Wednesday, April 11, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Western Conference

Yesterday, we took a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. Today, we delve into matchups featuring our good friends in the Western Conference. Once again, we will be assisted in our puckish prognostications by fabled Tonight Show guru and soothsayer, Carnac The Magnificent. These previews have NOT been sealed in a mayonnaise jar on Funk And Wagnall's front porch since noon today.

(1W) Vancouver Canucks
(8W) Los Angeles Kings

The Matchup: This is a rematch of a 2010 series between these two teams that absolutely nobody remembers. I'm assuming the Canucks won, because losing to the Kings wouldn't have been nearly painful enough for Canucks fans. This year has a different feel from the Kings' standpoint, as they have imported nearly 74% of the Philadelphia Flyers' roster in an attempt to make it to the finals and lose. Meanwhile, the Canucks are back to defend their Western Conference title. Giggle. If this series comes down to goaltending, the Kings may have the edge in Jonathan Quick, who racked up 10 shutouts this season. The Canucks will be backstopped by Roberto Luongo until they're backstopped by Cory Schneider, until they've decided that Luongo is ready to give it another shot, until they see he isn't and Schneider is re-inserted, until the Canucks remember they're basically married to Luongo until 2022 and put him back in for good. By that point, the second period of game 1 will be underway.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: All eyes will be on Mike Richards, the former Flyers' captain for whom the Kings paid a... well, a Them Ransom. Richards is looked at as a prototypical playoff player, a leader who can hit, score, fight, and make plays. Richards figures to see time matched up against Ryan Kesler, which will tie an NHL playoff record for the least amount of charisma between two opponents at one time.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Canucks forward Dale Weise, who missed the cutoff for NHL players named "Dale" by 25 years.

Carnac Says: "Twin Peaks".

"What does one Sedin do when the other Sedin is having sex?"

Prediction: Canucks in 7

(4W) Nashville Predators
(5W) Detroit Red Wings

The Matchup: The Nashville Predators are on a mission to finally take that last step in their journey to win the Stanley Cup, and fittingly, their first obstacle is their previously insurmountable rival Detroit Red Wings. David Poile's carefully crafted 15-year plan is finally coming to fruition, and that was never more evident when he threw caution to the wind and traded their first round draft pick, Paul Gaustad. Alrighty then. Meanwhile, the Red Wings and their fans are more excited for the playoffs this season than usual, as they won't be inconvenienced by late game starting times against opponents on the west coast this season. YOU CAN GO TO BED BEFORE 11:30 NOW, WINGS FANS. Think of how nice it will be to have that extra two hours of sleep when you go in the next day for your 4PM-10PM shift at McDonalds.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Prodigal son Alex Radulov returned to the Predators after nearly four seasons playing in the KHL. Radulov and the Preds had each other by the short-n-curlys, as Radulov wanted the free agency that playing the last 10 games of this NHL campaign offered, and the Preds needed the dynamic gamebreaker they have under contract with Radulov for the most important playoff season in franchise history. A productive Radulov will raise the blood pressure of rival GMs, coaches, and fans who don't understand the concept of a player that's "under contract".

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Expect game announcers and Red Wings fans to be force-feeding you the "Valtteri Filppula has matured into the next dominant Detroit forward" storyline. Don't buy it. Filppula is a milquetoast player that benefits from playing with Henrik Zetterberg. Without Zetterberg, Filppula is Josef Beranek.

Carnac Says: "Mathieu Dandenault."

"What's the answer when Mathieu Dande asks you if the Red Wings are going to win this series?"

Prediction: Predators in 6

(2W) St. Louis Blues
(7W) San Jose Sharks

The Matchup: Everybody has that one moment they wish they could go back and do over. For Blues fans, it's the 2000 first round series against the Sharks. The Blues were the President's Trophy winner that season, Chris Pronger won the Hart Trophy as league MVP, but the team stumbled and gagged away their first round series against the up-and-coming Sharks. This time, the Blues are the up-and-coming team, and the Sharks are the ones who get the lump at critical moments. A very real question to be asked: if the Sharks aren't able to upset the Blues, have we seen their window close on a suddenly aging core?

Most Interesting Player In This Series: The Blues allowed blueliner Alex Pietrangelo to bake properly until his game was golden brown and crispy, and have been rewarded by two consecutive stellar seasons. As big as Pietrangelo looks on the ice, that's how smooth he looks as well. This will be his first taste of playoff action, and it will be interesting to see how the young Blues defender holds his ground against a veteran Sharks group that is big enough and experienced enough to feel comfortable attacking Pietrangelo directly.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: I wish I could get behind Joe Thornton. I really do. He seems like a nice enough guy, he is supremely talented and blessed with elite on-ice vision, and has put up eye-popping stats over the years. The problem is, we've seen this movie before, over and over and over again for nearly 15 years. Joe's a deadbeat dad of a hockey player, one with far too much to offer to have such a spotty track record. Like the Sharks, the Blues play a physical style, and they won't be shy about getting in Thornton's face, hitting and agitating him at every turn. Until Thornton proves he can thrive in a playoff hockey setting, it will be easy to dismiss what he brings to the table.

Carnac Says: "Hitchcock".

"Name a painful way to tow a boat."

Prediction: Blues in 6

(3W) Phoenix Coyotes
(6W) Chicago Blackhawks

The Matchup: The Chicago Blackhawks replace the Detroit Red Wings as the co-stars of the now annual Phoenix playoff passion play. The Coyotes get into the playoffs on the NHL's dime, the cloud of relocation hangs over the series, the Coyotes lose the series, the Coyotes are spared for "one more season". Lather, rinse, repeat. Hard fact: NOBODY WANTS TO SEE THE COYOTES IN THE PLAYOFFS TO BEGIN WITH. I'm openly rooting for the Blackhawks in this series.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: A bit overshadowed by Sidney Crosby's late-season return has been the ongoing concussion saga of Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who missed the final 21 games of Chicago's regular season and is sketchy as a candidate to play early in this series. The Blackhawks may have the depth to replace Toews's scoring production, but there's no one on the roster that will be able to replace his lustrous playoff muttonchop sideburns. Ex-Hawks GM Dale Tallon's failure to submit a qualifying offer to former US president Chester A. Arthur in 2009 could come back to haunt the franchise.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Phoenix plugger Boyd Gordon, a fine defensive forward, may be the most nondescript player on the most nondescript team in the NHL. Plus, he's another one of those guys with "Last Name First" disease. Stop bullshitting us, Gordon Boyd, there's supposed to be a comma in there somewhere.

Carnac Says: "Coyote Ugly".

"Describe Dave Tippett's gameplan."

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

May Brian Burke loosen the ties on your sister's undergarments.

