solid.

His time will come but for now he'll head up the Lake Erie Monsters roster as they quest forth in their inaugural season.

Stastny Set to Improve on Stellar Rookie Campaign

Arnott scores his second goal on Peter Budaj
(Getty Images)
Some didn't think it could be done but all signs are pointing to Paul Stastny improving on his amazing rookie campaign from 06/07. During his rookie year he put up 78 points and broke the league point-streak record for a rookie with points in 20 consecutive games. Those are numbers that would have "Calder Trophy" written all over them in many years. Evgeni Malkin eventually took home the hardware but Paul Stastny took home the hearts of every Avalanche fan across the globe.

After enduring a stellar rookie campaign from Marek Svatos in 05/06 followed by a less-then-ideal season from Svatos the following year, fans were cautious about being optimistic with Stastny. In fact, the "sophomore slump" was bandied about as if it was given. How wrong they were.

So far this season, Stastny has scored a hat-trick, put up a five-point night, is atop the league lead in scoring, tied for the league lead in goals, tied for the league lead in +/- and is converting on 67% of his shots. Of course, it's only 3 games in and projecting his stats across the board is something that will not happen.

If you were to go by just the stats, then yes, you'd be crazy to think he can keep up this pace. But if you watch the games and see the way he plays, you'd be crazy not to think he'll easily surpass his totals from last year. He is not a flashy player but he is in the right place at the right time, he seems to click with any linemate they set him up with and he has excellent defensive presence to go with his offense. And he's missing two front teeth. He's a hockey player's hockey player.

Always a humble man, Stastny had the following to say about the big win against the Sharks last night in a game which saw him score 1 goal and add 4 helpers: "It was more of a big win against one of the top teams in the West the last couple of years, and this year too,"

Joel Quenneville had a more succinct opinion in favor of Stastny:
"Tonight, he was special,"

I'm not sure if he's aware but Son of Stastny has thousands of man-crushes directed at him right now.

Related Links
Stastny Love from Dear Lord Stanley
Tapeleg Wakes Up, Rolls Over, Sees Paul Stastny
Stastny Heads NHL Three-Stars of the Week
Jes Golbez - Under the Radar Stars: Paul Stastny
Shawn P. Roarke - Paul Stastny Carves Out His Own Niche

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Avalanche Storm Sharks; Win 6-2

(AP Photo/Will Powers)
The Avalanche put on a dominating offensive performance and took it to the San Jose Sharks with a 6-2 win. Although there were technical issues with the HD feed on Center Ice, it was still available on a non-HD (yuck!) feed. However I didn't need HD to see something I liked. And I liked what the Avalanche looked like tonight.

First period
The period started off with an excellent penalty kill after Milan Hejduk took a double-minor for high-sticking. The Avalanche actually generated more chances than the Sharks did on this one. The PK was generating pressure, forcing turnovers and covering a lot of ice. Very nice to see.

The Avalanche then got a slew of powerplay chances and they made sure to cash in. On their first chance, the most notable point was when Liles was stripped of the puck heading up ice but Sakic had stayed back to save Liles' hide. The second chance was a 5-on-3 and they made sure to make it count. It was as beautiful and well-executed as a 5-on-3 can be. Sakic got the puck, dumped it down to Stastny, broke for the net and took a perfect feed back from Stastny and buried it. With that goal, Sakic jumps past Phil Esposito for 8th on the all-time points list and takes sole possession of 14th on the all-time goal scoring list.

Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos were skating together on the 3rd line and looked good together. They did have some miscues but nothing horrible. They got mixed up on one opportunity where Svatos should have taken the puck since he had the better angle but Wolski grabbed it, tried to feed it back and lost it in traffic. They'll work those issues out on the bench pretty quickly.

Milan Hejduk then put the Avs up by a score of 2-0 with a goal made of sheer speed. He came flying down the right side, blew past Kyle McLaren and then buried it five-hole on Nabokov. It was definitely a Hejduk-style goal and it always brings a smile to my face. If he keeps that speed all season long, I could see him scoring 40 goals.

Since I was watching the Sharks feed, I got treated to a mic'd up segment with Tim Hunter, one of the Sharks assistant coaches. He was coaching a player during practice on what the Avs do on the PP. This may sound familiar: "Brunette sets up down low, or Smyth, then Sakic comes in on the backdoor with a give-and-go from Stastny". Well, they better start listening to Mr. Hunter as that was the choreography of the first goal to a "T".

Second Period
The Sharks started off the period in penalty trouble again as Vlasic took a hooking penalty followed by the team taking a too many men penalty. They killed those off successfully and that gave the Sharks some steam.

At the 7:47 mark, Ryan Clowe was able to bury a rebound that Budaj had kicked out to the middle of the slot to make the game a bit less comfortable. Budaj has got to watch his rebound control as he's just not gobbling them up like he needs to. And if you kick em out, go for the corners, not the middle of the ice.

Nabokov came up with some good saves to keep the Sharks in it, including a great save off a great play by Smyth and Stastny. Those two are clicking together nicely. They're both immensely intelligent hockey players so it's not hard for them to feed off of each other.

The Avalanche started running around a bit in their own end towards the end of the 2nd but Budaj made some good saves and they came away unscathed.

