As the Dallas Stars get ready to take on the Colorado Avalanche tonight, we caught up with managing editor of Mile High Hockey to ask him three burning questions about the Avs so far this season.
1) Let's get this one out of the way right off the bat. What's the latest on the Matt Duchene "will they or won't they trade him?" front and how do you see that ultimately being resolved?
It's the soap opera that just won't end. Even when the actual trade rumors quiet down, you get franchise legends weighing in from over in Sweden. During an interview in his native language, Peter Forsberg weighed in on the situation and seemed to take a few shots at both Duchene and the way the organization is handling everything.
He's since walked it back a little, but it definitely added some drama to the early season in Colorado. With that said, Matt Duchene isn't going anywhere - at least not for the time being. After a drama filled summer - one in which the team told his agent a trade was going to happen - he's finally on the ice with his team and it looks lie he's having fun. Funny how winning will do that. Duchene has been finding incredible chemistry on the second line with a rejuvenated Nail Yakupov and he's been one of the team's better offensive players.
We'll see if he remains happy when the team goes on an inevitable losing skid. He refuses to talk about it, but the rumors aren't going to go away. The Avs know what they want and all it will take is a team in desperation mode (*cough Montreal cough*) to finally give in. If I were a betting man, I'd put the odds at better than 50:50 that he's playing for a different team before the trade deadline.
2) The Avs haven't allowed goals at nearly the same pace as they did last year, and are actually one of the stingiest teams to start the season in goals against. What's contributed to the early success on defense?
It's not so much the defense as it is Semyon Varlamov. He's healthy again and showing why Avalanche fans hold him in such high regard. He's 3-0-0 on the season with an incredible .945 SV%. He's been outstanding and is the main reason why the team hasn't been getting scored on much.
As for the team defense, it was pretty dreadful on the team's three-game road trip. The Avs were 2-1, but those two wins came when they were getting outshot and Varlamov stood on his head. Things were a little different this past Wednesday for the home opener.
The Avs looked like a whole new team, limiting the Bruins to only 23 shots on net. The Avs are carrying 8 defenders so far this year - one of which you're probably pretty familiar with. Erik Johnson has been the rock for the team - as expected - and Tyson Barrie is once again showing why so many people see him as a near-elite defender in the NHL.
Beyond that there have been a lot of question marks. Nikita Zadorov was in the press box for the first game of the season - as a message for showing up to camp late and out of shape - but looks to be rounding into form. Chris Bigras was a big of surprise to make the team, but he has looked far from out of place. The 22-year old definitely belongs in the NHL and looks like he's going to be a mainstay in the Avs top-4 for a long time.
And then there's Patrik Nemeth. When the Avs picked him up from the Stars on the eve of the season, no one really knew what to expect. He's gone on to lead the team in shot suppression through the early part of the season. After those five, Mark Barberio, Anton Lindholm, and Andrei Mironov have been rotating into the lineup.
3) Not many predicted the Avs to be one of the best teams in the Central Division. Is their play so far indicative of the season they're going to have?
Their play thus far in the season is indicative of the season they're going to have in the sense that it's been a very high-tempo, exciting brand of hockey. It's been very sloppy at time and it is clear that the Avs are going to have no problem exchanging scoring chances with their opposition. There have been a few period this season that turned into literal back-and-forths almost to a hysterical extent.
Like last season, their PP has been pretty bad, but more alarmingly, the PK has been atrocious. It's currently the worst in the NHL. The penalty kill is definitely something they're going to have to get a handle on if they expect to keep winning games. They're playing with an incredibly high PDO so far - almost entirely because of the save percentage by Varlamov.
The team won't continue to win at the rate they have, but I do think they are going to exceed the expectations many set out for them when the season started. They're not nearly as bad as they showed last season and if they can get some sort of stability on their blueline, their season point total will take a huge leap up from a year ago.