Enjoy the first round!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

POISON PEN: Round one preview, Eastern Conference

Does it suck that the Colorado Avalanche failed to make the NHL's annual postseason party? It sucks hard, real hard, sucks big giant rocks. But does that mean there isn't still hockey to be played? Of course it doesn't, and with that in mind, let's take a look at the 8 playoff matchups, where we test our powers of prognostication with an assist from Tonight Show legend Carnac the Magnificent. Today we start with the Eastern Conference, and tomorrow, we preview the Western Conference.

 (1E) New York Rangers
(8E) Ottawa Senators

The Matchup: The top seeded Rangers somewhat improbably emerged as the survivor of the Atlantic Division battle royal, earning home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Aside from star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and porcelain sniper Marian Gaborik, the Rangers are a mostly anonymous bunch led by media expert godd--n motherf---ing head f---ing coach John F---ing Tortorella. Meanwhile, the Senators somewhat improbably emerged from a division with arguably more talented teams like Montreal and Buffalo, to secure a playoff berth. The Sens attack is led by captain Daniel Alfredsson and giggling idiot Jason Spezza. The surprising Spezza-led Sens sparkled this season, suffering some setbacks and sliding from sixth to seventh and soon eighth. If GM Bryan Murray speaks that sentence out loud in your vicinity, wear a raincoat.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, who will be leaned on to keep the dangerous Spezza and Milan Michalek from getting to Lundqvist and using their dual powers of "Creepy" and "Injury" as an attack.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sens goalie Craig Anderson, who has been known to build small ice barriers in front of the goal line using nothing but his own tears.

Carnac Says: "A John Tortorella press conference...Hugh Jessiman...and a goon."

"Name a gust, a bust, and a Prust."

Prediction: Rangers in 6

 (4E) Pittsburgh Penguins
(5E) Philadelphia Flyers

The Matchup: Finding information on this series has been kind of difficult, as both of these teams have been largely ignored by fans and media.

Fine, we'll try. The Pens and Flyers spent this season shadowboxing with each other, without much real doubt that they would be the 4/5 matchup in the East. Pittsburgh was led by the Terminator-like Evgeni Malkin and underrated goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, while Kris Letang was the engineer of a sometimes-frightening attack that AVERAGED over four goals a game through March and April. The remodeled Flyers successfully integrated newcomers Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and uberprospect Brayden Schenn into a lineup that already featured superstar Claude Giroux. The Flyers lost Chris Pronger to a concussion in November, and have scrambled at times to ice an NHL-caliber defense. Niklas Grossmann revealed to the world that they've been spelling his name wrong for years, and he STILL can't find one of those little license plates with his name on it for his bicycle.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Former Penguin, current Flyer, alltime troll Jaromir Jagr. Jagr was a pipebomb to start the season, but tailed off statistically in the second half of the season. I honestly have no idea what to expect from the now 40 year old Czech; he could score 5 goals in game one, he could wear a hoodie under his jersey in game two, or he could have that bizarre vertical mustache he grew in the 2008 playoffs by game 7. One way or the other, Jagr will be in the spotlight as he leads the charge against his former team, who he cockblocked over 9 months ago.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Sounds silly, but Sidney Crosby is about the least compelling character in this series, in the same sense that Superman wasn't compelling. You KNOW what's going to happen, right? Crosby will get his points, pout his lips, and drive all non-Pittsburgh fans into a rage every time his mug shows up on the TV screen. Not at all boring, but there's no real suspense either.

He IS going to obliterate the Flyers, though. Sorry guys.

Carnac Says: "Superstar treatment".

"What's the name of the triple penicillin shot at all the free clinics in Pittsburgh?"

Prediction: Penguins in 5

 (2E) Boston Bruins
(7E) Washington Capitals

The Matchup: Tim Thomas vs Washington DC? Sure, why not? The Caps and the Bruins are a classic-ish matchup, one that preseason geniuses would have expected to see in the conference final. Alas, while the streaky Bruins accrued enough points to gain home ice advantage, the Caps were uneven, to put it politely. To be fair, who would have guessed that a team that traded its best goalie in order to sign a veteran with three career playoff wins would struggle? When Tomas Vokoun was unable to shoulder a lion's share of the games due to injury, Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby filled in to varying degrees of success. Holtby looks to be the starter to begin the series. Meanwhile, Alexander Ovechkin probably would not have selected Zdeno Chara to be his prom date for the first round. Ovechkin struggled against the rangy Hal Gill in the 2010 playoffs as the Caps were unceremoniously dumped by Montreal. Zdeno Chara is, uh, slightly better (and bigger!) than Gill. Ruh roh.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Will Alex Semin stain his reputation heading into unrestricted free agency? Or will he rise to the occasion and go on a spurt? With Ovechkin and Chara likely trading musky European cologne scents with one another for the entirety of the series, Semin could be the difference between a spirited Caps upset bid, and a meek "Thanks for the invite" dismissal at the hands of the defending champs.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Bruins ogre Milan Lucic is interesting in the same way that Nelson Munz is interesting. A one-dimensional rockhead, he's a perfect fit in Boston, where one-dimensional rockheads have been revered since the days of John Wensink. Milan Lucic has done exactly one productive thing in his life, and that's piss off Canucks fans. Lucic will find at least one opportunity during this series to drag his knuckles down the ice and give that dumb dog look to a frightened Capital.

Carnac Says: "Catch-22".

"Name something any average fan wearing ice skates for the first time could do in a race with Mike Knuble."

Prediction: Bruins in 5

 (3E) Florida Panthers
(6E) New Jersey Devils

The Matchup: Wow. Devils and Panthers, you say? And it's the playoffs? Well, Florida has that one guy... uh, he scored some goals for them. And their goalie must have been pretty good, right? Or did they have more than one goalie? Wait, who's Florida's goalie? Bouwmeester doesn't play for them anymore, right? Hmm. Okay. Dave Lowry, he's gotta be retired by now. We'll come back to the Panthers. Hah, just kidding, we won't. Isn't it just precious that they made the playoffs though?

The Devils are still the Devils. Even though Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin have moved on, every time I watch a Devils game, I hear "Zach Parise", "Ilya Kovalchuk", and then Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin dubbed over every other name, and I hear it in Gary Thorne's voice, even though Gary Thorne is out sailing a boat somewhere or something. I suppose that's a compliment for the Devils, who are basically a package of hockey Saltines. Lou Lamoriello looks like what Stewie Griffin would look like in about 60 years if he was a real person.

Most Interesting Player In This Series: Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who is doing his damndest to give us the answer to the "So why dont they just get a really fat guy to play goalie?" question that every non-hockey fan asks. Marty The One-Man Party, very quietly, has been really stinky in the playoffs since the lockout ended. The only way Brodeur can top his spectacular implosion in the final two minutes of Game 7 against Carolina in 2009 would be to strip naked and run one off on his ex-wife's mother in the postgame interview after the Devils are again eliminated in the first round. This needs to happen.