Third Period
It was the Avs turn to come out firing as they got off two quick goals in the first three minutes of play.

The first was a great rush by the 2nd line. Hejduk danced in on the right side, skipped past 3 defenders, took a shot which was blocked, corraled it back, fed it to a streaking Stastny and he made no mistake.

The second was on another excellent rush by the 2nd line. Stastny fed it to Smyth who one-timed it, then Hejduk slipped the rebound past Nabokov. Nabokov doesn't drop pucks like that often but Hejduk went to the net and we all know what happens when you do that. Good things.

Ian Laperriere and Doug Murray then had a little tilt. Lappy crushed Murray along the glass, Murray got angry and decided to go. You can't blame Murray. Down by 3 goals and gets plastered. He's gonna come up swinging.

Then things got ugly. If you're a Sharks fan. The Avalanche fired off 2 more quick goals to put the game well out of reach. It was a couple of "first" goals by Avalanche players. Marek Svatos and Ryan Smyth both broke their goose eggs on the season.

Marek Svatos got his goal off a great deflection on a Finger point shot. He looked happy/relieved/excited/tired all at once. Ryan Smyth then raced in, beat a Sharks defender to the puck behind the net, wrapped it around and ended Evgeni Nabokov's night.

The Sharks then took another penalty and out came the big guns. Actually it was Wyatt Smith and Ben Guite. They nearly cashed in too! Well, they did cash it but it was waved off. Smith crashed the net and banged home a rebound. However, the referee had blown the play dead - a very quick whistle - just as Smith banged it home. The puck actually was in before the whistle went but as the Sharks announcers mentioned, it's the intent of the referee rather than when the whistle actually goes. Fair enough.

The Sharks got one more before the game was out. A very pretty cross-crease play on the PP. Yep, the Avs gave up another cross-crease play while shorthanded. This time it was Clark who didn't pick up the man in the slot.

This was a Sharks team the Avs are not likely to see again. Turnover after turnover dogged their chances today. They couldn't generate any offensive pressure and they looked very porous on defense. They looked completely flat and had no excuse to look this flat.

However it's a win the Avalanche will take any day of the week. And they'll smile while doing it. I know I did.

- Wolski and Svatos looked good together
- Arnason is the laziest faceoff man I've seen
- the 2nd line was dynamite (Smyth-Stastny-Hejduk), combining for 10 points and 4 goals
- Hejduk is absolutely flying with the puck on his stick
- Finger was in for Skrastins
- D pairings were: Hannan-Clark; Leopold-Sauer; Liles-Finger
- Leopold had the most ice-time of any Avalanche player (22:54)
- Lappy was a hitting machine as were Guite and Finger

The Good
- PK was solid save for one lapse
- Stastny with a 5-point night
- Hejduk with 3 points
- Smyth's first goal as an Avalanche
- Sakic tying Espo (goals) and passing Hull (points)

The Bad
- Budaj's rebound control
- faceoffs are back to "terrible" status at 37%

The Ugly
- Lappy taking a poke to the eye during his fight

Related Links
Tapeleg Live Blogs (Barely) The Game
TSN Recap Recap Scoresheet Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap

Game Preview: Sharks vs Avalanche - Oct 7

(AP Photo/Frederick Breedon)
It's the only game on tonight and it's an early start at 7:00p.m. ET. If the sports networks want to have some hockey to talk about tonight, this better be a real barn burner.

It's got the makings of one as the Avalanche are coming off of a 4-0 tromping at the hands of the Nashville Predators and will be looking for redemption. It's also the first time Scott Hannan faces his former team after signing with the Avalanche this off-season. After playing 8 seasons with the Sharks, this game has an obvious sentimental impact for Hannan and he's gunning for a big win.

Jose Theodore, coming off a 3-2 loss with the Lake Erie Monsters on Saturday, was set to rejoin the roster today. There has been no word yet on whether the plans have changed it's unlikely. All signs point to Theodore backing up Budaj for the game today as I don't see them thrusting him into a start so soon. Ok, I could see it happening but I don't think it should.

UPDATE: Dater reports that Budaj is definitely getting the start. Missed it during my morning readings.

Joel Quenneville has shaken up the lines a bit for this game. Ryan Smyth and Milan Hejduk have moved down to a line with Paul Stastny, while Jaroslav Hlinka and Andrew Brunette find themselves on the top line with Joe Sakic. Tyler Arnason will center Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos on the third line while Wyatt Smith will sit in between Ian Laperriere and Ben Guite on the fourth line.

The second line mirrors what many people expected after hearing of the Smyth signing. It was believed that Wolski would stay on the first line with Brunette and Sakic but Jaroslav Hlinka should slot in quite nicely. The third line will be the one that worries people the most as it appears to lack any semblance of defensive responsibility. Personally, I'm not concerned about the third line and am expecting a big game from them.

Overall, the Avalanche are looking terrible from a statistics perspective. Their powerplay has been anemic (0%, tied for last in the league), their penalty kill has been atrocious (54%, 29th in the league) and Budaj has been shaky (4.04GAA, .875%). And we mustn't forget faceoffs (43.3%, 27th in the league). All of those stats are in serious need of improvement and I have faith that the Avalanche will put in a solid showing tonight.

