Thursday, October 30, 2008

Avs Jammed up by Jackets, Lose 4-2

Let me tell you, I am picking the right games to miss. Unexpectedly, I had to leave the house during the game tonight and it seems I was saved some frustration.

I was heading out the door just as Brassard wristed the first one past Raycroft and I walked back in as the final buzzer sounded.

Given that Budaj was in for the 3rd period, I can assume Raycroft didn't get much better after the first goal.

And as the Jackets had only three shots on goal in the 3rd, I assume the Avalanche really turned on the pressure but couldn't convert.

Tough loss and a tough opponent coming up on Sunday in the Sharks, who currently lead the Red Wings 3-1 at the end of the 2nd.

I hope this season isn't as up and down as it's been so far or I'll need to stock up on some mood altering medications to even out the highs and lows.

Avalanche vs Blue Jackets, Game 10 Preview

This is going to be quick and dirty.

Raycroft is in.

Nash is playing center.

It's Foote's first time against Columbus since last year's trade.

Game on at 9:00 ET, 7:00 MT.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Raycroft Gets Start vs Blue Jackets

The Rocky Mountain News is reporting that Andrew Raycroft will get the start in goal tomorrow night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Coming off a loss it might seem like a punishment or loss of confidence in Budaj but this is nothing more than keeping Raycroft in the rotation as Granato pledged to do from the outset of the season.

You could make an argument to put Budaj in and let him "bounce back" against a weaker team but this is the right call.

Had Budaj - and the team - got the W last night Granato's call would have been more difficult. Lucky for him the team decided to sit out the 3rd period.

UPDATE: Frederick Norrena is in for the BJs so it's backup e backup tomorrow night.

Thanks to GoaliePost for the link.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flames Dump Avalanche 3-0, End Streak

I play volleyball every Tuesday and tonight the games were at 7:30 and 9:30. So obviously I had to set the Avalanche-Flames game to record while I was away.

As soon as the last game was over, I raced home, showered up and settled in to the groove on my couch.

I got through the first period in about 5 minutes and things were looking all right. The Avs and Flames both had some chances, Super Joe upended Bertuzzi and Budaj was looking sharp.

I fast-forwarded through intermission and was all set for the second period when I got a text message.

I hesitated, thinking "I'll get back to them later." but I figured the period hadn't started, I could spare a second in case it was important.

And I was met with utter disappointment.

During the offseason, I had signed up at to receive text messages for Avalanche games. Although I watch most games, it was an insurance policy if I was ever unexpectedly out while a game was on.

I had yet to receive a single text from them this season. Until tonight.


I'm going to bed.

Avalanche @ Flames, Game 9 Preview

Tonight, two gladiators meet in the center of the arena to decide once and for all who is *dramatic pause* the best in the business.

After suffering three devastating losses to start their season, the Avalanche have turned their fortunes around and delivered five straight stunning knockouts, including one against top contender *dramatic pause* the Buffalo Sabres.

Following their first three losses, the Avalanche changed up their training regimen and looked to backup Andrew Raycroft for success.

Despite two straight wins from Raycroft, the Avalanche went back to their bread and butter in Peter Budaj, a true warrior who never gave up hope.

And Budaj hasn't looked back since reeling off three straight wins including a last second TKO of the Buffalo Sabres.

Tonight, the Calgary Flames will try to end their fortunes in devastating fashion. Calgary doesn't like to beat opponents *dramatic pause* they like to destroy them.

With heavy hitters like Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr in the lineup, the Flames are always one mistake away from delivering a knockout blow.

They Flames are on a streak of their own having racked up three straight wins including a beatdown of the Phoenix Coyotes on Super Saturday.

Which team will keep their streak going and which one will head home with their head in their hands?

We'll find out tonight!

Ok, the above preview was done in my best imitation of Mike Goldberg's voice when hyping an upcoming UFC matchup.

That probably needs a bit more explanation, lest you think I'm off my rocker. Which I probably am.

I was about to start writing a quick preview when I began to wonder what it would be like if NHL matchups were decided not by a predefined schedule but by a "matchmaker" like Joe Silva in the UFC.

There would be some basic rules like each team playing three times a week with a limited amout of back-to-back games allowed. The rest would be in the hands of the matchmaker.

Are two teams on huge winning streaks? Pit them against each other and see which team blinks.

Did two teams shed some blood against each other last night? Pit them against each other for the rubber match the following night.

Got a slumping team? Stack them against a team on a long winning streak and see if the underdog can prevail.

Sure, the logistics of arena and travel bookings would never work but it would damn sure be fun.

Game time
The game starts at 9:30 ET, 7:30 MT and should be a great matchup so no excuses for not watching/listening!

Related Links

Monday, October 27, 2008

Oh how quickly they fall...

After rocketing out to a 4-0 start, the Edmonton Oilers have now dropped four straight games to fall to a 4-3-1 record.

And though the Avalanche are currently enjoying a 5-game win streak, it will end. Likely sooner than later.

And when it does, please remember to do the only rational thing. 


Peter Budaj Named Second Star of the Week

Well slap me silly and call me Sally. Peter Budaj has been named the NHL's second star of the week after posting 3 straight wins with a 1.62 GAA and .941 save percentage.

Of course some of the credit goes to the Avalanche defence but Budaj has looked much better in his last three games compared to his first three. You could say he's performed a complete 360. Followed by a 180. With a twist.

I'm not saying he's there yet - wherever "there" may be - but he's playing close to the Budaj we knew from seasons past.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Avalanche Slide Past Sabres in Shootout, Win 2-1

(AP Photo)
Let me get this straight. Two of the highest scoring teams in the league combine to score a grand total of *2* goals

I was wrong on taking the over, I was wrong on either teams streak ending but at least I was right on one thing - it was an exciting game!

The first period was one of the best periods of hockey I've watched this year. There was nothing that will make the highlight reel but it was all around good hockey. There were good scoring chances, solid hits and some good defensive play. It was everything hockey should be.

The Sabres got on the board first off a Daniel Paille deflection that went into the goal at a speed of approximately 1mm/sec. I waffled all game long on its stoppability. At the time of this writing, I'm giving it a 0.65 (more stoppable than unstoppable).

The Avalanche started turning up the heat in the third and were rewarded at the 13:36 mark as Jordan Leopold fired a shot from the point which bounced off two Sabres defenders and past Ryan Miller to tie the game.

Ryan Smyth was wreaking havoc in front of the net, causing Jaroslav Spacek to interfere with Miller just as the shot was released. Miller complained to the refs but I don't think a player can get called for interfering with their own goaltender.

Neither team could muster up another goal so it was off to overtime for the first time in the Avalanche's season.

And what an OT it was! The Avalanche dominated from start to finish and looked to make a case for moving exclusively to 4-on-4 hockey.

The Avalanche were very aggressive in the Sabres end and had no trouble clearing the puck out of their own. They had some great end-to-end rushes and were moving the puck around very well in the Sabres end.

However they only managed two shots on goal in that time and Ryan Miller was up to the task on both of them so it was off to the shootout.

Peter Budaj's shootout non-heroics were going through my mind but I was at peace with it. The Avs had just won four straight and had just grabbed their 9th straight point against one of the league's top teams. But Budaj and the Avs were making no such concessions.

Milan Hejduk came out first and made a silky smooth deke around Miller to take the lead. I've often given the "best hands in the NHL" title to Alexei Kovalev, but Hejduk has some soft, soft hands too.

After Kotalik evened it up, Miller and Budaj then made their next two stops on Joe Sakic and Drew Stafford respectively. Sakic needs to find a new shootout move.

Then up stepped Wojtek Goalski. Wolski made Hejduk's goal look like your out of shape neighbour grabbing their paper at 6am in their skivvies. I won't even describe it, just watch the game highlights and you'll see what I mean. I want to marry that move.

Derek Roy extended the shootout and then Marek Svatos and Tomas Vanek were both foiled. Budaj made a great second effort to keep the Vanek attempt out of the net.

Ryan Smyth then went straight in and fired a shot under Miller's armpit and all eyes turned to Budaj. Clarke Macarthur came in, tried to go high glove but even though Budaj had dropped his shoulder, he was able to bring his glove up quick enough to make the save.