Least Interesting Player In This Series: Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, the 2011-12 recipient of the "wait a second, he's still in the league???" trophy, annually voted on by newspaper writers. Wait a second, they still make newspapers???

Carnac Says: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten".

"How many NBC affiliated networks begged not to be stuck showing this series?"

Prediction: Panthers in 7

COMING WEDNESDAY: Poison Pen previews the Western Conference

Saturday, April 7, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Nashville Predators, 4/7/12

The Good Guys: Bowed out of the 2011-2012 playoff chase with a listless 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. I prefer to consider that the Avs simply ran out of gas, after a spirited late-season run saw them gain minimal ground on other teams who remained hot themselves down the stretch. The next game after tonight is in October.

Bunch Of Dicks: Tonight is also Nashville's final regular season game, although for the Predators, there are at least four more to be played. Of all the teams in the postseason tournament, I'd be the happiest for the Preds were they to win the Stanley Cup, because they're a team that (for the most part) does things the right way. David Poile and Barry Trotz have put together a very good organization, and I like the idea of seeing them be rewarded for it. Their first round series will be against Detroit... so yeah, go Preds.

We Like: There's so much to like about what we saw from the Avalanche this season. That's not to say it was without its frustrations and inconsistencies, but for the optimistic fan, there's alot to look forward to next season. Guys like Ryan O'Reilly, Semyon Varlamov, and Erik Johnson showed evidence that they are evolving to varying degrees of stardom, that they are becoming more consistent players, and that all the hype isn't unwarranted. Rookies Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, and Brad Malone got their first taste of NHL action, and none of them looked out of place. Trade deadline acquisitions Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn provided much-needed sandpaper and scoring to the wings. Veteran JS Giguere provided leadership, and had a bit of a renaissance filling in for a struggling Varlamov during a stretch of midseason.

Oh yeah, and that Landeskog kid. He seems like a keeper.

We Don't Like: There are a few negatives, but I don't want to dwell on those tonight. Instead I want to spend a few words on Milan Hejduk, who may be playing his last game in an Avs uniform tonight, and very well may be playing his final NHL game altogether.

Hejduk came into the NHL in 1998-99, the same season as Chris Drury. Drury ended up winning the Calder Trophy that season, while Hejduk finished third. Hejduk had a solid rookie season, netting 14 goals (the last time, until this season, he failed to score at least 20 in a season) and became the first and only rookie in NHL history to score two overtime goals in the same playoff series (against the Sharks in the first round). Hejduk was fairly durable, silky smooth, and has a relatively startling goal celebration to his credit:

Hejduk also captured the Richard Trophy in 2002-03 as the league's top goal scorer, and evolved into a veteran leader for an increasingly youthful squad.

In the event that this is in fact Milan Hejduk's final game, take a second to enjoy watching him out there tonight. He's been a special player for the Avs for a long time, and I'm gonna miss watching 23 lurking around that net, just beyond the radar of defenders, ready to use those gifted hands to put another puck behind the goalkeeper. Thanks for everything, Hedgie.

Randomly: Yeah, alright, I have a little lump in my throat after writing that.

Potential Hero: Win or lose, if Hejduk can pot one more tonight in front of Avs fans, it'll make it a special night.

Potential Goat: If Joe Sacco spends this final game of the season trying to prove whatever stupid point he's been trying to prove by gluing Matt Duchene to the bench, so help me god, someone needs to strangle him with his tie.

Final Thought: I'm a mostly-happy camper with this season. It sucks not to make the playoffs, but hey, growing pains for the youngest team in the NHL, right? The next time I do a primer, I'd like to be talking about the O'Reillys, the Duchenes, the Landeskogs, the Johnsons, the Varlamovs...and how hard they worked over the summer... and what a great preseason they all had... and dreaming big about the season ahead... I hope. I hope.

Oh yeah, and we want Parise and Suter too.

Go Avs.

Avs 3, Predators 2

Thursday, April 5, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Columbus Blue Jackets, 4/5/12

The Good Guys: Colorado goes into game #81 with a razor thin shot to make the postseason, needing two regulation wins, two regulation Sharks losses to the suddenly-popular Kings, and needing Dallas to not accrue more than two points in their last two games. Other than that, it should be pretty simple.

Bunch Of Dicks: The Blue Jackets are terrible. Any further analysis of this would require more thought than Columbus GM Scott Howson put into constructing this dumpster-fire of a team. The yearlong smear campaign against Rick Nash as a player from clueless fans and media who don't understand that one elite player is useless if he's surrounded by AHL players virtually guarantees an undervalued Nash will be traded for pennies on the dollar in the offseason, because hey, Rick Nash is incapable of carrying a team all on his own.

We Like: Alcohol, because we're gonna need it tonight and Saturday if we don't want our nerves to literally jump out of our bodies and start dancing on the rec room floor. Not to be overdramatic or anything.

We Don't Like: March 1, 2012 may have been the night Avs fans look back on and grit their teeth if the team misses the playoffs. That was the night the Blue Jackets last visited Denver, and walked out with a 2-0 win in the Avs' most listless, uncaring performance of the season. There have been plenty of blown points at various times during the season, but that game was inexcusable.

Randomly: I never really put two and two together, but the Penguins have both Pascal Dupuis and Richard Park on their roster, meaning they'd be a nightmare in a playoff series against the 2003 Avalanche. Shudder.

Potential Hero: This is, by all rights, a playoff game. Gabriel Landeskog seems like the type of player that can (and will) elevate his play the higher the stakes. We'll see that tonight.

Potential Goat: Nothing but heroes tonight. No goats.

Final Thought: Hey Avs fans: if I would have told you in September that the team would have a shot at the playoffs in April, you'd have taken that deal in a heartbeat, right? Let's push this thing to Saturday.

And... Go Kings?

Avs 4, Blue Jackets 1

Monday, March 26, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: San Jose Sharks, 3/26/12

The Good Guys: Raised their degree of difficulty for sneaking into the playoffs on Saturday with a 3-2 loss to Vancouver in overtime. The Avs had a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, but two quick Canuck goals deadlocked the game until Chris Higgins Magnum PI'd a shot past Semyon Varlamov in the extra frame. Rookie Tyson Barrie got knocked off the puck by Jannik Hansen on the play that led to the winning goal, which leaves one to wonder whether or not that happens to Erik Johnson were he healthy and in the lineup.

Bunch Of Dicks: There may not be a team on the bubble with more at stake than the San Jose Sharks. If the Sharks miss, do they re-tool around the same core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, etc and give it another crack next season? Or does GM Doug Wilson follow the Philadelphia Flyers model, blow it up, and rebuild on the fly around Logan Couture as the Flyers did with Claude Giroux?