But will a solid showing be enough to get past the offensive trio of Thornton, Marleau and Cheechoo and the goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov?

Related Links Preview
TSN Preview
Mercury News Preview
CBSSports Preview
In the Cheap Seats Preview

Friday, October 5, 2007

Jose Theodore to Start for Lake Erie Monsters

Jose Theodore is set to complete his rehabilitation stint by starting for the Lake Erie Monsters in their inaugural game this Saturday. After undergoing a knee scope, Theodore has yet to see game action in the preseason or regular season.

He only began practicing in full equipment last Thursday and seeing game action is the best way to get a goaltender going. Even if it's in the AHL.

GM Francois Gigure stated: "Jose is in the final stages of his rehabilitation work and both our hockey staff and he agreed that actual game action would be the way to complete this process."

The game can be tracked via the AHL's scoreboard page. They also have pay-per-view webcasts and it will be on FSN Ohio starting at 7:30 EST.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Game Review: Avalanche 0 - Predators 4

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Well, it was not the game that fans were hoping for, that's for sure. After taking it to the Stars with some excellent offensive flair and solid defence, the Avalanche had it dealt right back to them by the Nashville Predators.

Continue on for all the gory details.

First Period
It was a rough start for the Avalanche as the Predators were all over them for the first minute. They were able to weather the storm without significant damage but it was a sign of things to come.

Just over 3 minutes in, J.M. Liles took an interference penalty and the team paid for it. Arnott set up in his usual spot just above the circle on the left side. And sure enough Zidlicky fed him one that Budaj couldn't quite hang on to and it was an early 1-0 lead.

Chris Mason then took over for the Predators as he made some excellent saves to preserve the 1-0 lead. So far, it looks like the Predators made the right call in shipping Vokoun off to Florida.

With just over 5 minutes left to play, Jason Arnott cashed in again. He came idling down the left-side - surprise! - and took a cross-crease feed from J.P. Dumont to bury it. Budaj had no chance on this one. Hannan, on the other hand, looked directly at Arnott but then looked away to locate the puck. In that time, the puck slid right through his legs to the waiting Arnott. Hannan knew darn well that he should have taken position on his man rather than sweeping for the puck.

Brunette had a glorious chance towards the end of the first but the shaft of his stick snapped and Mason made an easy save on the dribbling puck. The announcers felt it time to mention how Brunette must have been the Maytag man because nobody was near him in the slot. If you know what means, please enlighten me.

The Avalanche had a powerplay chance with 3 minutes left but generated no chances. Liles even had the audacity to ice the puck under no pressure. That's not the sign of a powerplay quarterback and I bet he heard it from the coaching staff when he got back to the bench.

Second Period
The second period started off even worse than the first as Dan Hamhuis buried another cross-crease feed at the 1:45 mark. On this one, I wasn't really sure why Budaj waited so long to kick his right pad out. I even replayed it with my awesome new PVR and couldn't find the answer. He needed to steal that goal to keep the game from running away. In his defense though, Hamhuis was wide open with all 5 Avalanche defenders playing deep on the right side.

Lappy then decided to try and spark the team a bit as he scrapped with Tootoo. I'd give the decision to Tootoo but not by much. And unfortunately it was all for naught as the team continued to play with little drive and passion.

Scott Hannan continued with some mediocre play as he got burned on the outside by Erat and and continued to look unsure of himself all night. It may be a chemistry issue with Clark, but that's not the only issue. I'll still give him some time to adjust - like, say, 3 more games - before I start to harp on him.

Erat then barreled into Clark from behind on a chase in the corner. There was no penalty called but I would have liked to see one. Clark had his back to Erat the whole way in and Erat put his fist into Clark's neck and drove him into the boards. It wasn't particularly vicious but if the NHL is serious about protecting players, it needs to be called.

Third Period
This was hard to do as I had badminton coming up shortly and was torn between finishing the game or going early and hammering some birdies. I went with a split and left with 5 minutes to go and then watched the rest from my PVR. Did I mention I love my PVR? Because I do. So much that I watched the last 5 minutes of this horrendous game because I could.

The Avs again gave up a goal within the first 5 minutes of a period as J.P Dumont tipped home a Greg Devries point shot. I never fault a goaltender for a tipped shot getting past them but this was the final straw for Budaj's night.

Tyler Weiman came in to relieve Budaj from the shellacking. And the Nashville announcers didn't even notice. It was about 5 minutes of hearing "And Budaj makes the save" until someone in the studio obviously clued them. "And Tyler Weiman in goal now..." 5 minutes after he'd came in. Well done on paying attention to the game.

At 9:30, Skrastins reversed on his way out the zone. Trouble was, nobody was back there save for Tyler Weiman - a.k.a Budaj to Terry Crisp - which led to Skrastins taking a hooking call to make up for his blunder. What is with the Avalanche reversing when nobody is there? I understand the team is still new to each other but it's getting ridiculous.

Ryan Smyth then taught Zanon a lesson after Zanon laid a solid hit on Joe Sakic. I know, I know. It was a fair hit. But it's a 4-0 game and it's Joe Sakic. You know the players will react to that. The last thing they want is the captain to get injured during the final 2 minutes of a blowout.

