Colorado has finally finished its season-long five-game road trip to the Eastern seaboard, and finally return home with playoff dreams intact. Before we preview the Avalanche's next week of games, let's take a closer look at one of the most anticipated events in this year's NHL calendar; HBO's new mini-series "The Road To The Winter Classic," premiering Wednesday, Dec. 15.
Though the television show is a marketing tool for the NHL, promoting its premier mid-season game on New Year's Day, it's a genuinely exciting concept for all hockey fans, promising an inside look into the locker rooms of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, two of the most exciting teams in the league. Cameras have been given exclusive access to both clubs during the two week buildup to their showdown in Heinz Field on Jan. 1.
There's one problem: these two teams are heading in completely opposite directions.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are on a serious hot streak, winning 12 straight games. They aren't just winning, they are dominating to the tune of a 43-18 goal differential during that period. They've shot from the fringes of playoff contention into the #1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference. The Pens are led by their superstar -- and undeniable Best Player On Earth -- Sidney Crosby, who has 14 goals and 9 assists during this winning streak. His 51 points this season has put him on pace for 130+ points this season, numbers the NHL hasn't seen in 15 years.
Contrast Pittsburgh with its New Year's Day opponent, the Washington Capitals. The Capitals are in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Before this stretch, they had lost one game all season at Verizon Center. They've now lost four home games in a row. On Sunday, Dec. 13, they officially hit their low point of the season; a 7-0 beatdown at the hands of the New York Rangers. Their power play, one of the league's elite units with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin, has gone 3-37 during this skid, a stunningly low 8%.
The Dec. 15 premiere could not come at a better time, watching the contrast between the two locker rooms at completely different levels of play. Crosby and Evenki Malkin celebrating after yet another dominating victory, immediately followed by Semin and Ovechkin slowly walking to the locker room after another blowout loss? It's tough to ask for greater drama. I imagine the NHL was hoping both teams were playing at an elite level, but from a spectator's viewpoint, HBO's timing is simply perfect.
Colorado Schedule Preview
Home again, finally! After going winless through the first three games of their road trip, Colorado again found their footing by taking out a streaking Atlanta Thrashers team and a scuffling Washington team, two very impressive victories. Out of a possible 12 points, Colorado earned seven against their Southeast opponents. This 58% points earned is right at their season average, making this difficult stretch of schedule a successful road trip in the standings. What does this week bring?
Monday, Dec. 15 Vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Wednesday, Dec. 17 At Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche, you just survived a five-game road trip against some very quick, high scoring teams. You lost leading scorer Milan Hejduk to a groin injury. How do we reward you for surviving this brutal stretch? Try back-to-back games against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
Chicago enters these games without several of their top players as well, as Patrick Kane and Marion Hossa are very unlikely to play against Colorado. Much like the Avalanche, Chicago lives and dies by their offense, with defense an afterthought. These two teams haven't met since their Opening Night battle and, with all of the injuries, will be playing a very different set of players from that early October matchup.
Friday, Dec. 17 Vs. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators have their only visit of the season, coming into this game a poor team. Their offense ranks 27th in goals scored, 25th in goals allowed. 38 year old Daniel Alfredsson is their leading scorer with 18 points and big offseason acquisition defenseman Sergei Gonchar is having a very average season. Factor in the revolving door at goalie, and you have all the makings of a struggling team. Ottawa plays in Minnesota on Thursday night, so the back-to-back should give Colorado a huge edge in this game.
Sunday, Dec. 19 Vs. Montreal Canadiens
Stud goalie Carey Price leads his very talented Montreal team into Pepsi Center on Sunday night. Montreal, last year considered a Cinderella in the playoffs, comes into this game leading the Northeast Division and playing like a Cup contender. The Canadiens have ridden a stout defense (ranking 2nd in the league in goals allowed) and an easy schedule (they are currently ranked dead last in difficulty of schedule) to the top of the standings.