With the NHL season a week away, it’s time to look at the newly realigned Central division. Each day, we will be looking at some of the teams that the Blackhawks will be facing in the Central. And hey at least, we are not in the Metropolitan division. Today, we look at the Colorado Avalanche.
Last year: 16-25-7, 39 points, last in Northwest Division.
Key Additions: Patrick Roy (Head Coach), Nathan McKinnon (C), Cory Sarich (D)
Key Departures: Milan Hejduk (RW), Shane O’Brien (D)
The skinny: It’s been a tough couple of years for the Avalanche as they have been in perpetual rebuild mode. The Avalanche last made the playoffs in 2010 when they lost to the San Jose Sharks 4-2 in the first round. This season, the Avalanche has a new coach and GM in Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic. Roy comes from the juniors in Quebec and will be expected to impose discipline with the Avalanche who are known as a high scoring team that can’t play defense. Colorado has some talent on the offensive end with Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau leading the way. Landeskog will look to rebound from a disappointing sophomore campaign when he put up 17 points in 36 games after recording 52 points as a rookie. O’Reilly held out for most of last year while waiting for a new contract and has only put up more than 26 points in one season in his four year career. Parenteau led the Avalanche in goals last year with 18 in his first season in Colorado. If the Avalanche are to improve, they will need to see growth from Erik Johnson on the back end and have Semyon Varlamov improve from his 11-21-3 record and 3.02 goals against average last season.
Player to watch: Matt Duchene- Duchene is a talented forward who tied for the team lead in points with 43 last year. He is blessed with great speed but has been unable to elevate his team since his rookie season. Duchene achieved career highs in goals, assists and points in the 2010-2011 season with 27, 40 and 67 respectively. Duchene has been remarkably durable in his career as he has only missed 28 games with 24 of those coming in one year. If the Avalanche are going to contend they will need Duchene to elevate his game another level and become a point per game player that he has shown he can be.
History: These two teams had had a nasty history of late. The Avalanche were responsible for injuries to Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa last season and could be held responsible for targeting players. But more importantly, the Avalanche was the team that halted the Blackhawks 24 game unbeaten streak last season. The Blackhawks went 2-1-0 against the Avalanche last year but have struggled against Colorado in recent memory. In the last three years, the Blackhawks are 4-5-2 against Colorado.