Weiman held on to the 4 goal disadvantage by making a few nice saves and looking sharp overall. But I don't want him to start next game. It's way too early for a goalie carousel to start in Denver.

The Avs seemed to have no spark tonight. I know it was back-to-back games and there was travel involved, but it was the second game of the season! I really expected a gutsier performance than what was shown tonight.

The fatigue showed in their effort level as well as their decision making. Passes were not crisp, plays were forced, offensive opportunities were wasted and defensive play was non-existent.

You do have to credit the Predators, and Chris Mason in particular, for showing up to play. They stepped on the gas and never let up. Mason made some amazing saves and the Predators did a good job of limiting Colorado's chances and taking advantage of their own.

Faceoffs got a bit better tonight as Sakic stepped up his game in the circle with a 56% winning percentage. Jaroslav Hlinka also took a few draws with a 67% success rate and Guite had a 60% success rate. Tyler Arnason continues to be abysmal on the draw with a 29% winning percentage. I really, really, really hope they are spending time working on this.

I expect a much better team against San Jose on Sunday afternoon.

- Sakic still has speed and strength
- Hlinka has good defensive responsibility
- Wolski was buzzing all night
- Svatos was looking to make a difference
- Chris Mason was looking spectacular

The Good
- Wolski and Svats actually had some jump

The Bad
- sloppy defensive play
- sloppy penalty kill
- sloppy passes
- sluggish effort
- getting shutout

The Ugly
- Erat's hit on Clark

Related Links Game Summary
TSN Recap
CBS Sports Recap
ESPN Recap Recap
JibbleScribbits Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap
In The Cheap Seats Recap
Jerseys and Hockey Love Recap
Denver Post Recap
All Things Avs

Game Preview: Avalanche vs Predators - Oct 4

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The season started off on a good note as the Avalanche were able to down the Stars by a score of 4-3. Now they're off to Nashville as the Predators open their season at home.

Nashville had a fire-sale this year, leaving them without names such as Paul Kariya, Tomas Vokoun, Peter Forsberg, Kimmo Timmonen, Vitaly Visnhevsky and Scott Hartnell. However they still have a decent core of youngsters, including Alexander Radulov and Shea Weber, who should step up to fill in the gaps. It appears the oddsmakers have a similar opinion as they have pegged this contest as nearly a dead heat. I still give the edge to the Avalanche of course but not by as wide a margin as some would expect.

Last night, the Avalanche started to give a glimpse of their strengths and weaknesses in their 4-3 win over Dallas. Paul Stastny, a.k.a. Son of Stastny or SoS, showed that he has no desire to slow down in his sophomore season. He banged home 3 goals, centered the Avalanche's best line of the night, and put in a solid defensive effort. Jordan Leopold, Scott Hannan and Brett Clark put in solid defensive performances as did the rest of the Avalanche. Peter Budaj put in a Budaj-like performance where he was solid throughout and ended the night with a flurry of excellent saves to preserve the win.

However they did run into some defensive lapses where they got running around in their own zone and looked entirely confused on what was happening. They also had problems in the faceoff circle - 39% win percentage - and nearly blew a 3-goal third period lead. All 3 of those items need to change for this team to be consistently successful. The PK wasn't successful on the scoresheet but it's a bit early to judge as the goals weren't really solid PP goals. Watching the penalty kill crew, they seemed to move around a lot while not applying enough pressure. But we'll see how that one shakes out.

The first line of Smyth-Sakic-Hejduk didn't find the scoresheet and ended at a combined -2. I'm not too worried about them at the moment and the reasons are threefold. First, it was the first game of the season. Second, the line had some chances but just couldn't convert. Third, it's Smyth, Sakic and Hejduk who are 3 extremely intelligent hockey players and just need to figure each other out a bit better. I love the number 3 today in case you hadn't noticed.

The third line - there's that number again - wasn't gelling at all but I think it just needs a bit of time to find its groove. There's not much shaking up of the lines that can be done as the #1 and #2 lines should stay together for a good run. So Wolski and Arnason need to figure out how to hit each others sticks with passes rather than their skates. Give it time before getting too frustrated with them. If it doesn't work, you could see Q bite the bullet and put Svatos on the third line in place of Lappy. Most people shudder at the defensive effort that line would provide but Arnason has showed some improvement on that front, as did Wolski.

Peter Budaj will likely get the start tonight which makes perfect sense. He played well, Weiman is not here to be a #1a, and it's only the second game of the season. Wow, threefold reasons again. If Budaj can't play back-to-back games to start off the season, then I'd be worried about his conditioning. But he'll be good to go.

Joe Sakic missed out on tying Phil Esposito for 8th place and this will continue to be a storyline here until he finally ties and then passes Espo. It's inevitable but the waiting is the hardest part (just a quick Tom Petty reference for DD if he's reading this).

Related Links
TSN Preview Preview
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ESPN Preview
FanHouse Predators Season Preview
Stastny's Hat Trick Magic

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Game Review: Avalanche 4 - Stars 3

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Thanks to Anaheim and Detroit going to a shootout, I missed the first 7:30 of the game. But once the feed kicked over to the Can, the season officially started for me. The lines were as expected however Ben Guite did make the lineup tonight over Scott Parker. Todd Fedoruk not being in for Dallas may have had something to do with that.