And so continues the streak.

Stastny scoreless
One streak did end tonight and that was Paul Stastny's seven game point streak. Why do they even keep that guy around?

Jones graduates
David Jones improved as the game went on and found himself playing alongside Sakic during the third period. 

He was driving the net hard, drawing penalties and making some slick moves. He keeps teasing me with near-breakout performances but this could be the one.

Hit me baby, one more time
Ryan Miller is a good goalie, no doubt. But tonight the Avs padded his stats by tossing at least a dozen of their 29 shots directly into the Buffaslug.

Of course, good positioning has a part to play, but not that big a part.

Don't hit me! Don't hit me!
What was with the Sabres dodging fights all night long? In the first period, Lapperiere had his gloves off but Patrik Kaleta backed away. Then late in the third, Adam Mair popped Adam Foote square in the jaw and then skated away after Foote dropped his gloves.

Man up, guys!

Cody McCormick watched from the press box tonight as Jones drew into the lineup and Ben Guite stayed in.

The lines still have stayed very faithful since the beginning of the year which is a testament to TG not panicking when the team is struggling.

With the exception of Jones moving up to Sakic's wing late in the game, the lines were:

The fourth line wasn't a factor in this game and aside from the first period, I barely remember seeing Mcleod on the ice.

Sakic was the ice-time leader for the Avs with 24:45, followed closely by Clark and Hannan with 24:31 and 24:29 respectively.

John-Michael Liles wasn't far behind at 23:37 and had his most physical game of the year with four registered hits, a couple of those being solid shots including a nice stiff arm late in the game.

The Avalanche outhit the Sabres by a 31-15 margin led by Liles, Tucker (5) and Mcleod (4).

The RTSS guys had itchy trigger fingers tonight on giveaways and takeaways. The Avalanche had 21 giveaways and 24 takeaways while the Sabres registered 8 and 17. 

Tucker kisses the glass

Next game
The Avalanche are in Cowtown on Tuesday to play the Flames at 9:30 ET, 7:30 MT.

Did anyone catch the Silva-Cote fight after the game? Cote blew his knee in the third round after going longer than anyone in the UFC had against Silva. Tough luck.

Related Links

Avalanche vs Sabres, Game 8 Preview

It's a battle of offensive juggernauts when the Buffaslugs make their way to Denver to face the Avalanche as part of the NHL's Super Saturday.

If you're a betting person, you might want to line up to place some cash on the over for this game. Colorado and Buffalo are two of the highest scoring teams in the league with 28 and 26 goals respectively in their first seven games.

A crucial difference is that while Colorado given up 23  goals so far, Buffalo has only allowed 13. With a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage, it appears Ryan Miller isn't suffering from any post-contract performance issues while Patrick Lalime is being all the backup he can be with a 1.44 GAA and .953 save percentage. Lalime is the likely candidate in the Sabres goal tonight according to the Buffalo News.

Peter Budaj will be the man at the other end of the rink as he gets his second straight start. After giving up just one goal - a rather lucky powerplay goal no less - against Edmonton, it appears Budaj may be hitting his stride after a shaky start to the season. 

If the defense can apply pressure down low while utilizing a newfound ability to clear the puck, it will go a long way to helping Budaj's cause. Which is to vindicate the faithful while disproving the pundits. If he wins hockey games along the way, so be it.

David Jones is ready to go but it's questionable whether Granato will insert him into the lineup. Ben Guite took his spot on Thursday and played a whale of a game, making it hard to argue for sitting Guite.

Though Jones finally got his first goal of the season against the Kings - the game after I dropped him from my fantasy lineup - he might find himself watching from afar as not many coaches want to tinker with a winning lineup.

Watch for Paul Stastny to extend his current 7-game, 11-point scoring streak which has him in 5th place in the early scoring race. Also watch for how many times his lineage is mentioned more often than his mad skillz. It's a good thing he doesn't have an ego.

Buffalo is undefeated in regulation after 7 games while the Avalanche have reeled off four straight wins. One of those is likely to give tonight and it just might be in highlight-reel fashion.

I'm not sure yet if I'll be getting the Altitude or MSG feed but either way there will be some excitable announcers calling this one.

The puck drops at 9:00 ET, 7:00 MT. Don't wear yourself out on the 12 games that start before this one!

Gameday Video

Related Links

Friday, October 24, 2008

Finally! Embedded Comment Forms Have Come Back* to Blogger

Finally, Blogger is catching up with the times!

For the longest time, posting a comment to a Blogger blog was painfully cumbersome. You would either get a small popup window or a link to a completely new page that wasn't styled at all like the referring page. Either way, the usability was awkward at best.

Well, that has all changed. I've finally figured out how to enable the embedded comment form on my customized template thanks to Blogger Buster

When you click through to a story, the comment form will display directly below the existing comments. In other words, like every other blogging platform in existence.

As always, there is support for many accounts such as Google (obviously), WordPress, LiveJournal, TypePad, AIM and OpenID. And of course you can always choose the Name/URL or anonymous route.

I hope this will encourage more folks to give their feedback on my posts - good or bad. Particularly when my newfound dyslexia kicks in and I mess up the score of the game I'm recapping.

As the embedded comment form is still a "Blogger in Draft" feature, please fire me an email - thebatlab at {} -  if you have trouble posting a comment,.

*I know they haven't come back since they never existed before...but the kid in me wanted to hear The Rock saying that headline.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Avalanche Keep Streak Alive; Crush Oilers 4-1

After dropping their first three games, the Colorado Avalanche have now won four straight games after a 4-1 win over a listless Edmonton Oilers club.

Although both teams came out with some energy, the Oilers appeared to settle into a groove while the Avalanche were settling back on their heels.

The Oil managed on more than one occasion to hem the Avs deep in their zone but it took them a lucky bounce on a second period powerplay to finally get on the board.

Adam Foote tried to clear a ricocheting puck out of the zone but the puck caught the heel of his stick and ended up being a perfect feather pass to Shawn Horcoff who slid it underneath a helpless Peter Budaj.

10 minutes later, the Avs teamed up with the linesman to answer back. As Ian Laperriere broke into the zone, the puck was knocked off his stick. However the linesman inadvertently - or so it seemed - held the puck in at the line while watching for an offside call. Ben Guite quickly grabbed the puck and fired it towards the net. It ended up bouncing to a net-crashing Lappy who slid it under Mathieu Garon.

What's the lesson there? Crash the net and good things happen. And every now and again, lucky bounces go your way. And sometimes the linesmen are on the take.

The Avalanche then deflated the Oilers with two quick goals to end the period.

Paul Stastny kept his seven game point streak alive with his second goal of the season. Marek Svatos tried to cut in, got off a weak backhand which ended up banking off Tom Gilbert right onto Paul Stastny's stick and he had a wide open net to bury it.

A minute and a half later, Cody Mcleod got his third of the season. Mcleod took a chip pass from Lappy, cut hard to the net, tried to shift the puck from backhand to forehand but ended up sliding the puck under a surprised Mathieu Garon. It was an odd goal and likely one that Garon would want back. Either way, the Avs took a 3-1 lead into the third period as the Oilers started breaking down.

The third period started off with a bang as Joe Sakic ended a play that he started. Sakic broke out of the zone and fired a cross-ice pass to Wojtek Wolski. Wolski then made a nice saucer pass up to Darcy Tucker as they crossed the blue line. Tucker then waited to draw the defense and flipped a saucer pass of his own to Joe Sakic who ripped a wrister past a sliding Garon. As flexible as Garon is, there was nothing he could do on that one. Short of installing Go-Go-Gadget Legs.

A bit of rough stuff broke out as Jason Strudwick tried to spark the Oilers with a fight against Cody McCormick. I'd give Strudwich the win but as he took an extra roughing penalty, it didn't build much momentum.

