The 2010-2011 NHL season has reached it's midpoint this week, with all but eight teams still holding onto playoff aspirations. Before we preview the next week's slate of Colorado Avalanche games, let's take a look at three teams that are likely to fall out of the race soon.
At the end of the season, there is going to be at least one disappointed team in the stacked Pacific Division that will barely miss the playoffs; that unlucky team is likely to be Phoenix. Fresh off a strong playoff showing last season, the Coyotes were hoping to again ride the shoulders of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov into the postseason. Their power play and penalty kill are both below average, they have been outscored on the season, and they are led in scoring by defenseman Keith Yandle. Unfortunately, their division is a dogfight. Currently with 47 points, Phoenix simply doesn't have the offensive depth to compete against teams within their own division.
The Atlanta Thrashers are a good team. If they were in the Northeast Division this season, they would be a playoff lock. Unfortunately, only three teams are likely to emerge from the Southeast Division, and the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning can already plan for the postseason. Why Atlanta and not the Carolina Hurricanes? Because Carolina is banking on Cam Ward, a stud goaltender who has carried the team in the past. Atlanta goalie Andrej Pavelec had a fantastic start to the season but is starting to show some fatigue. He has allowed 32 goals in the past nine games, and 3.56 goals per game is a large number for an offensively limited team like the Thrashers to overcome.
Much like the Pacific Division, at least one team in the Central is going to be left out of the postseason. That team is looking more and more like the reigning champion Blackhawks. This is not the same team that won the Cup, as they are desperately missing the contributions of Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi. Though currently third in the division, Chicago's goaltending has been incredibly suspect as Marty Turco has proven to be a weight on the team. He recently lost starting time in net to 26 year old Corey Crawford, playing in his first full NHL season. Once Crawford cools down, then what? Chicago has already played more games (and home games) than anyone else in the division. With 22 of their last 38 games on the road, look for the Blackhawks to slowly slide out of the picture.
Colorado Schedule Preview
Colorado had an inconsistent week, going 1-1-1 against some subpar competition. If not for Milan Hejduk's miracle goal on Saturday against the New York Islanders, it would be considered a disaster. The recent lack of scoring has been offset by better defensive play, with the Avalanche going eight straight games without giving up more than three goals in regulation. Still, in the midst of their worst slide of the season -- and with a playoff seed becoming less likely -- Colorado really needs a solid showing in the next week.
Monday, January 10 Vs Detroit Red Wings
Does anything else need to be said? The final regular season meeting between these two teams should be great, as always. Surprisingly, it was the last game between these two clubs that set the Avalanche off on their recent slide, even though they completely dominated Detroit in a 4-3 OT loss. Both teams are missing top forwards (Chris Stewart, Pavel Datsyuk, Danny Cleary), but still boast three talented lines apiece. The difference will be in goalie play. Detroit leads the season series at 2-0-1.
Wednesday, January 12 @ Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado travels to Chicago for the final meeting between these teams as well. The Avalanche have completely dominated the Blackhawks this season, scoring 15 goals and a 3-0 record in the three games they have played. The last game featured a natural hat trick by Tomas Fleischmann, who scored three goals in the third period at Pepsi Center to shock the Blackhawks.
Friday, January 14 @ Minnesota Wild
It's back to division play for Colorado, but this time the stakes are high. The Wild are one of the hottest teams in the league and have come within a single point of the Avalanche in the standings. Their recent surge is led by former Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore, one of the NHL's Three Stars of the Week. This game could decide who holds second place in the Northwest Division by the end of the week.