It was a nerve-wracking finish to the game as the Avalanche showed shades of their old selves after taking a 4-1 lead into the third period. Some stellar saves by Peter Budaj helped the Avalanche hang on to win at home in an exciting opening night matchup.

So let's jump into the action!

First Period
The Avalanche D, for the most part, looked solid in this period. Leopold in particular looked to have some excellent positioning and some solid physical play. Smyth almost cashed one in around the 10 minute mark off a great cross-ice feed but Turco was there with a spectacular save. Hlinka also had a glorious opportunity but caught the post and possibly a bit of Turco as well.

Colorado got running around in their own zone at about the 15 minute mark but did a good job of not taking a penalty while keeping the puck out of the net. Shortly after that, Paul Stastny broke in down the left side and buried a wrister underneath Turco's armpit. It wasn't the prettiest goal but they all count.

Brett Clark was involved in a nasty incident with Brendan Morrow. Morrow was racing in for the puck and Clark was pursuing. Just as Clark was about to connect, Morrow slipped up, hit the ice and caught the back of Brett Clark's leg right in the face. Clark immediately stopped to see if he was all right but Morrow was up and off the ice quite quickly. It could have been worse if Morrow caught a skate but he was lucky. Good on Clark for stopping to check on him.

Second Period
A great start to the second period as Paul Stastny buried his second of the night off a beautiful behind-the-back feed from Andrew Brunette. This line is showing some amazing chemistry which should ease fans concerns after seeing the scheduled lines for the night. Many were questioning why Q would change the lines after the preseason lines had looked so impressive.

Andrew Brunette then got penalized for shooting the puck over the glass which is still the most ridiculous penalty in all of the sporting world. The Avalanche were able to kill off the penalty but about 15 seconds later, Trevor Daley blasted a puck which got by Budaj after being tipped by Jeff Halpern. There was bit of a review after the goal was scored though I'm not really sure what they needed to review.

But then Paul Stastny went and got the first hat-trick of his professional career as the second line again came through with an amazing play. Brunette gave a deft tap pass back to Hlinka who came in down the left side looking like he was going to shoot. But at the last second he rifled a pass across to a streaking Paul Stastny who made no mistake and buried it behind Turco. The hats were raining down on the ice as the fans showed their appreciation for this young phenom. "Sophomore slump" my "you-know-what".

Wojtek Wolski then continued the youth movement as he buried one short-side on Marty Turco. It was a bit of a weak goal by Turco but he remained in net as Tippet decided not to pull the trigger to quick on his #1. The third line is still looking to find its groove but if they can score while searching for it, I've got no complaints.

Peter Budaj was solid this period including making an amazing save on Niklas Hagman. He had some help from Scott Hannan towards the end of the first as well. Budaj was down and out but Hannan dove in and got his body between the puck and the net to keep it out.

Third Period
The third period started out with Brunette trying another behind-the-back pass to Stastny but the Stars are wise to that one. Marek Svatos then took a hooking penalty which led to trouble. With Hlinka and Laperriere on the PK for the Avs - and I only note that because I was surprised to see Hlinka out there - the Stars were able to capitalize and Jussi Jokinen put one past Budaj.

The Avalanche then sat back a bit and got too enamored with defending their lead. The Stars were able to put some pressure on them and nearly capitalized a couple times. An untimely too-many-men penalty then gave Dallas the chance they needed. It was a bizarre goal as Hannan whipped the puck behind the net, right onto Hagman's stick who whipped it in front of the net, right off Brett Clark's skate and through Budaj's legs. It took longer for the players to notice the puck in the net than it did for that sequence to happen.

Going into the final couple minutes, I was sweating a bit. The Avalanche were scrambling every which way and couldn't seem to clear the puck. But Peter Budaj came up huge with 2 big saves to maintain the win. He kicked out a blast from the point and then Paul Stastny helped him out by keeping the rebound out. He then flashed the leather and got just enough of the puck to keep it out with only about a dozen seconds left to play.

If Budaj can continue to come up big when it matters, I'll be a happy man.

The second line is looking amazing at the moment. Brunette and Stastny showed some real chemistry in terms of knowing where the other was without looking. Hlinka was exactly what he's been hyped to be so far.

Clark and Hannan got #1 pairing minutes tonight with 27:04 and 28:05 respectively. They both closed the night at +2. Jordan Leopold looked very solid tonight. He had excellent positioning, solid physical play and racked up 4 blocked shots in his 18:22 of ice-time.

Marek Svatos saw just over 8 minutes in ice-time tonight. Q was rolling the #1 and #2 lines heavy - for obvious reasons - which didn't leave much room for the 3rd and 4th lines.

The Avalanche gave the puck away 16 times to Dallas' 8. That's a stat that needs to be improved. As does their faceoff percentage which was a dreadful 39%. There were crucial times where faceoff wins were needed and the Avalanche just couldn't get it done.