Shortly after that, Craig MacTavish showed some class and tossed out a line including Zach Stortini and Steve MacIntyre, their two heavyweights. Granato warned the refs as Stortini lined up with MacIntyre and sure enough, Stortini dropped them with the always obliging Laperriere. It was over quickly as the two hugged to the ice. Lappy then mocked Stortini, suggesting all Stortini wanted to do was hug and not fight. Pretty funny stuff. They both ended up with a 10-minute misconduct and were done for the night.

The fighting was not enough to spark the tired Oilers team and the Avalanche easily closed out the game to take their fourth win of the season.

Budaj settling in
Peter Budaj looked much more comfortable in goal tonight. He was much more confident moving side to side and was finding the puck all night long. 

Maybe the extra time on the bench helped calm him down and he's about to break out the Buddha we all know and love.

Know your role
There is still far too much confusion when the Avs are deep in their own zone. They need to figure this out quick, fast and in a hurry. You can see the hesitation in movement as defenders look to each other, unsure who is going to cover what area of the ice. There's no time for thinking when you're playing the game, that's what practice is for.

Don't think! Do!

Here a hook, there a hook
The referees tonight were hook happy calling nine straight hooking penalties until the rough stuff at the end of the game. Some of them were very weak calls and did nothing but interrupt the flow of the game.

Guite rocks the fu
Ben Guite was in the lineup after sitting for two straight games. And he was rocking the fu. He was also rocking the score sheet with 2 assists and a +2 rating in 10:53 of ice time. Chalk up a win for Jib on that one

Fantasy fun
Laperriere was gold tonight for my fantasy team. A goal, an assist, a +2 rating and 17 minutes in penalties. It doesn't get more productive than that.

Mats Sundin sighting
Mats Sundin was spotted tonight...doing a commercial for Has he run out of money already? Or was he concerned that people weren't talking about him anymore? 

Related Links

How Badass Does Biron Look?

Is it just me or does this picture of Martin Biron make him look like a violent psychopath who will not only stop the puck, but then chase you down and bash your head in with it?

Avalanche vs Oilers, Game 7 Preview

I'm running a bit behind today so the basics are this:

- Colorado is on the verge of a 4-game win streak
- Edmonton just had a 4-game win streak snapped by JQ and his Chicago Blackhawks
- Peter Budaj is in net
- AD is bored

I don't think the Avs will make it four straight tonight but I certainly won't be sad if they prove me wrong.

Game time is 9:30 ET, 7:30 MT at the Pepsi Center. The game is on TSN HD in the Great White North and Altitude HD for our Southern neighbours.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sharks Edge Flyers in Barn Burner

Tonight the San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers had a combined goal count of an even dozen in the Sharks 7-6 shootout win. That's more goals than the Islanders, Lightning and Leafs have scored all season long. 

I only caught the last two minutes plus OT and shootout and those few minutes were as entertaining as they come.

Patty Marleau had two goals on the night but was also in the box when the Flyers tied the game late in the third.

And watch Joe Pavelski show you how to fire off a wrist shot. None of that leg kick crap was necessary for him to blow one past Biron.

Playoff Bound!

I was just looking at the TSN NHL Standings page to see what sort of streaks were going on in the NHL these days.

With a few 5-game streaks going on - Montreal with 5 wins and Toronto and Philly with 5 losses - it could be time to start betting on those streaks ending.

But what caught my eye was the position the Avalanche find themselves at in the standings: 3rd in the NW, 6th in the West. By gum, that's good enough for a playoff seed!

Now as long as Vancouver can stay where they belong, Marty Turco keeps crushing dreams and Kiprusoff keeps partying, the Avs will be a shoo-in for the postseason.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cody Mcleod Lovefest Begins

I'll admit it. I thought putting Cody Mcleod in the lineup over Cody McCormick was a mistake. Mcleod was prone to bad penalties last season while yapping off at the most inopportune times. He just didn't seem in control of his emotions.

But he has proved me almost completely wrong this season. I say almost because McCormick has played like a beast as well, saving my bacon to a certain degree.

Today, the Forechecker - one of the premiere stats analysts around - has gathered together numbers on who is drawing the most penalties and in no surprise, Cody Mcleod finds himself near the top of the list.

He has drawn six penalties while only taking two himself, leaving him in 12th spot on the penalty +/- list.

The penalties he has drawn have been an equal weighting of retaliations by opposition and obstruction calls caused by Mcleod working hard and keeping his feed moving.

Keep it up, Cody. I'm loving the taste of my words.

Brendan Morrow finds himself at the bottom of the list and as I noted in my Stars-Avalanche recap, that is not how a captain should act.

I never thought I'd say this but Morrow could take a lesson from Mcleod on getting his emotions under control.

The Great Blogger Debate Continues

I was going to keep my mouth shut on the whole Covered in Oil fracas that went down yesterday as a lot of people had it well covered.

I think the best post came from Elliotte Friedman and was posted on Puck Daddy. Elliotte Friedman is one of the best things CBC has going for it and his viewpoints are always measured and well thought out. In this case, he's siding with the Oilers on tossing David Berry out of the press box. And I can see the Oilers point.

Criticism is one thing but saying you would have liked to spit in a players face? I wouldn't say that about Dion Phaneuf and you know I'm not a huge fan of the guy on or off the ice. I don't think you need it spelled out to you that you shouldn't say things like that when you are a guest of the team.

However what finally ended up prying my mouth open - because you know it's so hard to do - was a piece by David Staples of the Edmonton Journal

He has an interesting quote from J.J. Hebert, Edmonton's media relations director on credentialing bloggers:
"We say no to all non-traditional websites -- that's the best way to put it."

I don't think that's the best way to put it at all. Come up with a definition of "tradional website" and then rename it to "Mainstream media website" and it will be more accurate.

In fact, the best way to put it comes a bit later in the article when it was noted that Watt felt many blogs are trying to get increased traffic so they can make money, but the Oilers don't want to give up that traffic.

Because it always boils down to the Benjamins, doesn't it? The Oilers are worried about losing page views - which equates to revenue rather than popularity in their eyes - so they don't want people live-blogging from the press box taking away visits from their site.

Ok, but do the Oilers even have live-blogs on their site? Not that I could see in their prolifically populated Blog Central. It renders that point somewhat moot.

And since when are live-blogs only relegated to being done on-site? Mr. Hebert may be unaware of how ubiquitous the Internet and TV are these days.

But back to the money issue. I think if you asked bloggers if they do it for the money, you wouldn't see a lot of hands pop up. In fact it's near the opposite. We do it in spite of the lack of income for our efforts.

I maintain this blog because I'm able to have a voice and I choose to exercise it. I choose to sit down 82+ days over the course of the season - much to the chagrin of my better half - to cheer for and analyze the team. I choose to be objective or to let my emotions win out in my writing. I choose to be respectful but I'm allowed to make that choice because I don't have to answer to an editor. 

If that freedom comes with the price of not being allowed into the hallowed press box for fear I may be disrespectful without someone watching over me, so be it. That's my choice.

But the real kicker is when Hebert reveals his true colors:
"There are a lot people out there who are gathered in threesomes in a basement somewhere, and you have to read that for awhile and then skip over it, and you might have to go to two or three more before you get anything that's any good." 

For the first half of the article, I was on your side, Mr. Hebert. Once you went to the "geeks in mom's basement" cliche, you lost me.

I think you need to take a harder look at the Oilers blogosphere if you want to get a true pulse on your fan base. And if you want to truly understand a new form of media before you start directing it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Avalanche Streak Past Kings; Win 4-3

(Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Colorado Avalanche held on for a 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Kings to bring their win streak to three games.

The game started off on a sour note as Peter Budaj let in a brutal goal 6:19 into the game. Couple that with the Avs being outshot 7-1 in the first 10 minutes and it could have been a brutal night.

But being outshot is easily countered by outscoring and that's exactly what the Avs did. 

Ryan Smyth got the Avalanche going with an unexpected goal. Stastny fired a pass to Hejduk who whiffed on the shot but the puck went straight to Smyth's stick, much to Labarbera's chagrin.

Patrick O'Sullivan put the Kings up again early in the second but that only made Milan Hejduk angry. And you won't like Milan when he's angry. Less than a minute after O'Sullivan's goal, Hejduk stole the puck, swept down the wing and fired a wrist shot over Labarbera. Classic Hejduk.

