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NHL Standings And Avalanche Schedule Preview, Dec. 6

The holidays are upon us, and this NHL season has been the gift that keeps giving. Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos are joys to watch, the New Jersey Devils are struggling after gutting their franchise for Ilya Kovalchuk, and there are plenty of feel-good teams around the league. Before we preview this week's Avalanche schedule, let's take a closer look at three goalies who have been gifts to their respective teams.

Care for a surprise? Here are the top three goaltenders this season so far (minimum of 15 games played):

Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins (1.46 GAA, .956 SV%) The endlessly-young Tim Thomas is having a season for the ages. The 36 year young goalie is undergoing yet another career renaissance, leading the league in both save percentage and goals against average. His five shutouts lead the league (28% of his starts have resulted in a shutout this season) and his 13-2 record make him a prime Vezina Trophy candidate. Thomas has only allowed 18 even strength goals in 18 starts this year. Incredible.

Ondrej Pavelec, Atlanta Thrashers (1.70 GAA, .940 SV%) Here's a name that's not commonplace among casual NHL fans. Yet. The 23-year-old player from the Czech Republic is turning heads in his second full season as a starting goaltender. His recent streak has anchored the Thrashers' rise to relevancy in the Southeast Division, as he has gone 7-1 in his past eight games. Pavelec has only allowed more than two goals in four games this season, giving Atlanta a bonafide elite netminder for the first time in franchise history. In fact, his current  GAA is almost an entire goal better than the franchise record set last year by Johan Hedburg. With Pavelec in net, Atlanta is suddenly a dark-horse candidate to emerge out of the Eastern Conference.

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens (1.96 GAA, .935 SV%) The talk of the NHL offseason (aside from Kovalchuk) was the trade that sent Playoff Hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues. Most called the transaction an enormous mistake on the part of Montreal. And yet here we are in December, and Montreal has a top three goaltender. Carey Price has simply been a workhorse for the Habs, starting a league-leading 25 games. The argument can be made that Price is the most valuable goaltender in the league so far this season. He's posted similar numbers to the players listed above while facing a much greater number of shots. Price has faced 28% more shots than Thomas and 51% more shots than Pavelec. Carey Price has the entire city of Montreal asking, "Halak Who?"

Colorado Schedule Preview:

Colorado went a disappointing 0-1-2 in the first leg of their Southeast schedule, earning two points in the process (and letting two close games against Carolina and Atlanta slip away). Still, with all of the new faces on the roster, it's not an entirely unsatisfying result. Matt Hunwick appears to be the real deal, and Fleischmann is showing signs of life on the Avalanche's top two lines. What does this week have in store?

Tuesday, Dec. 7 @ Florida Panthers The Florida Panthers don't score many goals, and their success rests firmly on the shoulders of goalie Thomas Vokoun. Craig Anderson also faces his former team for only the second time in his career. Hopefully, this game ends better than the 6-5 shootout loss last season. NOTE: This game will NOT be televised.

Friday, Dec. 10 @ Atlanta Thrashers Atlanta, again? These two teams faced each other last week at Pepsi Center, a close game that saw Atlanta tie the game late in the third period and steal a win away from Colorado. The recipe remains the same: Stop Dustin Byfuglien and figure out Pavelec.

Saturday, Dec. 11 @ Washington Capitals The NHL schedule-makers must hate Colorado. Not only do the Avalanche play back-to-backs two weeks in a row, but the second of each of those games come against an elite scoring team with young legs. This will be a difficult matchup for Colorado, as Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin are both having their standard great years. Odds on this game reaching 6-5 Tampa Bay levels? Very high.