- Wolski still seems a bit uncomfortable with himself but seemed to get better as the night went on.
- the 3rd line is not clicking at all yet
- defensive play by the team was solid but they got caught running around in their own zone a few times
- Budaj was solid overall and came up huge when it was needed
- Hlinka is an excellent skater and a superb playmaker
- Hannan is very uncomfortable with the puck on his stick

The Good
- getting the win at home on opening night
- Stastny showing the "sophomore slump" folks where to put it
- Brunette contributing on all 3 of those goals
- Hlinka showing himself to be a potential runaway candidate for steal of the year

The Bad
- blowing a lead again ala the 2006/2007 Avalanche team
- Sakic not tying Espo on opening night
- an abysmal 39% faceoff percentage

The Ugly
- Brendan Morrow eating the back of Clark's leg

Related Links Scoresheet
CBS Sports Recap
TSN Recap
In The Cheap Seats Recap
Mile High Hockey Recap
Jibblescribbits Recap
ESPN Recap Recap
Denver Post Recap

Game Preview: Colorado Avalanche vs Dallas Stars

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Oh man. I'm so excited it's hard to type. It's less than 10 hours away from the drop of the puck to officially open the season for the Colorado Avalanche. It has been a long off-season, made even longer by the Avalanche's two marquee signings. If fans weren't anxious before, once Smyth and Hannan were in the fold we were like kids in a candy store on Christmas Eve.

And if Hannan and Smyth weren't enough to get the fans into it, we were treated to some excellent preseason action which saw the Avalanche go 4-0-2 while showcasing superb youngster T.J. Hensick and the excellent pickup of Jaroslav Hlinka. Hensick was sent down to the AHL due to depth at center, but Jaroslav Hlinka stuck around after impressing everyone with his skills, including Mr. Sakic himself. At $600,000, he could be the steal of the year in the NHL.

They line up against the Dallas Stars on the Avalanches home turf, the Pepsi Center. Last year saw Dallas come out on top in the season opener with a 3-2 overtime win. And with coach Q's season-opener curse, that might scare some people. However if there's one thing in life that's certain - besides death and taxes - it's that the more things stay the same, the more likely they are to change. At least in the sporting world that is.

The lines tonight see Hejduk re-joining Sakic along with Smyth on the first line. Jaroslav Hlinka slots in with Stastny and Brunette on the 2nd line. Wolski slides down to the third pairing with Arnason and Lappy (who should teach Wolski something about work ethic) and Svatos starts out the year on the 4th line with Scott Parker and Wyatt Smith. The one name I wanted to see there was Ben Guite but I guess he lost out to Wyatt Smith. They could have always slotted Guite in on the wing instead of Parker but such is life.

The defensive pairings get even more interesting. I'll hold judgment until I see how they play together but it's completely changed from what I, and most people, expected to see. Hannan and Clark are the top pair, Liles joins Skrastins on the second pairing and Jordan Leopold and Kurt Sauer round out the lineup. And again, a name I wanted to see isn't on there as Jeff Finger is the healthy scratch on D tonight. It's not a shock but it is disappointing.

Tyler Weiman backs up Peter Budaj tonight as we all knew heading into the game. Theodore is back on the ice practicing but they want to take their time to make sure he's 100% ready to go before inserting him into the lineup.

Watch for Joe Sakic to move into an eighth-place tie with Phil Esposito on the all-time points list. He is a mere point away from tying and with 7 points in 4 games against the Stars last year, it just might happen tonight. Because what happened last year totally matters to this season. It does.

The Avalanche are heavy favorites in the betting world and I'm predicting they will break Q's goose egg opening-night record tonight. The game begins at 9:30 ET so to pass the time away, check out a slew of season previews, team previews and game previews from around the sports world. Avalanche Preview Avalanche Preview Northwest Division Preview
John Buggicross Season Preview (1-10) Power Rankings Power Rankings

Other Previews Preview Preview
Rocky Mountain News Preview
In The Cheap Seats Preview
Mile High Hockey Preview

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Official Avalanche Roster for 2007/2008

The Avalanche roster is all but set in stone heading into opening night against Dallas on Wednesday. After sending T.J. Hensick and Mark Rycroft down to Lake Erie, they put Cody McCormick on waivers so they could send him down as well.

With those moves, the Avalanche have a roster of 24 players which includes the injured Jose Theodore and Brad Richardson. They won't need to be placed on the injured reserve, they will just not be activated before the season starts, which leaves the Avalanche with 22 active players.

Once those two are healthy, Tyler Weiman will find himself tending goal for the Monsters and Brad Richardson will battle it out with Wyatt Smith and Ben Guite for playing time. Or with Marek Svatos if he continues to crash and burn.

It looks like Sauer and Finger are going to compete for the 6th spot on defense. I'm still pulling for Finger to win that role but Sauer has been getting more ice-time. If Sauer gets the bulk of playing time in the end, I won't mind. As long as he is continually reminded that he is 6'4" and 220 lbs of bone-crunching size.

View the current 2007/2008 Avalanche roster

Monday, October 1, 2007

Avalanche Roundtable - Make-or-Break Players

The time has come for the Avalanche Roundtable to launch. As discussed last Thursday, it is the largest gathering of premiere Avalanche bloggers to hit the Internet airwaves. There are 8 questions with 11 participants answering each question.

To view the full table of contents for the roundtable, visit Mile High Hockey.