David Jones then gave the Avs the lead with a slapshot from the top of the circle after a steal in the Kings end. I think he was angry I had just dropped him from my fantasy team.

Add in Smyth's beauty goal at the end of the second and the Avs looked to be cruising for a victory.

Drew Doughty made it close early in the third but the Avs survived a late flurry to get the win. Wojtek Wolski had a key forecheck in the waning seconds to keep the puck deep in the Kings zone.

Ryan Smyth scores a beauty
Once the highlights clips are out, I'll post up Smyth's second goal. It was beautiful. Smyth dipsy-doodled past Drew Doughty, then shelved the puck on a backhand as he went sprawing over Jason Labarbera. But words don't to it justice.

Clear the net people!
The Avalanche had a tough time clearing the puck from the front of their net today. The Kings second goal came on a third chance as Cody McCormick and Ruslan Salei watched Jordan Leopold try to clear the puck with three Kings jerseys less than a foot from Budaj. 

Jones gets his first of 30
As mentioned, Jones got his first goal of the season after I dropped him from my fantasy team. Sorry for jinxing him this long, folks! One down, 29 to go.

Sakic's streak ends, Stastny still going strong
Joe Sakic failed to get a point for the first time this season, ending his streak with 1 goal and 7 assists over the first five game.

Paul Stastny kept rolling as he had 2 assists on the night, bringing his streak to 1 goal and 9 assists in six games.

That puts him at #3 in the NHL's scoring race. (He's #16 as of this writing but will climb up there once the stats of the game are finalized)

Team Canada done proud
The Kings have two players in their lineup from the 2008 World Junior team for Canada. Wayne Simmonds and Drew Doughty were part of the Gold medal winning squad this past Christmas and look to be doing fine in their first NHL seasons. Good job, boys!

Did I mention that was the team who won Canada their fourth consecutive World Junior Gold?

That's about all I can get out of my brain at this hour! I might toss up a few more thoughts tomorrow morning. Or I'll go to work and do something productive. It's a toss up.

EDIT: Productivity wins the day. The Avs don't play again until Thursday against the Oilers at 9:30 ET, 7:30 MT. The game is broadcast on TSN for us Canadians, eh. For folks south of the border, you'll get Haynes and McNab in Altitude HD.

Related Links

Cody Mac Effort Earns Play of the Week

Cody McCormick's superhuman effort got him 50% of the popular vote and since the poll is based on proportional representation, he walks away as the King of Kings this week. Good job, Cody. Keep that up and you'll be in the lineup all season long.

Avalanche @ Kings - Game 6 Preview

Game preview
Budaj is in. A two-game win streak has begun. A three-game win streak will be had by the end of the night.

Will Sakic and Stastny keep up their 5-game point streaks? I'd like to think so.

There shouldn't be any changes to the lineup from the last two games so the lines should be:


With Jones' limited ice-time last game, it's not out of the question to see him sit for a game or two at some point unless he picks it up. In the meantime, he'll continue to find himself down on the third line rather than skating with Super Joe. That might hurt as much as watching from the press box.

Game time
The puck drops at 10:30 ET, 8:30 MT on Altitude and FSN-W.

Related Links

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Where has *this* Kurt Sauer been?

Last night, Kurt Sauer absolutely creamed Andrei Kostitsyn in a game between the Phoenix Coyotes and Montreal Canadiens. 

Sauer then proceeded to answer the bell with Tom Kostopolous to atone for his hit. I'd go on a rant about clean hits and fighting but in this case, Sauer's arms were a bit high. And he knocked the dude out. That's going to piss a few teammates off.

And of course what's a hit like that without a showdown between heavyweights? George Laraque and Todd Fedoruk. had a tilt at the end of the second period which oughta teach opponents that if you mess with Montreal's smaller players...Laraque will beat on someone else for a while.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Avalanche On a Roll, Down Stars 5-4

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
The Avalanche capitalized on a sloppy Stars team this afternoon and embarked on a 2-game winning streak, downing the Stars by a score of 5-4.

The two teams came out with good energy to start the game but it was the Avs who had the upper hand after one period thanks to goals by Milan Hejduk and Darcy Tucker. On an overeall bad night for Turco, I thought he looked particuarly weak on the Tucker goal.

The second period went even better than the first. After an early goal by the Stars, the Avalanche fired back wiht three straight goals by Hejduk, John-Michael Liles and Tyler Arnason. Don't worry, Arnason's goal was a gimme. It's not like he's decided to try again.

But what looked a commanding 5-2 lead dwindled down quickly in the third period.

The Stars scored two goals within the first seven minutes and had many Avs fans firing up the torches and grabbing their pitchforks.

Luckily for Andrew Raycroft, the Stars then had a goal called off followed by Brendan Morrow taking a most untimely slashing penalty and the Avalanche skated away with a nail-biting win.

Sakic and Stastny lead the way
Joe Sakic nabbed two assists and Paul Stastny had three as those two continue to tear it up this season.

Has there been any player more under the radar than Stastny? He puts away three assists tonight, giving him 9 points in 5 games. That pace won't last but he certainly seems to be ramping up for a 100-point season.

If only we could get him to stop doing Lasik commercials...

Wolski winning over critics
Has Wojtek Wolski won over some critics with his play thus far? I'd like to think so. 

He had two more assists tonight, one of them coming off a great effort against Trevor Daley. He outskated and outmuscled Daley to the puck, feeding it back to Tucker who banged it home. Tucker got the goal, but it was all Wolski on that one.

Powered up
The Avalanche converted on 2 of their 8 powerplays for a 25% success rate. That's enough to make me shut my trap about playing forwards on the point. For now.

Like the drunk girl at the bar
The Avalanche again took advantage of opposition turnovers and made the most of it. The forecheck and backcheck weren't as dominating as they were against the Flyers but it was enough to cause havoc with the Stars breakouts and neutral zone plays.

Paul Stastny's steal leading to Milan Hejduk's first goal was a perfect example of keeping your stick on the ice and in the passing line.

The McCody's plus one
The line of Cody Mcleod, Ian Laperierre and Cody McCormick have been as good a checking line as any this season. 

As much as I like Guite, McCormick has outplayed him and with Granato using youngsters like Jones and Wolski on the PK, Guite's usefulness is limited.

All three player had fights tonight and they were decent bouts. Lappy's fight against Ott was particularly good and though Lappy was taken down three times, I still felt he landed more shots.

And no, let's not start calling this line The Punch Line. I've never been a believer in naming lines, particularly when they're forced.

Dry those eyes, Brendan
I love Brendan Morrow. I love his heart, his passion and his desire. But man does he look like a baby a lot of times. 

Late in the game, he took an unsportsmanlike penalty followed by a slashing penalty where he broke his stick but still whined about the call. A captain shouldn't be taking those penalties at all, let along late in a game when your team is down by one goal.

You're better than that, Brendan. Or at least I thought so.

Poor Marty
What is it about the Avs and Marty Turco? It seems nearly every time they meet, the Avs have his number.

At least Turco can take solace in the fact that he's let in 4+ goals against most of his opponents this year. He's an equal opportunity goaltender.

Budaj will be in next game
Andrew Raycroft did not play well enough tonight to "earn" his third straight start. He actually regressed as the game went on. For the first 20 minutes, he looked decent. Not great, but decent. He was square to the shooters, he was gobbling up pucks and looking like he would help the team win.

In the second period, things got a bit worse. The early goal aside - I'll explain that in a second - he looked out of position and became over-aggressive.

In the third period, he looked like he wanted to take the game to overtime just to get more ice time. You could attribute a bit of his troubles to the Stars outplaying the Avalanche in the third period, but he just looked sloppy out there.

On the early goal in the second period, it seemed that he actually got stuck on the wet ice when trying to slide across, ending up wildly out of position. Or my brain is trying to shield me from the awful truth: Raycroft completely lost his net and had no idea where he was.

Either way, Peter Budaj should be back in net on Monday. Let's hope the Avs make it three wins in a row or the goalie carousel will really start to pick up.

