The Burgundy Letter
by Martin Krantz on 10/10/11 at 06:36 PM ET
The Colorado Avalanche got a 1-0 win today against the Boston Bruins, with Semyon Varlamov holding on for the shutout. He has looked great in his first two games with his new team - none of the goals against Detroit could be blamed on him, and he was perfect against the Bruins with several quality saves.
The Avs defence, which now contains some of the largest bodies in the NHL, played a great game which was pretty much night and day compared to last year’s at times abysmal defence. I’m not a size queen in any way, but it’s good to see a big squad back there, helping Varlamov out. Several times last year I felt that the Avs were sorely out-muscled, so the team seems to be much harder to create goals against than they were last year.
I’m also happy with the play of centers Paul Stastny and Matt Duchene.
Other players to impress in today’s win were Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog, both playing on the third line. At times, the third line is looking like the best and most dangerous formation that the Avs can have on the ice, and Gabriel Landeskog is really impressive even though he has yet to register his first point in the NHL. He plays smart and physical, does the little things well and seems like the perfect fit with Ryan O’Reilly.
In a tough opening to the NHL season, the Avs have started with games against Detroit and Boston, two heavyweights where the team should be happy to come away with two points. If there is one concern, and there is, I’d say it’s that the Avs have only picked up one goal in two games. While it’s yet too early to draw any definite conclusions, the Avs look to be much improved on defence and in goal, while the play from the team’s wingers is still lacking.
Varlamov/Giguere is a huge improvement over last year’s goaltending, and Shane O’Brien is looking like a quality top 4-defenceman so far. The team also has terrific depth down the middle with Stastny, Duchene, O’Reilly and McClement. On the wings, Gabriel Landeskog has been great (and so has most of the third and fourth lines) - the problem is with the wingers on the top two lines. David Jones, Chuck Kobasew and Peter Mueller, to be clear. Milan Hejduk is also on one of the top lines but he’s not going to disappoint anyone. He had the gamewinning goal today and is a lock to produce 20+ goals.
But Kobasew really isn’t top-line material, and David Jones has yet to start looking like his 2010-2011 self.
Another problem is Peter Mueller. In an earlier post, I pointed out that Mueller’s conditioning didn’t look great during training camp, and he’s still struggling right now. The team might benefit more from moving either Landeskog or T.J. Galiardi to play with Duchene and Hejduk instead. At least Galiardi’s fitness level is good, and he can chip in the occassional point while being a pest who draws attention to himself.
I don’t blame Mueller - he’s been out with a concussion for more than a year, so it’s completely natural that he’d need some time to adjust to the speed and the fitness levels of the players surrounding him. But why not break him in slowly with third or fourth-line minutes and see if someone else can develop some chemistry with Duchene and Hejduk?
I’d also like to see Kobasew moved back down on the depth chart and give Joakim Lindstrom a chance to play with Stastny. Although they didn’t perform very well in preseason camps, they looked great in practice sessions during the training camp, and that combo might be worth giving a second look instead of Kobasew. You know what you have in Koby - WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). But Lindstrom is a question mark with potential. He was the biggest offensive threat in the Swedish Elite League last year, and might have more offensive potential than the very limited upside that is Chuck Kobasew.
If the Avs can find a solution to get their wingers working, this might be a fun season. But right now, there’s not one, but three questions marks on the wings. That’s at least two too many.
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