So on to the question and all the juicy answers!

Q: Of the new players (rookies and free agents), who has the most to lose in the upcoming season? Similarly, which Avs players from last year have the make-or-break outlook heading into this season?

Shane - Avs Talk (a.ka. the site you're at right now)
Players that sign big contracts are going to be subject to more scrutiny than anybody. Not only due to the big contract but due to the high expectations that come with those contracts.

We didn't sign Smyth so he could crash and burn and become a 10-goal scorer. If he doesn't put in a 30-goal season this year, there will be chaos. And laughter from Oilers fans. Regardless of the intangibles he brings, he needs to bring points to the table but I have no doubt that he will.

Hannan comes in with the most to lose because a lot of fans seem to think he's Chris Pronger. He's a great shutdown guy and will bring some veteran leadership, which you can never have too much of. He will make a difference but I don't see it being the difference that a lot of people are hyping him up to be. I'm glad he's on the team and I think his salary was actually fairly reasonable for a free agent signing. But he's not a magical deity.

I know it's the easy pick but Marek Svatos is the player with the largest make-or-break scenario. He was signed to another one-year contract to show his stuff. And if he doesn't he will be bounced at the door and the team will be no worse for the wear. With players like Hensick and Stewart just itching to see NHL ice time, Svatos needs to be looking over his shoulder. Cause he's not rich enough to retire just yet.

As far as new guys, I vote Smyth. He has huge expectations on his shoulders and if he can't stay healthy or produce, that fat contract is going to look even bigger.

Returning player with a make or break season has to be Svatos. He got a one-year-lets-see-if-you-were-a-fluke contract in the off season. If he can't improve on last year and come back up to the level of play of his rookie season, the door will be hitting Marek in the ass.

Draft Dodger - In The Cheap Seats
Ryan Smyth certainly is the "newbie" with all pressure on his mullet-draped shoulders. We've been talking for at least a year about how much of a perfect fit Smyth would be in Denver, both on and off the ice. On paper, he would seem to be an excellent match for a team that likes to play behind the net. Add to the fact that he's a leader who many think will replace Joe Sakic as captain some sad day in the future, and you get extremely high expectations. Expectations are so high that I think many people (myself included) think his $6 salary is a bargain.

It won't seem like a bargain if Smyth doesn't score goals. Smyth doesn't seem to have an abundance of secondary talents. He's not going to be making plays happen with his speed, or with bone-crunching body checks in the corner, or with behind the back passes to the blueline. He scores goals, mostly from right in front of the net. If, for whatever reason, he's not lighting up the lamp, that bargain contract will start to look very large indeed.

I'm guessing the majority of writers are going to pick Marek Svatos for their returning make-or-break pick. That's certainly a solid choice, but I'm going in a different direction. Jordan Leopold. To be fair, we've only seen Leopold in an Avalanche uniform 15 times. But, so far, we haven't really seen anything to indicate that Leopold is that top-flight defenseman we thought we were getting when we traded Alex Tanguay for him.

I'm worried that we've built him up a little too much, and are expecting too much from him. A lot of people seem to think he's our #2 defenseman after Hannan. That might be true, but I'll need to see it on the ice first. I suspect he might be more like a #3 or #4...or even lower. If that's the case, a lot of people with high expectations are going to be disappointed.

Even though Ryan Smyth is going to be expected to perform up to his salary, I think he is going to be fine. The player I believe is going to have the most pressure and highest expectations is Scott Hannan. Along with Jordan Leopold, he is going to be expected to anchor a defensive unit that struggled last season.

While a few of the problem players have been released, Hannan will have the fans asking him to deliver the team to the promised land. He will have more pressure on him than Leopold from whom a full season would bring happiness to the fans. While everyone will be expecting Leopold to live up to his signing, Hannan is the new backbone of the defense. He has to show up every game, and if he doesn't, the entire team will suffer greatly.

As for make or break, Jose Theodore will make or break his career this season. He may not get as much money next season no matter what, but a poor performance is going to make it hard for anyone to take a chance on him at any amount.

Oh, yeah, and Svatos. The Avs are showing a ton of patience with the guy, and he needs to show some of the flash that had fans raring for more in his rookie season. I think he can, but fans will be watching him closely, waiting to pull the chute.

Justin - The Avalanche Guild
This is a great question with some real obvious answers (Smyth, Theodore, Svatos), but I believe it is actually someone not so obvious; Jaroslav Hlinka.

He has the most to lose this season because he has waited a number of years to get a shot at playing in the NHL. And since this will be his first and most likely his only opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL, he has to take advantage of this chance to play with the big boys.

Hlinka won't be getting nearly the amount of respect with the puck that he received in the Czech Republic, which will make things much tougher for him once the regular season begins. But if he can overcome the hurdles of playing in a much more physical and tough league, it will be full steam ahead for the Czech superstar. He would be recognized as "a total steal" by fans and analysts, as he has only signed for $600,000 for the season.

But if he cannot produce in the regular season, or cannot handle the physical play, he'll be heading back to his native homeland, never to return again. The proverbial "tail between the legs" archetype will run rampant throughout the league, and his reputation will be scarred forever. That's a ton of pressure for a player who is heralded in the Czech Republic - but will be an unknown to the other 29 NHL teams.