Paul Stastny was the ice-time leader with Milan Hejduk and Joe Sakic close behind. Adam Foote led the defenders in ice-time with 21:28.

A lot of the other forwards ice-time is skewed due to the big three plus Ryan Smyth being out for an average of 8 minutes in powerplay time. 

David Jones had a team low 7:22 in ice-time as he regressed from last game and didn't seem to have as much pop tonight.

Next game
The Avalanche are in Los Angeles on Monday to take on the Kings. The east coast fans aren't going to like this one as game time isn't until 10:30 ET, 8:30 MT. 

It's time to measure Kopitar up to Stastny, because you know Stastny's agent will be.

Related Links

Avalanche @ Stars, Game 5 Preview

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Good grief, the game starts in less than two hours!

The Colorado Avalanche face off with the Dallas Stars at 2:00pm ET, 12:00pm MT at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

The Stars and Avalanche have struggled to start the season with both teams only having one win in their first four game.

The Avalanche got their win Thursday versus the slumping Philadelphia Flyers and looked good doing it. Playing against a turnover laden team will do that too you but don't let that take anything away from the Avalanche win. The team looked good while doing it.

Let's hope they keep it up this afternoon. Or morning for our Pacific coast friends.

Andrew Raycroft is in, much to most people's chagrin. Let's hope that works out too.

Related Links

Friday, October 17, 2008

Aw fudgesicles!

Raycroft is in tomorrow against Dallas.

So now we're back to the "earn the start" system that Q so wonderfully mismanaged the last three years. And let's be clear, Raycroft earned nothing last night except a win on the backs of the Avalanche skaters.

Prove it, Tony
Tony Granato has now earned a mild level of distrust after telling everyone that Raycroft was getting his one start a week and not to view it as any more than that.

He can keep saying Peter Budaj is "our guy" all he wants but he has to back up the words with actions.

He's not showing the cajones, folks.

But Budaj sucks, right?
Has Budaj earned the moniker of #1? Not with his first three performances. Has Raycroft earned it after one performance? Nope, not even close.

So what happens if the Avs destroy the struggling Stars tomorrow and walk away with the W? I now find it difficult to see Granato going back to Budaj whereas before, I believed him when he said "Budaj is our guy".

Right now, the Avalanche have no #1 goaltender and it appears management is fine going with the "hot hand" rather than having the patience to wait for one to develop. It's a scenario just waiting to have us all curled in a corner before the season is half over.

But a win is a win, right?

Play of the Week Returns

The official Colorado Avalanche site has resumed its "Play of the Week" feature. Each week you get to vote on one of three nominees for the best play of the week.

This week has Joe Sakic's first goal of the year pitted against the Paul Stastny-Ryan Smyth beauty of a PP goal against Calgary and Cody McCormick'ss workhorse goal from yesterday.

I'm torn between the Smyth and McCormick goals but I think I'll give the edge to Cody Mac because he doesn't score often and it was a hell of an effort. And it involved David Jones.

Andrew Brunette Tearing It Up in Minnesota

When Andrew Brunette was forced out moved on this season, many of us lamented the loss of a solid leader. However, given the move to a more up-tempo style, it seemed that one of the self-professed slowest men in the league just didn't fit with the Avalanche's plan.

But as sad as you were to see him go, be happy knowing that he is tearing it up in his old new home with the Minnesota Wild. He's been paired consistently with Mikko Koivu and Anti Miettenin and they are absolutely lightining it up this season, including a 5-point performance from Koivu last night.

As for Brunette himself, in his first three games of the season, he has two goals and three assists to go along with his +3 rating. And those two goals came on just four shots. I caught one of the goals and it was classic Bruno. Down low in the right spot at the right time and the puck just happened to make its way to his stick. The man has great awareness.

Let's just hope he doesn't retire anybody else on the Avalanche this  year.

Stick tap to Kukla's Korner for the link.

Avalanche vs Flyers, Game 5 Thoughts

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Cody Mcleod is making me eat my words. He has looked great in the first four games. He's got two goals on the season and has only taken one penalty, the fighting major as he defended Ryan Smyth's honor against Steve Staios.

Ryan Smyth has been absolutely rocking on the forecheck in the first four games. He's got one goal and two assists in those four games but that doesn't do justice to the energy he's brought in the offensive zone.

David Jones is on the cusp of breaking out. Again. He was driving the net hard and has deceptive speed and strength. On one drive, he got past the Flyers D and then gave a little shrug to knock him down along the way. It was exactly what you want to see from a power forward. He got his first assist of the night and I think his first goal is only a couple games away. And that first assist was a beauty threaded through two Flyers defenders.

Ruslan Salei led the squad in ice-time and a large part of that is due to the extra PP time. He manned the point on the second unit - and at least once on the first unit for a total of 4:05 on the PP. He seems to be settling into a groove and could still make me look like a genious after predicting he would be the Avs best defenseman.

Joe Sakic's post ringer in the second period woke up sleeping polar bears in the Arctic. He made up for that miss with three assists as he keeps inching closer to #10 on the all-time list.

The penalty shot call made on Liles on the Gagne break was the worst penalty shot call I can remember. It didn't look like much on the initial rush but on the replay, it looked like Liles maybe sneezed on him. His stick hardly made contact with Gagne and Gagne seemed to have no problem getting a shot off. Not getting a shot off isn't the only determining factor in awarding a penalty shot but I think an actual penalty has to occur first. I'm pretty sure.

The Avs were 3-for-11 on the PP (27%) while only allowing the one PK goal on seven shorthanded situations (85%). Putting Wojtek Wolski on the point in place of Sakic a couple times paid dividends. Wolsk did a great job at feeding the puck to open players and came away with one powerplay assist. Of course, as soon as Wolski gives up a shortie, I'll be preaching from the rafters that forwards should not play the point on the powerplay. Ah hell, I'll keep doing it anyways.

The big question coming out of tonight is whether the lineup stays the same, leaving Ben Guite in the press box. It was surprising to see Cody McCormick still in the lineup but he made a hell of a case for himself against Calgary as well as tonight.

The only goals against Raycroft, playing in his 200th game, were on a penalty shot and on a 5-on-3. Not too shabby. But we'll see the Buddah back in net on Saturday against the Stars. This is not the goalie controversy you're looking for.

Oh, and Brett Clark was representing Saskatchewan tonight with a nice goal. Good job, Brett.

Related Links
Raycroft secures Avs first win (makes it sound like Raycroft stood on his head, eh? yeesh)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Avalanche Get First Win, Down Flyers 5-2

You move your feet, you win the game. It's an old adage and it works 95% of the time, every time. The Avalanche tried it tonight and scored their first win of the season on a fast-paced, skate flying adventure.

The Avs scored first, they scored often and they drew tons of penalties along the way. The Cody Macs were great, David Jones was pressing hard, Ryan Smyth was a beast down low, Milan Hejduk was a flat out beast and I could just go on and on. Even Tyler Arnason seemed to find his game legs again.

And the defense didn't take a backseat to the offense tonight as the skates kept moving on the backcheck as well as the forecheck. Flyers breakouts sometimes didn't even last beyond their own blueline before they were stripped of the puck. It was lovely to watch.

Andrew Raycroft needed to make just 16 saves in his regular season debut and, aside from his puck handling inabilities, looked half decent out there.

Unfortunately, I had company for a good portion of the night but I'll check out some of the taped action later tonight and will put up a few more thoughts in the morning.

In the meantime, Joe Sakic is still a god amongst men. And Paul Stastny is like his little Heracles.

Avalanche vs Flyers, Game 4 Preview

It's another battle of un-undefeated teams as the Flyers are in Colorado to take on the Avalanche.

This is the second time the Avalanche find themselves in this situation and it did not end well the first time.

Tonight, I have all the confidence in the world that the Avalanche will walk away with their first victory of the season.

Andrew Raycroft is in net which I'll admit had my confidence waver a bit. But I'm holding strong.

The team is loose, frustration hasn't set in in the locker room, and the guys know they need to play better. Three good signs which herald the coming of the dawn.