We Like: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Seriously, in that desert island scenario where you pick just one album, or just one celebrity, or just one book...isn't CTC your one cereal? And if not, what the hell are you thinking?

We Don't Like: That loss Saturday at home, after blowing a two goal lead, hurt more than the loss at Phoenix last Thursday, despite obtaining the OT "loser" point. If there are five games at the end of this season I wish Colorado could replay, that one is on the list.

Randomly: Think this will be the game that Sharks fans finally figure out the singsong "LETS GO ______" chant only works when the team name is more than one syllable? Nah, me neither.

Potential Hero: Matt Duchene. Period. I got faith in this kid.

Potential Goat: No goats. Positive thoughts.

Final Thought: I play in a rec league that is run via draft. Tonight is the first game of our spring season...and of course I was drafted by the teal team. Jesus Christ, karma.

Avs 3, Sharks 1

Saturday, March 24, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Vancouver Canucks, 3/24/12

The Good Guys: Suffered a critical blow to their playoff standing with a 3-2 loss to Gary's Orphans on Thursday. The Coyotes jumped to a 3-0 lead by the end of the 2nd period, and held off a late Avs rally in the third to preserve the win. Raffi Torres And His Freaky Eyeballs scored twice for Phoenix. The Avs are currently sitting in 9th in the Western Conference, one point out of playoff position, jockeying with the LA Kings, Phoenix, San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Bills, Milwaukee Brewers, Pittsburgh Pisces, and the prison guards from "The Longest Yard" for the final available playoff spots.

Bunch Of Dicks: Did you guys hear that 50% of the Canucks Creepy Twin Squad is out of the lineup due to a malicious headshot? Daniel Sedin has a concussion and will miss tonight's game thanks to a retaliatory elbow to the head from Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith in a game earlier this week. The elbow earned Keith a 5 game vacation from NHL disciplinary hypocrite Brendan Shanahan, and earned Sedin an uncertain near-future. Wouldn't it be a shame if the Canucks' season was negatively impacted by a cheapshot, Maxime Lapierre? How about you, Alex Burrows, what do you think? Kevin Bieksa, opinion on that? Aaron Rome, anything to say? Vancouver is the most chickenshit organization in the league, with a roster full of guys that will yap and hit you in the back of the head and talk tough when there's a referee standing between them and someone who will push their faces in, but when the real games start, they turn into shrinking cowards. It's been that way there since Brian Burke ran the show. It's always fun to beat these clowns.

We Like: Thursday's game was an absolute stinkbomb for the first 40 minutes, but once again the young Avs showed resiliency and chutzpah, battling back in the third period and giving themselves a legitimate chance to win the game at the end. If the game was 62 minutes long, the Avs tie it. Alas...

We Don't Like: Tyson Barrie has played well in Erik Johnson's absence, but the Avs clearly miss the big guy. He's out again tonight with back spasms. When EJ does get back, Ryan Wilson should sit a few games and hit the reset button. He's been a hot mess for the past 3 or 4 games.

Randomly: It was awesome to hear the Pepsi Center crowd as invested as they seemed Tuesday night against Calgary. Hopefully tonight will be more of the same, because while it's not an actual playoff game, it may be the closest thing to it we see this season. Hop to, Avs fans.

Potential Hero: Critical home game against what passes for an elite team in the Western Conference...Anybody and Everybody can be/should be a potential hero in this situation. That said, it'd make my weekend to see Matt Duchene come out and play a strong game after his 3rd period benching against Phoenix.

Potential Goat: No goats in burgundy and blue tonight. Positive thoughts.

Final Thought: Win or lose tonight, at least the national anthem won't be as ghastly as tonight's performance in Ottawa:

Avs 4, Canucks 3

Thursday, March 22, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Phoenix Coyotes, 3/22/12

The Good Guys: Gutted out two points against the Calgarian dicknoses on Tuesday night. The Avs spent most of the night trading chances with their mediocre rival, and while they really didn't play their best game, they got the job done in the end. David Jones was the man of the hour, slipping a puck past Miikka Kiipprruussooffff in overtime for the critical extra point. Paul Stastny also was key, scoring the first goal and buttering up the chance that Jones put away in overtime.

Bunch Of Dicks: The NHL's resident welfare state is hanging annoyingly in the playoff race, as they usually do. The Coyotes are a team that's built to survive and outlast, rather than outgun, and that's perfect strategy for today's NHL. Phoenix took advantage of Dallas brainfarts on Tuesday night to erase a 3-1 third period deficit and steal a point for pushing the game into overtime. This is a virtual playoff game for both teams.

We Like: It only took him 75 games, but Joe Sacco finally went off about the perceived officiating iniquities that have seemingly dogged the Avs this season. Whether real or imagined (and having watched 95% of the games this season, I'd tend to lean toward real), perception is reality and the perception is the young team isn't getting the respect it deserves from the officials. Is there bias? I doubt it, but it's good to see Sacco publicly holding those guys to the fire a little bit. Every other coach does it.

We Don't Like: Shane Doan is a sack of crap. The next big game he's a positive factor in will be the first. His elbow to the face of Jamie Benn during Tuesday night's game was malicious, stupid, and selfish. Doan was suspended for three games (tonight being the first) with his team battling to stay in the playoff race. The narrative is that Doan is a good honest hardworking Canadian kid who drinks his milk and loves his family. That doesn't jive all that well with headhunting elbows and allegations of racism that Doan has seen himself involved in over the years.

Randomly: Here's some math: Unseasonably warm weather + virtual playoff games = HOCKEY BONER.

Potential Hero: I called it the other night, it didn't happen. I'm calling it again tonight: Tyson Barrie pots his first career goal. I'll be perfectly happy if he plays as well as he did on Tuesday and doesn't score a goal, though.

Potential Goat: It was a borderline miracle the Mueller/Duchene/Hejduk line didn't finish a combined -15 on Tuesday; they were that bad. Frighteningly bad.

Final Thought: A regulation win tonight means breathing room for the Avs, and adds to the cushion they will need as the rest of the dog pack plays their games-in-hand. You don't really think it's going to be that easy, do you?

Coyotes 2, Avs 1

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Calgary Flames, 3/20/12

The Good Guys: Capped off a successful three game visit to the east coast with a 3-1 win over the Rangers on St Patrick's Day. Semyon Varlamov stole the show in Manhattan, outduelling all-world Rangers keeper Henrik Lundqvist, and kept the Avs in the Western Conference playoff picture. Colorado is currently lodged in the 8th and final spot, tied with Phoenix with 83 standings points, although the Coyotes have a game in hand.