Of the returning players, Jordan Leopold is certainly under the most pressure to have a productive year. Two words are all that is needed here - Alex Tanguay. This trade was made in order to bring in a valuable defensive leader, but his lack of games played and the nature of his injuries has put a real damper on his actual abilities.

The toughest thing for Leopold is the fact that he is capable of being a defensive powerhouse, but hasn't had the health to go out and prove it. This preseason is huge for him, but one more injury will sour the trade, and his reputation, forever.

While he is technically not "new", I think the player with the most to prove is Jordan Leopold. He missed all but 15 games last season and will join a completely restructured defensive squad this year. He has to prove that he is worth the loss of Alex Tanguay, something no former Flames player has ever done after joining the Avalanche.

He's got to join Scott Hannan as the other "Number One" d-man and really make a huge impact. Every game, fans need to come away saying, "Sure, Hannan is a beast, but did you see Leopold tonight? Wow!" It's not necessarily his fault, but the Avalanche have never successfully traded players with the Flames. Leopold needs to break that mold and really come through.

I've got to agree with Tapeleg and Joe. I personally believe that Jordan Leopold has the most weight on his shoulders. He's not really a new player, and not really a returning players, so I'll take the easy way out and use him as my answer for both.

There have been high expectations attached to him, given his reputation before he was acquired and the talent sent the other way in the trade (Alex Tanguay). I've got a feeling that Colorado management may have a similar feeling about Leopold. Why else would they continue to draft offense-first d-men if they weren't worried that they wouldn't get value for the trade?

I expect him to anchor the D with Hannan this year, pop in 40-50 pts at least, and quarterback the 2nd PP unit to a productive season. Anything less, and Avs fans and management may be wondering if we got fleeced by the Flames again.

Jibblescribbits - Jibblescribbits
I agree with those of you above. Leo has a lot to prove, so does Hlinka, this is his last shot. Theo? He had the most to lose last season, and he lost it. I can't narrow it down to just one, so here's my 3:

The person with the most to lose individually is Marek Svatos. Another good season and the sophomore slump is all but forgotten. He'll get his good contract and be a part of the Avs for a while to come. A bad season and he's done in an Avs "sweater" and will have to compete for a job on some other team next training camp. There's really no in between for him.

Liles is also facing a make or break season. He's been the next great defensemen for a while now. Is he ready to step up and at least be a legitimate one? Or will he become just another journeyman defensemen with great potential. He played well last season until the broken foot, and he played honorably, but not as effectively, when he came back from the foot injury too early last season. The good news is that no one can really question his heart or toughness now, but he needs a good season.

The most important make or break season is Budaj's. Budaj's success or failure is the most make-or-break because if he is a "break" it will be impossible to hide behind without a significant move. If Liles underperforms we have Clark, Leo and even Cumiskey to call up and make a difference. If Svatos falters we have plenty of firepower. If Budaj falters... Theo and his contract season? That's like having Will E. Coyote's little umbrella as your backup parachute. Sorry if Budaj fails it could ensure the failure of all the Avs.

Of the new guys, while Smyth got the most hype, there's more pressure on Hannan. Smyth's expected to be a leader (no problem) and a top-six forward; Hannan's expected to be a number-one defenseman. There's a lot less room to slide.

Returning guys - Svatos and Budaj. Budaj because this is his chance to establish himself as a top goalie, and if he doesn't, the second chance is gonna be a lot harder to earn. Svatos because if he doesn't get back on form this year, he's probably looking at a career in Switzerland.

It's probably now or never for Jaroslav Hlinka. He's under contract for one season and finally gets the opportunity to prove he has what it takes to make it in the NHL. This signing got lost with all the excitement over the acquisitions of Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. Unlike Smyth and Hannan, Hlinka doesn't have the security of a long term contract. I can see this being a boon for the Avalanche if he can find some chemistry on the third line.

Marek Svatos and John-Michael Liles are two players I view as having make-or-break seasons. Svatos failed to regain his scoring touch after suffering another serious shoulder injury. Instead of the feisty player who wasn't afraid to throw an occasional hit, Svatos was very tentative and that seemed to affect his offensive game. Svatos is a restricted free agent after this season, but there are young forwards in the Avs prospect system that are nipping at his heels. Svatos is in danger of becoming expendable.

Liles is an unrestricted free agent at season's end and with Brett Clark having signed a contract extension in August; questions exist as to his future with the organization beyond this season. Liles had injury concerns last year and found himself in Joel Quenneville's dog house. He'll have to find offensive consistency throughout the season and tighten up his defensive game. Another concern for Liles is the emergence of Kyle Cumiskey.

While I'm not convinced Cumiskey's offensive skills are on par with Liles, the Avs can view him as a cheaper alternative should Liles falter or if the Avs believe they will be unable to afford his salary demands. Offensive defensemen are in high demand and teams are willing to pay a premium in the more "wide open" game.

Back to Shane
And so ends the third question of the Avalanche roundtable. If you're going in order, continue on to Jibblescribbits website for a question on just what the Avalanche might stumble over.

And don't forget to bookmark and/or subscribe to each of these excellent Avalanche blogs for all the analysis and opinion you can handle this season!