And after all the drama this morning, it has become apparent that the Avalanche need to win to save us all from turning on each other so I've got to believe. We're on the ledge, guys. Save us!

The puck drops at 9:00 ET, 7:00 MT and is the first game that I should get to watch on Altitude, assuming Center Ice uses the home team feed which they tend to do. Oh Haynes and Mcnabb, how I've missed you.

Related Links

Svatos Rested, not Benched

According to the Denver Post, Marek Svatos sat out Tuesday's game to ensure he wasn't rushing back from his groin injury.

From Tony Granato in the article:
"He played only two exhibition games, and the first two games (of the regular season) were very fast-paced games and he's coming off that injury," Granato said. "We thought tonight would be a good night to keep him out and get him ready for Thursday."

If that is the case - and I have no reason to think Granato's a liar - then I'm a happy man. Last year my pet peeve - or at least one of them - was players coming back from injuries only to be injured again. This year, it sounds like Granato and the medical team are being a bit more cautious in their rehabilitation approach.

Days of Our Lives

Today, AD and DD are quarrelling in another dispute that threatens to tear apart their relationship.

At the same time, Jib is waxing over AD's revisionist history which may wipe him out of the picture if AD decides to choose a new #1. 

But has Jib unravelled an evil plan by Sir Ted to meddle with Theo's contract talks in the offseason? 

Meanwhile, the mustachioed JQ was implemented as a backdoor succession plan in the Blackhawk empire.

And all the while, Melissa has been cheating on Mike with Stephane.

I tell ya, there's a soap opera feel to this morning and it's been quite entertaining. Add on the Avs first win of the season tonight - yep, I said it - and it's going to make for one hell of a day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Granato Needs to Take Charge

I know a lot of folks are concerned about Peter Budaj. I am too. But right now I'm more concerned about Tony Granato.

I was worried about the TG signing when it happened and over half you of you responded in the poll that it was the wrong move. One of you said "Hell yes" and I think I know who it was ;)

So far it appears Granato has: solidified the lines (good), opened up the offense (good) and put faith in the #1 goaltender (good). However it appears to have come at a cost. A lack of role identification.

Is Jones a power forward or a defensive specialist? Is Sakic a forward or a defenseman? Should players collapse low or stay high? What do players do if stood up at the blueline? 

The Avalanche still look disorganized on the ice and that can only be fixed by a coach grabbing control of his team, implementing a defensive system to complement the offensive one and holding players accountable for mistakes.

It's only three games in so there's still time to fix the problems. But they have to admit they are problems and not just bad bounces before they can move on to step two.

Case Study: Special Teams
Special teams were atrocious last year so what happened? The guy in charge of them - or at least in charge of the PP - got promoted to the head coach position.

So far this year Granato has used over a dozen players on the PK including the young David Jones. Jones has actually spent more time on the PK than Joe Sakic has. He also spends more time on the PK than he does on the PP. Isn't that a bit odd for a power forward?

Backdoor passes are always wide open, except with Ian Laperierre who has done a good job covering the middle of the ice, and the team seems to get mesmerized by the puck as opposed to worrying about coverage.

The disorganization and holes on the ice make me wonder if they actually practiced to look this confused.

The failure of special teams falls squarely on the coaching staff to fix and regardless if TG is in charge of them, he is still in charge of the team and is accountable for the shortcomings of the systems. Or lack thereof.

Top Down Trickle?

The frustration has mounted and AD has blown his top in another emotional post where he points the finger directly at management. Even if you don't agree with everything he says, you've got to love the style with which he says it.

Theo can stay gone
I think he's dead wrong on Theodore. I'm glad the guy is gone. I saw a good portion of his first two games with Washington and they weren't pretty. Though he does have one win under his belt which is more than you can say for Budaj.

Break out the cigars and brandy
But look past the lack of confidence in Budaj and he's right on the management issues. In fact, he was right nearly four months ago when he said:
PL, FG, TG - they’re all in the good-ol’ boys’ club. There’s no system of checks and balances w/ mgmt. FG is not a personnel guy - that’s PL’s area… and frankly, that’s the problem. Our GM doesn’t know squat about hockey players - he only knows what they’re worth with regards to the salary cap. Yes, Arnason may be worth $1.7M on the market, but that doesn’t mean we should pay him that much! His numbers don’t give an accurate pic of how little heart he has.
I've been very happy with the contract's FG has given out from a cap standpoint. But has he shown the ability to successfully manage a hockey team?

Signing snaffu?
Giguere certainly has made some good moves such as bringing in Ryan Smyth and Scott Hannan. But they weren't difficult moves to justify, as opposed to some of this other ones.

Take the Raycroft signing. If Budaj falters, plan B is the worst goaltender - stats wise - in the league? I didn't like it then, I accept it now, but I'll admit the concern is starting to fester. It's ulcerific.

The Arnason re-signing I can forgive him for. Arnason had played well the year before and looked to have finally gained a little gumption. But once he started slumping again, it needed to be addressed. But today we find him still centering the third line with his mediocre efforts and lackluster results and I can't recall a time where he was an uninjured scatch.

And letting Andrew Brunette go the way he did was just wrong. No phone call, he just let the guy assume he wasn't going to be re-signed and assume that the organization would wish him well in future endeavours. It felt very cold for a guy that had played so well over the last two seasons at a very reasonable price.

But hey, maybe I'm just bitchy today after 3 straight losses coupled with a lingering flu causing me to miss out on the final warm days of the year in Saskatchewan.

So let me ask you: when was the last time you said "Great move, FG!" without any sarcasm?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Avalanche Still Winless, Fall 5-4 to Flames

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
Three games in and the frustration is starting to mount. Once again the Avalanche found themselves in a hole early, battled back hard but ended up just short of the still elusive "W" as the Flames downed them by a double-checked score of 5-4.

Brace yourselves, there's a lot of talking below.

1st Period
The Avalanche started the game off solid. Milan Hejduk nearly snuck one past Kiprusoff early, Paul Stastny showed what it means to cover the middle of the ice on defense, and Liles and Jones teamed up on Bertuzzi with a knock-em-over-elbow-em-in-the-head move.

But just over three minutes in the Flames got on the board with their first of three powerplay goals. Peter Budaj made the initial save - a very nice save - but the rebound hung around in the slot and Dustin Boyd got a handle on it before anybody else. 

While everybody was still reeling from the Avalanche giving up the early lead again, Peter Budaj tried to snag a tipped puck that went about 50 feet in the air...and it bounced out of his glove right to Todd friggin Bertuzzi's stick. And just like that, the Flames had a 2-0 lead on back-to-back powerplay goals.

Cody Mcleod calmed everybody's fears though as he brought the Avs within one. Ryan Smyth worked hard down low but the Flames still got it out of the zone. However they were confused by the brilliance of Smyth's work down low and ended up running into each other in the neutral zone. Cody McCormick, in for the benched Marek Svatos, then stole the puck, fired a shot on Kipper and Mcleod banged home the rebound. The best part of that goal? Phaneuf lost coverage and ended up falling into the net just as the puck was going in. Norris trophy my ass, Phaneuf.

Craig "Crazy Eyes" Conroy restored the two goal lead on a goal that Budaj certainly would like back. Hell, I'd like it back. Conroy broke down the wing and whipped a backhand on net that went right through Budaj's five hole. A backhand fired from close to the hashmarks with a defender draped on the shooter should never make its way into the back of the net. Unless the net was empty.

The Avalanche capped off a wild first period with a powerplay goal of their own. Mark Giordano crunched Milan Hejduk along the boards, completely wiping himself out of the play in the neutral zone. Smyth grabbed the puck, fed it to Stastny - and took a hit from Rene Bourque in the process. Stastny got Phaneuf to bite on covering the cross ice pass and ended up dropping it back to Liles who had the entire ice surface to himself and made no mistake. Meanwhile, Phaneuf was left standing idly by Kiprusoff while Mathew Lombardi's speedy backcheck left him helpless behind the goal line. 