Bunch Of Dicks: There's a good reason I've neglected to do two or three of the Gameday Primers for games against the Flames, and it's the same reason people don't write about their bowel movements. There's never been a greater dichotomy between player I respect and like (Jarome Iginla) and team I don't like. There arent many things in hockey I'd like more than to see Iginla get traded to a team that gives him a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Calgary is about as close to winning a Stanley Cup as my beer league team. Tonight, the Avalanche have a chance to really push the Flames to the very edge of the playoff bubble, and for me, it would be as good as a playoff win, and also, as good as sex.


We Like: Isn't this fun, guys? Remember watching this team at this time last season? Reeling from the aborted Forsberg comeback, trying to process the stunning Stewart/Shattenkirk trade to St. Louis, and watching the team win two games out of what seemed like their final 400. Brian Elliott? Whether this year's version of the Avs ends up making the playoffs or not, this has been a fun season, and lots of the promise we hoped to see is blooming in front of our eyes. Let's enjoy this last two weeks.

We Don't Like: Look, I understand the temptation, I really do. I want it as bad as everybody else does. We only heard mumblings of it early in the season, and I was as guilty as anybody else was. Who knows, maybe eventually it WILL be appropriate, but it sure isn't yet. So I beg you, Avs fans and hockey observers everywhere: please, please, PLEASE stop comparing Gabriel Landeskog to Peter Forsberg. Not only is it premature, it's inaccurate. Love Landeskog already, I'm even willing to replace the "o" in his last name with a little heart. That all said...he's not Peter Forsberg. If anything, I see a potentially more physical Marian Hossa in Landeskog, which isn't Forsberg, but it's nothing to sneeze at either. Comparing Landeskog to Forsberg is unfair to the kid.

Randomly:  When I came out on Twitter and declared my undying man crush on Gabriel Landeskog taking shape in the form of the 3rd-grade-girlish "replace the letter with a heart", I wasnt the only one. I was also joined by our friend Jay of the terrific Avs Hockey Podcast, which is a site you should be visiting regularly if you're an Avs fan. Jay and his partner in crime James make the burgundy and blue world go 'round, but you already knew that.

Potential Hero: Semyon Varlamov. Or haven't you been paying attention?

Potential Goat: Jeff Shantz, for old time's sake. Seriously, f Jeff Shantz.

Final Thought: Win tonight and Calgary can take a long hike off a short bridge. Lose tonight, and I may do the same.

Flames 3, Avs 2

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Buffalo Sabres, 3/14/12

The Good Guys: Provided the most thrilling single moment of the season thus far (at least for me) on Monday night, as Gabriel Landeskog shook off a case of the flu and played a gutsy, hard game leading up to his dramatic overtime goal. That goal gave the Avalanche a supremely important second point, and keeps the team in the four-dog race for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, as well as (ssssh, don't tell anyone!) one single solitary point out of the 7th spot.

Bunch Of Dicks: The Sabres shook off a dreadful first half of the season, and have rallied themselves to within 4 points of eighth place Washington in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres have been led by star goalie Ryan Miller, who has found stopping pucks much easier since he learned to balance the other 18 Sabres on his back every game. Buffalo is led by head coach Lindy Ruff, which is the easiest name in hockey for a dog to pronounce.

We Like: What's not to like about Gabriel Landeskog's performance on Monday night? Critical game against a competitive Anaheim team, national television, battling the flu, and questionable to even participate in the game right up until warmup, Landeskog went out and played his usual hardnosed style, even though it was apparent that he was fighting it a little bit. When his team needed him the most, he came through, and it's the first truly memorable "Landeskog Game" in a career that promises to be full of them.

We Don't Like: There is absolutely nothing on this planet I like doing less than being forced to hope for a Detroit Red Wings win. These are desperate times, however, and last night, I wanted to see them beat Los Angeles to keep the Kings off the pace in the playoff race. Naturally, the Red Wings went out and got pummeled. Thanks guys!

Randomly: Longtime Sabres play-by-play man Rick Jeanneret is awesome.

Potential Hero: When you play the Buffalo Sabres, you're not going to score many goals. It's extremely important your goalie is sharp and focused, and lately, Semyon Varlamov has been up to the task.

Potential Goat: If at least one member of the Avs coaching staff doesnt instruct their players to whisper the words "Milan Lucic" into the ears of every Sabre player at every chance they get, they're not doing their job. Seriously, they all just stood there and let Milan Lucic truck their goalie, their best player. That's about 1500 flavors of gutless.

Final Thought: Two points tonight and a Phoenix loss (rooting for Vancouver, stomach turning) and Colorado is in 7th place in the Western Conference.

Sabres 2, Avs 1

Monday, March 12, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Anaheim Ducks, 3/12/12

The Good Guys: It may not have been the prettiest game, but the Avs got the job done against Edmonton on Saturday with a 3-2 shootout win. A lackluster first period and a tentative third period sandwiched a strong second period that gave Colorado what it needed to push the game to overtime. The overtime period was like watching two 8 year olds playing NHL12 for the first time, as it was a comedy of mistakes and dumb play. Both teams gave up chances, but the Avalanche got the 'Duk (see what just happened there?) in the shootout.

Bunch Of Ducks Dicks: Anaheim made a gallant run toward a playoff spot after a wretched start to the season, but they seem to have run out of gas and are languishing at the edge of extinction. This makes the Ducks a dangerous opponent tonight, one with very little to lose.

We Like: Haven't heard all that much about Colorado having overpaid for Semyon Varlamov lately, have we?

We Don't Like: Tonight is quite possibly the final time Avs fans will get to see Teemu Selanne play in Denver. His one-year stint with the Avalanche didn't go like we had hoped it would, but it shouldn't take away from what the classy Selanne has achieved in his career. Here's hoping he gets a nice ovation at some point tonight.

Randomly: Just so we have this straight, the Ducks were "Mighty" when they wore teal and eggplant, but not with their current rugged palette of black, gold, and orange? Whoa, Bob Ross moment.

Potential Hero: Call it a hunch, but I think Milan Hejduk is overdue for a multi-goal game. Hejduk always plays well against the Ducks.

Potential Goat: Who or whatever is responsible for Gabriel Landeskog's mystery illness, which may keep him out of the lineup tonight.

Final Thought: Who says the Avalanche aren't going to play any playoff games this season? Every game down the stretch is a playoff game. Enjoy it, Avs fans.

Ducks 2, Avs 1

Saturday, March 10, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Edmonton Oilers, 3/10/12

The Good Guys: Let two valuable points slip away into the Nashville night on Thursday, losing to a good Predators team 4-2. The Avalanche had stretches of play where they controlled the puck against the Preds and never seemed overwhelmed by the superior team, which is encouraging; the loss of two points was not encouraging.

