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NHL Standings And Avalanche Schedule Preview, December 20

The Colorado Avalanche tore through last week undefeated and are riding a season-high six game winning streak. Not only is the offense firing on all cylinders, but they are getting healthy as well. Before we preview the upcoming slate of games, it's time to take a closer look at the other red-hot in the NHL, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Much like the Colorado Avalanche, Philadelphia is built for offense. Their 117 goals scored on the season trails only Colorado, and they have won five games in a row. With their huge victory over their rival Pittsburgh Penguins last week, Philadelphia laid claim as the favorites in the Eastern Conference and validating their Eastern Conference championship from last season. The Flyers are hot right now, but are they truly the greatest threat in the East?

Their +35 goal differential is by far the largest in the NHL this season, suggesting Philadelphia has been dominating their opponents all year. But let's take a closer look: of the 13 games the Flyers have won by two or more goals, only four of those games are against teams with winning records. While blowing out bad teams is expected, Philadelphia's gaudy stats have leaned heavily on lopsided victories over overmatched opponents.

Philadelphia has also thrived on very poor competition within their division. With five games in the books against the NHL's worst teams, the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers have scored nine of a possible ten points against the worst possible competition. They are taking advantage of a weak schedule (currently ranked 29th in the NHL) and translating it into points in the standings.

They have depended heavily on rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a 22 year old playing in his first full NHL season. His numbers so far this season have been very good, but goalies wear down with constant use, and the Flyers don't have another solid option. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season without elite goaltending, but it's still a serious concern for a team many are calling the favorite at this point in the season. If Bobrovsky gets injured or wears down, the Flyers are in serious trouble.

With their weak division and top line offensive talent (Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, and Danny Briere are all having fantastic seasons), the Flyers can already punch their ticket to the playoffs. But there are serious warning signs that could plague Philadelphia during a short playoff series against a quality opponent. With nine of their next 11 games on the road, the Flyers have a chance to prove themselves as elite.

Colorado Schedule Preview

Tuesday, December 21 Vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings come to Pepsi Center for their second (and final) visit of the season. The Kings won that first meeting back in October, 6-4, but that was a very different Avalanche team. This is the final game of a five game road-trip for Los Angeles, and they have been very inconsistent of late. They are 3-2-1 in their past six games, and haven't won two straight games since the beginning of December. Goalie Jonathan Quick is still putting up elite numbers in net, and Anze Kopitar is putting up his consistently great offensive numbers. Aside from those two, however, the Kings have struggled with their power play and their offense is very streaky. This is a game that a well-rested Colorado team should win.

Thursday, December 23 Vs. Minnesota Wild.

Colorado welcomes Minnesota to Pepsi Center for their first division game since a Thanksgiving night loss at Edmonton. The Wild have been struggling lately, even calling a team meeting last week at center ice to discuss the team's recent play. Aside from Martin Havlat and Mikku Koivu, the Wild have very little offensive depth and their traditionally strong defense has been surprising average this season. Combined with an uninspiring goalie duo of Nicklas Backstrom and former Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore, Minnesota has had a very frustrating season. They have gone 3-5-2 in their past ten games and, with a road heavy second half to their schedule, appear to be on the outside looking in at the very tight Western Conference playoff picture.