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Young Avalanche improve, but fall short late

Monday, 04.09.2012 / 1:06 PM / Season in Review

By Rick Sadowski  -  NHL.com Correspondent

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Young Avalanche improve, but fall short late
Young Avalanche improve, but fall short late in 2011-12.
What happened?

COLORADO AVALANCHE

LEADING SCORER
C Ryan O'Reilly
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 37 | PTS: 55
SOG: 189 | +/-: -1
TOP GOALIE
G Semyon Varlamov
RECORD: 26-24-3
GAA: 2.59 | SVP: 0.913
TOP ROOKIE
LW Gabriel Landeskog
GOALS: 22 | ASST: 30 | PTS: 52
SOG: 270 | +/-: 20
TEAM MVP
Gabriel Landeskog
SURPRISING STAT
Landeskog's plus-20 rating, easily the team’s best, was plus-21 better than linemate O’Reilly, and he was the only forward who played regularly to finish on the plus side.

An offense that was expected to be dangerous scored 207 goals, the sixth-worst total in the Western Conference. The Avalanche were shut out nine times and held to two goals or fewer in 33 other games. Too many front-line players slumped down the stretch. Hampered by knee and ankle injuries, Matt Duchene had a career-low 13 goals, including one in his last 21 games. A shoulder injury slowed Steve Downie, who didn’t score a goal in his final 17 games. O’Reilly enjoyed a breakthrough year but had one goal in the last 13 games. Colorado was a mediocre 22-16-2 at home and a woeful 8-14-2 against Northwest Division opponents.

How to fix it?

While dipping into the free-agent market for a top-six forward is definitely an option, Duchene, Downie and Peter Mueller should bounce back once they return to health. Mueller missed more than half the season to recover from the effects of a concussion after sitting out the entire 2010-11 campaign with that injury. Landeskog, a net-crashing beast, will only get better. More power-play production from the defense, which combined for five man-advantage goals, is a must. Offense-minded defensemen Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott gained experience as rookies and will be counted on to shore up that area.

Three reasons for hope:

1. Despite missing the playoffs for the second season in a row and third time in four years, the Avalanche finished with 11 more wins and 20 more points than in 2010-11 with the youngest team in the NHL, one that included 10 players who are under 25 years old. The acquisitions of Downie and Jamie McGinn at the trading deadline added much-needed grit up front. Their presence from the start next year will be a big plus. The Avalanche were in playoff mode for the final two months of the season and should have a better handle on what it takes to be successful.

2. The goaltending situation has been stabilized for the first time since the Patrick Roy days with Varlamov and veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Varlamov, who turns 24 on April 27, exhibited flashes of brilliance while setting career highs for games (53), wins (26) and shutouts (four) following last summer’s acquisition from Washington in exchange for first- and second-round draft picks. Giguere, who will be 35 in May, proved to be a calming influence for Varlamov and a reliable backup. Giguere’s 15 wins were his highest total since he won 19 games in 2008-09 with Anaheim. He was among the NHL’s top 10 for goals-against average (2.27) and save percentage (.919).

3. Landeskog, a leading Calder Trophy candidate at age 19, looks like a future star and already is a fan favorite. Scouts raved about his maturity when the Avalanche tabbed him with the second pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, and he proved them right with the manner in which he handled himself on and off the ice. A 6-foot-1, 204-pound wing, Landeskog is fearless going into the corners and to the front of the net to corral or shoot the puck, and he’s a solid defensive player and penalty killer. He led the Avalanche in goals (22) and game-winning goals (five). His 267 shots were the second-highest total by a rookie left wing in NHL history, behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin (425 in 2005-06).

Quote of the Day

We want to make sure that whoever makes our team really makes our team by earning it and not putting them in situations where they get preference because of their status as a first-round pick or whatever it might be. That's not going to happen. Everybody has to earn their way on our team.

— Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen on the team's prospects at development camp