Bunch Of Dicks: Edmonton is hurtling toward a third straight lottery pick, at which time they'll undoubtedly take the most talented forward available. Oilers GM Steve Tambellini is currently constructing a roster that would absolutely dominate Nintendo Ice Hockey. There are a few fast skinny guys (Ryan Hyphen, Linus Omark, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson-Stockholm-Borkborkbork), medium-sized guys that really don't do anything particularly well (Ryan Jones, Shawn Horcoff), fat guys that suck (Andy Sutton), and one of the unlockable NES Ice Hockey characters: tall guy trying to skate on one leg that can barely move and is also a turnover machine (Ryan Whitney).

We Like: Saturday Afternoon Games. Seriously, get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, run a few errands, grab some grub, and come home and watch the game. Game's over by dinnertime, and you have all night to do whatever: watch some other games, have a few drinks, go play pickup, chase potential sexual partners, whatever floats your boat.

We Don't Like: Saturday Afternoon Games. If the team loses, Saturday night is ruined, and no number of Will Ferrell movies on TBS will change that.

Randomly: Stefan Elliott hasn't played badly, but he hasn't exactly stood out recently either. Does Tyson Barrie get another look soon? If not, why not?

Potential Hero: Against a team like the Oilers, if you can exploit their weakness (defense, derp) you can rumble them. Look for the "ORLANDO" Line to possess the puck and pick apart the Cam Barkers of the world.

Potential Goat: Conversely, if the game turns into a run-and-gun affair with the teams exchanging chances, Semyon Varlamov is going to be expected to make big saves without much help from his sketchy defense. Not that he hasn't demonstrated (especially lately) that he can do that, but if Varlamov has an off game, we could be looking at 7-6.

Final Thought: Must win. Must win. MUST WIN. MUST WIN. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.

Oilers 7, Avs 6

Thursday, March 8, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Nashville Predators, 3/8/12

The Good Guys: Needed four points from Manbearpig, and took four points from Manbearpig in emphatic fashion. A 2-0 shutout at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday was followed up by a 7-1 deconstruction in Denver on Tuesday night. The only bad news was Matt Duchene's ankle injury, which will keep the kid out of the lineup for 3-4 weeks, Duchene's second extensive stint on the IR this season. The Avs are now tied with Los Angeles and San Jose for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, although the Kings have two games in hand on Colorado while San Jose has three.

Bunch of Dicks: Every time I watch Nashville play, I get an overwhelming urge for lemon meringue pie. Easter Island native Barry Trotz has the Preds sitting comfortably in the fifth playoff position out west, and his team sent the rest of the NHL a message at the trade deadline with their acquisitions of Hal Gill, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Paul Gaustad. That message: "We're going to ruin market value for average checking line centers and give up a first round pick for Paul Gaustad."

We Like: After getting slapped around like a peewee level team on Saturday against Pittsburgh, the Avalanche came out smoking against Minnesuckwad on Sunday night. Last year, the Avs allowed losses to beat them more than once, often carrying a previous bad game into the following game and creating losing streaks. This is a mentally tougher team, and much of it comes from knowing they have two goalies in Semyon Varlamov and JS Giguere who can steal a game if necessary. Varlamov in particular has come through for the Avs lately, and his performance against the Wild on Sunday night was one of his three best of the season.

We Don't Like: Oh, right, the game tonight is in Nashville. This means every time the Predators send designated idiot Jordin Tootoo on the ice, you'll hear train whistles from the enthusiastic Nashville crowd. Well, it's either train whistles, or the sound of emphysema rustling through mouths with less than eight teeth in them, I haven't really confirmed that one way or the other. Either way, it's annoying.

Randomly: I won't pretend to know what Matt Duchene's offseason training consists of, all I can do is go by what I see him tweeting about during the offseason. Last summer, it seemed like it was alot of tweets about fishing. I wouldn't mind seeing him tweeting this summer about how Gary Roberts is kicking his ass, and his commitment to becoming a better all around player. This isn't criticism; Duchene is still a puppy, and different kids grow at a different pace. I want to see a tougher Matt Duchene next season.

Potential Hero: How could it be anybody other than Semyon Varlamov right now? I'll tell you how: games against Nashville always seem to devolve into tight checking affairs where the Preds try to physically dominate the Avs. It always seems like they succeed. Newcomers Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn have brought the Avs some of the snarl they were lacking. The Predators will provide a measuring stick for just how much a difference those two players have made for Colorado thus far.

Potential Goat: So help me god, if Brandon Yip scores a goal for Nashville tonight...

Final Thought: Another must-win. You already knew that.

Preds 3, Avs 2

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Minnesota Wild, 3/4/12, 3/6/12

Here we are, kids. We've lost to Columbus and Pittsburgh in two of the worst performances of the season, back to back. The last time the Avs played that badly, against Winnipeg, they subsequently reeled off four straight wins. Now we have a home-and-home with Manbearpig, starting tonight. For the 2011-2012 Colorado Avalanche, this is do or die. Four points aren't an option. This is the Primer for both games. No more words need to be said. See you Thursday for Nashville.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Pittsburgh Penguins, 3/3/12

The Good Guys: Had a chance to join the big boys table on Thursday night with two points against Columbus, and proceeded to defecate all over themselves. There isn't one team in the NHL that's good enough to just show up and collect two points, and that goes double for a bubble playoff team with a salary cap floor payroll. If Colorado misses the playoffs by one or two points, this is going to be one of the games they look back on and grit their teeth.

Bunch Of Dicks: Pittsburgh strolls into Denver comfortably ensconced in a nice, velvety playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pens will be without Sidney Crosby, who continues to play dress-up in practice with his teammates, and perhaps their most important player, Kris Letang, also out with concussion-like symptoms. Not sure what "concussion-like" means. It's either A) a concussion, or B) not a concussion.

We Like: Four months later, and this is still the sexiest goal of the season.

We Don't Like: Not that the Avs typically get more than one or two power play opportunities per game anyway (which is another story entirely), but the fact that Joe Sacco continues to use his most handsy player, Matt Duchene, on the point rather than down low is just mind-boggling. I understand that Greg Sherman's nickel-and-dime roster doesn't have four true point men to man two power play units, but putting Duchene there is patching up a hole in the drywall with golden fleece. If Ryan Wilson or even Matt Hunwick has to play with Stefan Elliott on that point, then so be it. There's simply no reason not to have Duchene playing around the net.

Randomly: What are the chances that Steve Downie was prowling around the Penguins' team hotel today, looking to finish the job on Crosby?

Potential Hero: Since he came back from an early season groin injury in December, Erik Johnson has played like the defenseman he was expected to be since he was taken first overall by St. Louis in 2006. Johnson will likely be the difference between the Avs exiting tonight's game with zero points and one or two, as the American defenseman will be matched up head to head with Penguins cyborg Evgeni Malkin. Listen closely, and you can hear the Rocky IV theme playing softly in the background.

