The Oilers and Avalanche hook up tonight in Colorado. I've got some questions about this Avalanche club, like how in the hell did they get 22 wins in 33 games? We might go the entire season without seeing 22 wins.
Fortunately, Cheryl Bradley from SB Nation's Mile High Hockey is here to sort it all out.
On with the question making.
Jeff Chapman - Colorado's start to the season was massive, as they went 14-2 in their first sixteen. The last time I remember this franchise starting off so hot, they were in Québec City during the lockout shortened 94-95 season (they went 13-3 in their first 16). Since then, they've cooled off a bit, going 8-8-1, including 5-4-1 in their last ten. Did the Avalanche get too hot, too soon? Are they regressing, or is this a slump? What's different now than in October?
Cheryl Bradley - First and foremost, no one thought October was indicative of the entire season. It was a foregone conclusion that the Avs would fall back to earth. And they did. Other teams figured out ways to slow them down, which is the key to beating them. Clog up the middle, and the team struggles. The second reason for the decline is something else that was expected: injuries. The two biggest losses were Alex Tanguay, who's still out of the line up, and Jan Hejda, who recently returned. Tangs helped flesh out the top nine so that there were three legitimate scoring lines. Hejda was the anchor of the d-corps, allowing Erik Johnson to be more offensively aggressive, and solidified the penalty kill. Losing both affected both goals for and goals against.
JC - Patrick Roy was one of the NHL's more charismatic personalities during his playing time. Now that he's coaching a team he helped carry twice to the Cup, what is his reception among Avalanche fans? Are fans pleased with the way the team is shaking out under Coach Roy?
CB - Fans love him. While many would think that adoration is born out of his playing career, the most common reason I hear is his honesty. Roy came into town with an open book policy, all the way back to the draft when he and Joe Sakic said, in no uncertain terms, that they would be selecting Nathan MacKinnon. That forthright manner has not diminished as the season wears on. Roy's favorite phrase, something that has now become a meme (it was a drinking game until alcohol poisoning became a real possibility), is "To be hones wid you." And he is, telling things exactly as they are. He also talks about the fans being as much a part of the team as anyone. It's a refreshing change, and he has endeared himself even more to the Avalanche fan base. Oh, and the winning part hasn't hurt either. For fans that have spent most of the past five years dreading games instead of looking forward to them, it's been a great change.
JC - Who has been the biggest surprise in Colorado? Biggest disappointment?
CB - Personally, I think Tanguay was the biggest surprise. Most people questioned the trade, thinking it was another part of the "live in the past" trend that seemed to be happening. However, he was dynamic on the ice, and the loss of his offensive production is definitely felt right now. Another surprise, though more along the lines of "Huh. Who woulda thought?" is Patrick Bordeleau. He has shown vision and skills that no one thought he'd have. He's more than just a guy with fists, and while it's more of a testament to how poorly the rest of the team was playing, he was the best player on the ice for a three game stretch. The biggest disappointment is not so much a person as it is an event, or lack thereof. I think a lot of fans believed, with the cleaning out of mediocre d-men like Shane O'Brien and Greg Zanon, that there would be a significant improvement on the blueline. There wasn't. Yes, the guys now are better than last season, but outside of Johnson and Hejda, we have a slew of d-men who shouldn't be slotted higher than that 5th slot. It's frustrating to say the least. I try to tell myself to hold a bit longer as Tyson Barrie is still developing, and guys like Chris Bigras and Duncan Siemens are right around the corner. Still, we need a true top pairing so that Hejda can move down to #3, a more appropriate spot for him.
JC - Matt Duchene currently leads the Avalanche in points with 28 in 30 games (15-13-28). That's a 70+ point campaign if all carries well to the end of the season. What's this guy's ceiling?
CB - Point-per-game. Duchene is finally coming into his own, and we're just now seeing what he can truly do. For his first few years here, I believed he'd be very good, but not elite. He's changed my mind. His vision has always been there, as has his slick hands. But he's gotten even faster (didn't think that was possible, but there it is), and he's so much stronger on the puck than he used to be. The guy is really hard to push off of it now, and his ability to maneuver in order to slip a defender is highlight reel worthy. You can tell how much other teams respect his talent by the space the D gives him. They know he can blow past them. Putting him and MacKinnon on the same line seems almost unfair. The two can transition so fast that taking a puck deep in their own zone and scoring can take as little as a few seconds.
JC - Is this year's Avalanche team a playoff team? Why or why not?
CB - I think they are. Roy has brought an intense, proactive mentality into the locker room. The team has bought into it 100%. They want to win for each other as much as, if not more than, they do for themselves. And they believe they can win every night. Roy is also always thinking, calculating, making adjustments. People talk about his "unpredictable personality," but they're way off. Every single thing Roy does he does for a reason. The man is such a student of the game, and he is making the biggest difference between a lottery team and a team that could end up top six in the conference.
JC - Finally, tell us about a player or two we might not know much about, or one we should keep an eye out for.
CB - He's not new to the league by any means, but center Max Talbot has been a fantastic addition to the team. He's a PK specialist who's about as defensively responsible as they come. Recently, he's found a scoring touch, too, and he makes the bottom lines more than just energy lines. He's always giving 100%, and you never see him float in his assignments. Yes, the team gave up some offense in letting Steve Downie go, but the benefits they got in return from Talbot makes that trade a win, IMO.
Thanks to Cheryl for her time.