And then the rough stuff began. At the end of the period, Phaneuf put a late hit on Mcleod and Mcleod shoved him over. McCormick then deflected Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow away from Mcleod, leaving Mcleod to jaw with Phaneuf. Iggy got a little feisty, McCormick popped him one, knocking him down, and then it was on.

McCormick gave Iginla time to take his visored helmet off but Iginla left it on and lost a bit of street cred in my book. The two tossed some punches and Iginla ended up taking McCormick down to the ice.  But I still give the win to McCormick because that's how I roll.

2nd Period
I spent the first five minutes of the second period watching election results, making a quiche, and twittering. Luckily I didn't miss any excitement.

Nine minutes in, the Avalanche tied it up on an absolutely gorgeous powerplay goal. Joe Sakic took a hard hit along the boards from Robyn Regeher but maintained control of the puck. He then fired a pass across to Paul Stastny who held the puck long enough to draw a defender to him. He then whipped a pass across to Ryan Smyth who was uncovered behind Kiprusoff. Smyth cooly buried the puck and hopes were restored.

The Flames surged hard at the end of the second but Budaj made a couple nice saves to maintain the tie going into the third period.

3rd Period
The Avalanche were getting outshot 27-15 going into the third and you know Tony Granato brought that up during the intermission pep talk. 

Unfortunately, the Flames got off the first two goals of the third period. Iginla scored the Flames third PP goal as David Jones failed to clear the puck, leading to a wide open Iginla firing a rocket shot top corner past Budaj. 

Iginla then capped off his Gordie Howe hat trick as his initial shot was kicked out by Budaj directly onto Todd friggin Bertuzzi's stick for his second of the game. It was a big rebound by Budaj but Adam Foote left Bertuzzi alone to gobble it up so they share equal blame.

I was ready to call it a game at that point. Then lady luck smiled on the Avalanche.

18 seconds after the Flames fifth goal, Ben Guite wristed a shot in from the blueline which took a bounce about eight feet away from Kiprusoff which carried it over his shoulder and into the back of the net. Now the Avs can't claim this game was due to bad bounces!

But that was all she wrote for the Avs as they couldn't capitalize on a Phaneuf penalty or once Budaj was yanked for the extra attacker.

An 0-3 start to the season and not only has the handwringing begun, there are some broken fingers starting to pop up.

Granato shook up the lines a bit tonight starting with bringing in Cody McCormick and sitting Marek Svatos. Svatos had been pretty silent in the first two games but I didn't think he was silent enough for a benching. But McCormick played a good game tonight and I can't say that Svatos would have made a difference.

The new lines were (for the most part):

The defensive pairings were unchanged with Clark-Foote, Liles-Hannan and Leopold-Salei.

Ryan Smyth was the ice-time leader with 23:59 and for good reason. He was a demon on the forecheck all game long.

The Avalanche were credited with 15 hits on the night, three of them coming from Wojtek Wolski. Again the RTSS stats show their subjectivity as Jones only had one credited hit but I personally had a note of three obvious hits for Jones.

Hejduk and Smyth fired off five shots on goal while Sakic managed a mere four shots on goal. He must be feeling his age. 

The Avalanche were outshot for the first time in the season. They managed a respectable 29 shots on goal to the Flames 35.

The Avalanche lost out in the faceoff circle thanks to Tyler Arnason's stellar 2-for-11 outing. Ray Ferraro commented that "It looks like Arnason is scared to rip the tape on his stick in the faceoff circle." Yep, that's our Arny.

Odds and Ends
I'll lead off with the greatest note. It's so great I'm actually going to take a video of it and put it on YouTube once I find my camera. Around the four minute mark of the third period, Dion Phaneuf fell off the bench on a line change. I'm not 100% positive it was Phaneuf but he was on the ice on the ensuing whistle, the fallen player was definitely a defenseman and it appeared to be the right side D-man. That's a conviction in my books!

The Avs PP looked brilliant at times and utterly atrocious at other times. The PP goal was a thing of brilliance but too often they looked disorganized breaking in to the zone and spent a lot of time not moving their feet once they'd established themselves. Granato needs to tighten that up.

The defense looked more cohesive today. Wingers were sticking near their point men more often as opposed to collapsing down low too early. Not every time, but more often than the last few games. Hopefully they keep working on that adjustment.

Paul Stastny is making a statement so far. And that statement, unfortunately for the Avalanche, is "I am worth a boatload of cash." Time to re-up his contract, Mr. Giguere.

David Jones is looking good physically but he's not getting any points nor very many scoring changes. After spending time on the top line and not getting any production, he could find himself stuck on the third line until he picks it up a notch.

TSN is still talking about Mats Sundin like people still care. Here's a hint: nobody cares. Especially not the Rangers who don't have the cap room to sign him nor the have the need to sign him. And man, Torts is boring so far on the panel.

And just to make sure I rag on TSN enough, what a brutal "video montage" to go along with their prized acquisition, the old HNIC theme. It looked like shots from NHL '09 haphazardly put together by a 10-year old. There was no passion, no fire, no reality. In short, it was an epic fail.

But I prefer Ferraro on color commentary as opposed to Pierre McGuire. So there's one point for TSN.

Related Links

Avalanche @ Flames - Game 3 Preview

There are still eight winless teams in the NHL this season but tonight that number is guaranteed to go down to six. The Anaheim Ducks and LA Kings will duke it out for control of the Pacific division cellar while our beloved Colorado Avalanche are in Calgary to battle the Flames for the Northwest cellar dweller title.

Is it frustrating to not have any wins to brag about on the season? Absolutely. Especially since the Vancouver Canucks have won twice already. Thank goodness they were brought down to earth last night by the Washington Capitals. Only ten shots after scoring 11 goals in their first two games? That's the Canucks I expected to see this season.

But now is the right time to start betting on the Avalanche. Sure, I don't expect them to walk away with a win tonight - call it one of those ugly gut feelings - but as long as the Avs shore up the defense a bit and keep the offense firing, the wins will come.

Yep, more goaltending talk
Am I worried about Peter Budaj's abilities? I'd say I'm more curious at the moment. He's made some big saves, let in some softies and been victimized at the worst possible times. If that last second tip-in goal hadn't happened against Edmonton, the attitude surrounding the team would be much different today.

Budaj looked almost superhuman in the preseason and had us all patting our backs that we believed in him. I want to see that Peter Budaj tonight. And a little aura of confidence wafting out of him would be nice too. 

As goalie-killer Mike Keenan said: "...that's the game of hockey. Goaltending can solve a lot of problems."

But should we panic? Of course not. Should we panic if the team loses tonight? Nope. You can throw something if you want, but don't panic or light anything on fire.

EDIT: Just making sure you're all paying attention. Seriously, this illness better go away soon because it's messing with my head.

You know what I'm more worried about? The near-4-day layoff after tonight's game until they take on the Stars on Saturday afternoon. What the hell am I supposed to write about until then?

Sad Note
As everyone is likely aware, Alexei Cherepanov passed away yesterday. I can't put into words how tragic it is for anyone so young to pass away. Cheers to you and God speed on your next journey, Alexei.

Game time
The game starts at 9:30 ET, 7:30 MT and is live on TSN up here in the great white north. Three games into the season and I still haven't caught an Altitude broadcast. As homerish as they can be, I find myself missing them.

Related Links
Sakic senses 'no panic' despite winless start
Budaj can't delay good goalie play (editor must have told Frei to make the headline rhyme or heads would roll)
It's not just Miika's fault (but isn't it more fun to blame one person?)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Breaking News: Canadian Police Chase

Ok, I like to keep this blog as clean as possible by talking only about the Avalanche and hockey, but I just had to spread the word on this great commercial by Midas.

It's deep on so many levels. Ok, maybe only two levels but still...

An Underwhelming Start to the Season

Two games in and the Avalanche are snake bitten with an 0-2 record after losses to Edmonton and Boston. Not exactly the start we were all hoping for but exactly the start many pundits expected. And boy do I hate when pundits are proved right. Especially after saying they were wrong.

So what's going on in each department for the Avalanche?

If Peter Budaj wants to be regarded as a #1 goaltender, he's going to need to make saves when it counts - even on a redirected shot.