Potential Goat: By the same token, if Malkin is able to have his typical Gene Machine game, the onus will fall on the Avs scorers to keep pace. The top line of Duchene, Paul Stastny, and the slumping Milan Hejduk will need to support the Downie/O'Reilly/Landeskog unit that has carried the team for the past two weeks. Hejduk was replaced by Peter Mueller on that line during the discouraging loss to Columbus on Thursday, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that again tonight.

Final Thought: Dallas did their job last night, grinding out a 3-1 win over Edmonton. The Avs blew their chance to take two points from a weaker team, and now they have to beat a legitimate Stanley Cup contender to keep pace tonight.

Penguins 4, Avs 2

Monday, February 27, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Anaheim Ducks, 2/27/12

The Good Guys: Win over Detroit? IN Detroit? Me gusta. That's 3 in a row, and 4 of the last 5. Beating teams like Edmonton and Detroit, who are either comfortably out of the playoffs or comfortably in the playoffs, and beating teams like Los Angeles and Anaheim that are in direct competition with you for a playoff spot, are two entirely different stories. Tonight is a big one.

Bunch Of Dicks Ducks: Anaheim has won some ridiculous number of games since the New Year rolled around, they're something like 92-3. The fact that they're still scuffling in this 5 team dogpack for the final playoff spot says much about how bad the Ducks were at the beginning of the season. Despite the Ducks' recent streak, this is a team the Avs match up to well, and accordingly must take two points from.

We Like: The contributions from today's trade deadline departees, Daniel Winnik and TJ Galiardi. Winnik is a hard worker, a guy who busted his ass for the Avs every shift. He's going to be a valuable piece for the Sharks in the playoffs. Galiardi was maybe the most representative player of the Avs' Jeckyl-And-Hyde ways: sometimes he was invisible and completely uninvolved in the games, skating around the perimeter and fighting the puck. Other times, he was fully vested, and made a real difference on the ice, and nowhere was that more the case than the 2010 playoff series against San Jose, where Galiardi was a constant nuisance to the Sharks' skilled players. Colorado's hot December had much to do with an improved Galiardi, who gave the Avs snarl and skill for the entire month. The problem with Galiardi was his performance in January, which got him back in Joe Sacco's doghouse. Wishing both guys success with the Sharks.

We Don't Like: I'm not about to start complaining in the middle of a good streak. Keep up the good work, gentlemen.

Randomly: I'm guessing today's Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian trade is to even out the karma the Canucks took advantage of in obtaining Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov 16 years ago? Because the similarities are uncanny. Kassian is a bag of meat. Buffalo wins that trade handily, in my opinion.

Potential Hero: Landeskog-O'Reilly-Downie is the best line in hockey right now, and is the pick for tonight's potential heroes. Does Sacco match these guys against the Ducks' big unit? I'd like to see it.

Potential Goat: Hey, we're all positivity tonight, right? NO GOATS.

Final Thought: Aw shit, Kevin Porter is gonna be in the lineup tonight, isn't he? (ed.: Sanity prevails, he will not play.) So much for positivity.

Ducks 3, Avs 2

Saturday, February 25, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Detroit Red Wings Presented By Amway, 2/25/12

The Good Guys: Beat Columbus like a drum last night, 5-0. David Jones was the hero, with two goals, and Semyon Varlamov folded the Jackets neatly and put them away. Seeing Jones and Paul Stastny getting hot at the right time warms the cockles of my dark heart.

Bunch Of Dicks: Well, well, well...hello there, Detroit! We understand that you had your cute little home unbeaten streak* ended by the Canucks on Thursday, and that you're pretty unhappy with that. We're not very happy about it either, because we were hoping the Avs would be the ones to end it. You'll have to forgive us if we are rude guests tonight, because we're in the middle of a battle to get into the playoffs. We have a new friend. His name is Steve Downie, and he's paid to dislike you. He will be going around to properly introduce himself to each of your players at various points this evening.

We Like: Beating Detroit. So let's do it.

We Don't Like: Knowing that our team speed advantage will be neutralized by Detroit's *COUGHLEGALIZEDINTERFERENCECOUGH* "subtle pick plays" tonight, since Detroit are the Special Little Children and accordingly, are above the silly rules and regulations the rest of the NHL must play by.

Randomly: Evgeni Malkin is better than everybody else in the world at the hockey.

Potential Hero: JS Giguere is back in net for the Avs tonight. Rumors have linked Giguere to Philadelphia to partner with his old Anaheim running mate, Ilya Bryzgalov. I like Giguere alot, he's been fantastic for the Avs this season, and I wouldn't settle for anything less than James van Riemsdyk in return. If Philly isn't okay with that, then that's too bad. Watch for Giguere to be the difference tonight if the Avs are able to pick up two points.

Potential Goat: Tonight's potential goat is Whichever Av Fails To Stop Kyle Quincey From Scoring, which we all know by now is as safe a bet as there is for an Avs fan. Former Avs are superhuman, and if Joe Sacco doesnt assign someone to take Quincey out, John Kreese-style, then he should be fired immediately.

Final Thought: Has there ever been a more beloved bad hockey player than Tomas Holmstrom? Imagine if Detroit WAS forced to play by the same rules as the other 29 teams. Holmstrom would've been out of the league by 2001.

Red Wings 5, Avs 4

Friday, February 24, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Columbus Blue Jackets, 2/24/12

The Good Guys: Smacked the Kings around nice and hard on Wednesday, racing out to a 4-0 lead on their way to a 4-1 win. Paul Stastny led the way with two goals, and Semyon Varlamov shut the door on the anemic Kings, who barely even bothered to show up.

Bunch Of Dicks: Oh, Columbus. Where to begin? I'll begin by saying that I like the Blue Jackets. I visit Nationwide Arena usually once or twice a season to see a game, and every time I've been there I've had a good time in and around the arena. The fans are passionate, friendly, and knowledgeable, and they desperately want their team to give them something to be proud of. Eventually, they'll get there, but right now, the organization stinks like a pig in poo. It starts at the very top, with clueless executives lording above overmatched GM Scott Howson, who really hasn't done himself any favors. The Jeff Carter Experiment was a brutal failure, as the disappointed player never seemed to have his heart invested in his new team after being stabbed in the back by the Flyers. Howson bears a great deal of the blame for not contacting Carter's representatives to gauge his interest in playing in Columbus before dishing out substantial assets to bring Carter to Ohio. Nevermind the fact that the entire premise of the deal was flawed: a playmaking center for star wing Rick Nash is what the Jackets sought. Jeff Carter is a playmaker in the same sense that I am; that is, not at all. Carter spent an unhappy and injury-plagued 8 months as a member of the organization before being mercifully dealt to the aforementioned Kings late yesterday for Jack Johnson (who won't be in the lineup tonight) and a conditional first round draft pick (also not in tonight's lineup).

