By Stu Hackel
We’re a dozen days into the season, a bit too early for any big pronouncements, but not for some observations. And how can you not observe that the Colorado Avalanche — who finished 29th in the league last season — are now first overall in the NHL?
Having just swept a five-game Eastern road trip with their Monday night win over the Maple Leafs, the Avs were a team that many (including me) thought might aimlessly flop around this season; and when it ended for them in April, perhaps they’d owe the Capitals a lottery pick as the price for goalie Semyon Varlamov — which is to say they’d be finishing near or at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Sure doesn’t look like that will happen, at least as the moment anyway.
When posing our 30 teams worth questions a couple of weeks ago, we wondered if the Avs’ defense was deep enough and their goaltending strong enough. One Avs fan countered that the team’s problems were really more up front. Did they have enough depth among their top six forwards?
Well, through six games, none of those things have been terribly problematic. The Avs are at or near the top of the league in many team categories – goals, goals-against average, goal differential, power play, penalty killing. The only warning sign might be the number of shots they allow per game – 31.7 – which ranks 22nd in the NHL.
Some of those stats were padded by their 7-1 blowout of the Senators last week. The rest of their victories have been by one goal, including two glorious postgame skills competition triumphs and the OT win over the Maple Leafs.
Over and above the dry stats, however, the Avs play a fast, entertaining game, as anyone who has watched them so far this season can attest. They’re showing good resiliency, always responding well when scored upon, and if an opponent doesn’t limit their mistakes, the Avs will make them pay.
The guy who is making them pay most is David Jones, not one of the more familiar names on the team, who has four goals in his last three games and scored the OT winner against the Leafs.
You can see Jones drift through the scrum along the boards, sneak in behind the Leafs’ defenders — Cody Franson and ex-Avalanche d-man John-Michael Liles – toward the net and pick up the rebound of Kyle Quincey’s shot off James Reimer’s pads. That’s the kind of quickness the Avs have shown this season. A former finalist for the Hobey Baker Award when he played for Dartmouth, Jones scored 27 goals in 77 games last season, the first time that injuries didn’t limit his NHL season to less than half the campaign. Jones’s 27 tallies tied Matt Duchene for the club lead. It will be worth watching the 27-year-old winger to see if he can stay healthy and productive.
It also will be worth watching the Avs in their next two games, both against the Blackhawks in a home-and-home series starting Thursday in Denver that may show us just how seriously we should take these early season road warriors.