Budaj is certainly not to blame on the final goal in the 3-2 Edmonton loss. However he's not instilling confidence in his abilities to make the clutch save. 

In both games this season, most recaps have included a phrase similar to "but that was the only bad goal". I don't want to keep reading/writing that all season long.

I'm still believing in him but it would be a lie to say I haven't questioned myself on it after just two games.

The Avalanche are firing shots at will and currently sit 4th in the league with 36 shots per game. And if records were kept for posts/crossbars hit, I think they'd be leading the league in that category.

But the Avs need to ensure they aren't taking shots just for the sake of taking a shot. Ryan Smyth still has a penchant for coming down the left wing and firing a shot from the top of the circle. Unless you keep that shot along the ice, 99% of the goaltenders in the league will swallow that up. 

This squad has a great amount of goal scoring ability with players like Sakic, Stastny and Svatos spread out along the top three lines. I'm expecting more from them and have no doubts that they will start delivering.

Defense was supposed to be the Avalanche's strong suit this season but right now it's looking a bit soft and disorganized. The disorganization should fix itself in a couple more games and if it doesn't, it's time to try some new combinations and strategies. 

But the softness won't magically turn around unless they are pushed in that direction. Right now, the opposition are planting themselves in front of the net with no retribution. That needs to change fast.

Adam Foote leads the squad in hits with eight and is an impenetrable wall when players try to squeeze past him along the boards. Oh how I love seeing a speedy forward try to go ripping past Foote only to end up stopped dead in their tracks by the "slow old man".

Ruslan Salei and Brett Clark have one hit each, Jordan Leopold has two while John-Michael Liles has four. Scott Hannan hasn't even been credited with a hit. Flaws in the RTSS stats reporting aside, this squad needs to get physical.

Special Teams
It's pretty early to make any judgements on special teams but the Avalanche currently sit dead last with a 60% PK rate. Ouch. More time is needed before full judgement on the penalty kill but again I've noticed confusion on assignments during a kill. And if you're already down by one player, adding any confusion to the mix will sink you faster than a submarine with a sunroof.

The powerplay has been operating at 12.5% which puts them in the middle of the pack this season. Last season, that would have had them dead last. This early though, rankings are a bit skewed with teams like Minnesota with a 66.7% conversion rate. 

The team is still going with Joe Sakic on the point. If anybody has noticed Sakic taking a shot from the point this season, let me know because I have yet to see it. I just don't see the benefit of putting him on the point when he could wreak some havoc down low.

On the flip side, I wasn't terribly impressed when Brett Clark was manning the point on the second unit so maybe there isn't a better option for the #1 unit at the moment.

Next game
The Avalanche face the Calgary Flames tomorrow at 9:30pm ET, 7:30 MT and I've got to be honest, I don't see them walking out of the Saddledome with a win.

Now prove me wrong.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oilers Defeat Avalanche 3-2 in Final Seconds

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jimmy Jeong)
What a disappointing ending to the Avalanche's second game of the season. After battling back twice to tie the game, the Oilers put the game away with a tip-in goal by Dustin Penner with 5.4 seconds left on the clock.

And just like that, the Avalanche are 0-2 on the season and the hand wringing has begun.

Budaj not winning over his critics
Peter Budaj played a solid game tonight and unfortunately it was all undone by a tip-in goal in the final seconds. Budaj had the save made but Penner was able to get a fiber of his stick on the puck and that was enough to let it slide through Budaj's five hole. Not much Budaj could really do there. 

The first goal was a great play by the Oilers on the PP and the second goal was a bit of a fluke goal that bounced off...someone. It was never really clear on the replay who it went off of - Hejduk I think - but Budaj lifted his pad for a second to readjust his position and the puck found its way through.

His stats are looking pretty bleak and I'm sure there are a lot of pundits patting themselves on the back right now for declaring the Avs goaltending duo as the worst in the league. 

But I still saw plenty of good in Budaj's performance tonight and as long as Granato keeps showing confidence in Budaj, things will get better. The last thing I want to see is Raycroft starting in net on Tuesday.

"unless Peter Budaj shows me something I haven't seen yet, I suspect the Avalanche will need their remaining cap room to acquire a goalie"

Two games - maybe even one depending on when he wrote the article - and Peter Budaj hasn't shown enough yet. Could that be because the season has barely begun? Remember Chris Mason's stellar start to last season? How'd that turn out?

Shots, posts and saves
The Avalanche got off 33 shots, hit 8 million posts and got stoned about a dozen times by Mathieu Garon. 

Shots are great and I'll never complain about somebody taking a shot. However you have to follow those shots up with some pressure. The Avalanche took a few shots from the perimeter and blueline which were pointless as there was no driving pressure from the Avs forwards after the shot.

And after all those shots off the post by the Avs, I'm on board for beveled nets. The score would have been 85-3 and that last minute goal would have made no never mind tonight.

Mathieu Garon deserved the #1 star of the game. He played great, made saves when he needed to and didn't whine when the Avs drove the net like Dwayne Roloson would have done.

Defense Picks It Up, Runs Out of Gas
At the outset of the game, the Avalanche were looking solid defensively. They were breaking out of the zone quickly and not giving the Oilers any time to set up.

However as the game wore on, the Avalanche's defensive efforts started falling flat. Midway through the second period, the Oilers were able to sustain pressure in the Avs zone for shifts at a time and were outhustling the Avs defenders down low. 

Once again, that hustle caused the Avs to look confused on their assignments and too often they were overloading one side of the ice as four defenders at a time chased after the puck down low.

I thought Ruslan Salei did a solid job of not chasing the puck and concentrating on his area of the ice. Once an Oiler forward circled past his area, he left it up to his partner, Jordan Leopold, to pick up the coverage. And he never got caught chasing behind the net while leaving the front of the net wide open. People behind the net don't score, it's the uncovered guys in front of the net that do.

Don't discount dump-and-chase
The new high-flying style of offense is great. It's not translating into the "W" column but it will. However, they shouldn't completely abandon the dump-and-chase tactic. I don't want to see it used exclusively, but if you're stood up at the blueline, don't slow down and try to find a lane. Dump it in so your forwards don't have to break stride and have a chance at retrieving the puck.

There was a lot of slowups at the Oilers blueline followed by soft dumps which were easily recovered by the Oilers. They might as well gift wrap the puck and place it at the opponents sticks. On a silver platter. With a cherry on top.

Oilers Opening Night
Not only was tonight the Oilers season opener, but it was also the 30th anniversary of the Oilers franchise so we were treated to some festivites before the game got underway. 

A little Offspring, a little backstory on the franchise history - in case anyone didn't know, Gretzky played for them and they won lots of Cups - followed by player intros, management and owner intros, long-time season ticket holder intros and the ceremonial puck drop which was taken by Ryan Smyth and Ethan Moreau.

Normally, I would have been saying "Drop the puck already!" but I thought the intro was well done, particulary the on-ice projections. Choosing The Offspring was a nice touch as well, even if their new stuff is nowhere near as good as the masterpiece that is Smash.

Scott Hannan and John-Michael Liles were the ice-time leaders tonight with 22:06 and 20:57 respectively.

The Avalanche won 72% of their faceoffs which is quite remarkable. 

Milan Hejduk fired off 7 shots on the night while Paul Stastny and Liles each had 4. Hejduk's converted penalty shot was a classic, quick low-blocker wrister. I loved it.

Odds and Ends
The Oilers announced Foote's 1000th game early in the 1st period and the fans gave a nice ovation for Adam. Foote's son was in the crowd with a "Congratulation Dad" sign as well. Good stuff.

The fourth line for the Avalanche played very well tonight. They forechecked like demons, got some scoring chances because of that, and played solid in their own end. 

I briefly switched to the Sharks-Kings game and was treated to a pet peeve of mine; anthem singers who change the pace of the song. Please, I beg of you, stop doing that!

David Jones didn't get any PP time but did get some time on the PK. He was the only guy left covering the left side of the ice on the Oilers first goal.

Mcleod did a good job sticking up for Smyth after Staios had plastered him from behind. The fight was boring but the intent was great.

Related Links