We Like: Perusing the Western Conference standings, most of the teams in the dogfight for the last available playoff spots have caught up to the Avs in games played, meaning Colorado's two point deficit to ne'er-do-wells Los Angeles, Dallas, and Calgary is more of a true deficit, and not disadvantaged by games at hand.

We Don't Like: Why can't Calgary just go die already? You know you're awful when your GM, tubby idiot Jay Feaster, goes on a public verbal rampage threatening to blow your team up when you're still within striking distance of a playoff spot. Make no mistake about it: the Flames are a terrible team. Have the decency to go on an 8 or 9 game losing streak, you clowns.

Randomly: Not sure when Dustin Brown became the second coming of Mark Messier, but the breathless news that Brown is available on the trading block was about as underwhelming as trade speculation gets. Yes, he's the captain of the Kings, but scratch the glossy surface and he's a poor man's Shane Doan. I respect the hell out of Shane Doan, don't get me wrong, but he's nothing more than an elite grinder. Adjust Brown downward accordingly.

Potential Hero: A safe bet is Gabriel Landeskog, who has been nothing short of outstanding lately. A less safe bet, but a sleeper: Stefan Elliott, if he's given the green light to use his speed to rush the puck against a very talent-poor Columbus group.

Potential Goat: Can Semyon Varlamov put together two consecutive solid performances? If this kid can get himself on a roll, the Avalanche can become a frisky team down the stretch, one I'm not sure I'd want to see in the first round of the playoffs.

Final Thought: Does Matt Duchene look 100% to you? Because he doesn't look 100% to me. The Avs need Duchene to get back up to that level sooner rather than later, but even with a sketchy Dutchy, tonight's game is very winnable. Right?

Blue Jackets 3, Avs 2

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Los Angeles Kings, 2/22/12

The Good Guys: The less said about Sunday's debacle against the Jets, the better; a veritable three hour infomercial about why this team isn't one of the eight best in the Western Conference. Semyon Varlamov needs to steal games for the Avs to sneak into the top 8, and he certainly wasn't up to the task on Sunday.

Bunch Of Dicks: Until last night's 5-4 shootout loss to Phoenix (another 3 point game, tyvm), the Los Angeles Kings couldn't score with themselves during a Cinemax viewing party. On occasion this season, a visit to the thin air and occasionally lax defense of Denver has done wonders for slumping offenses.

We Like: The trade for Steve Downie. As I've been saying ad nauseum over the past 24 hours, he brings an element to the Avs that they have been missing since Ian Laperriere left town. Downie is an ideal third line player with some skill, and plenty of sandpaper. If you look up and down the Avs roster, you don't see very many players that make you think "this is going to be a long night for <name of opposing star player>." Downie is a player that forces you to account for him when he's out there due to his unpredictability and his physicality; he wins puck battles along the wall, and he can take shifts here and there with top 6 forwards as he did in Tampa. In a division where you see Cal Clutterbuck, Curtis Glencross, and Alex Burrows a total of 18 times a year, it's nice to know their teammates will also be forced to keep their heads on a swivel when they play the Avalanche.

We Don't Like: The subtle badmouthing of Kyle Quincey as he leaves town. Quincey is going to a situation in Detroit that plays to his strength: a solid 3/4 defenseman and likely a regular spot on their second power play unit. Quincey was miscast in Colorado as a top two defenseman. He showed flashes here and there, and was starting to find a groove partnered with Erik Johnson recently, but he is not an ideal top two on a good team. All the innuendo about how he was bad in the room, how the organization didn't appreciate his comments expressing frustration at not being in the lineup when he came back from his concussion earlier this season, all of this is needless piling-on at this point. Anybody that thinks Kyle Quincey didn't give his best every shift hasn't been paying attention. I want a guy who wants to be in the lineup every night, and Quincey very obviously did.

Randomly: Was the NHL36 episode featuring Mike Richards earlier tonight supposed to make him look good? Because it really didn't.

Potential Hero: I'm rooting for Semyon Varlamov to keep the Kings impotent tonight. When you face a team as offensively inept as Los Angeles, you absolutely MUST have your goaltender playing at his best. An early Kings goal could be disastrous.

Potential Goat: Kevin Porter. He works really hard. So do washing machines. Seeya in the AHL next year, Ports.

Final Thought: Chances are pretty good there are one or more Avs playing in their final home game as a member of the organization, with Monday's trade deadline looming. The Shermanator isn't a shrinking violet about these things; you'll recall we're only two years removed from Wojtek Wolski playing his way out of town in the very last game prior to the deadline with a brutal performance on national TV against the Red Wings. Which Avalanche player might float through tonight's game and get on Greg's bad side?

Kings 2, Avs 1

Sunday, February 19, 2012

AVS GAMEDAY PRIMER: Winnipeg Jets, 2/19/12

The Good Guys: Handled Edmonton the way a playoff team should handle a draft lottery team on Friday, with a resounding 3-1 win. Erik Johnson scored for the third consecutive game, and Semyon Varlamov shut the door on the talented, but green, Oilers. Colorado stands tied for 11th in the Western Conference, 3 points out of the 8th and final playoff position. Two more points tonight isn't a luxury; it's a necessity.

Bunch Of Dicks: Winnipeg is still in that warm, fuzzy "Wow it's good to have the Jets back" zone for me. The Jets are in a similar spot as the Avs: two points out of the final playoff position in their conference. They're going to be playing a similarly desperate game tonight, one would imagine. If the Avs are going to take two, they're going to earn it.

We Like: Welcome back, Duchene.

We Don't Like: Hey look, a three-point game in Phoenix last night. Life on the playoff bubble sucks.

Randomly: "Buffalo! New Jersey! Minnesota! IT'S HOCKEY DAY IN AMERICA." NBC Sports programmers may be taking advice on which teams America will find interesting from saboteurs at ESPN.

Potential Hero: How could I go with anybody but Matt Duchene? He's nothing short of the best offensive weapon on the Avalanche, and a spate of one-goal losses during his absence did nothing but reinforce his value to the team.

Potential Goat: The biggest issue with Semyon Varlamov has been his inconsistency this season, which isn't terribly uncommon for a young goalie playing behind an iffy defense. Varlamov is going to need to steal games here and there over the next month and a half in order for the Avs to have a puncher's chance at a playoff spot, and he definitely can't afford to have any games where he implodes early with JS Giguere battling injury.

Final Thought: After today, the Avs bookend visits to Columbus and Detroit with home games against Los Angeles and Anaheim. 8 points out of 10 is the minimum, and you don't want to lose your margin for error in Winnipeg today.

Avs 5, Jets 4