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Northwest: Images of 2006-07 flash through Avs' minds

by Roger Phillips

Through the first two-plus months, Ryan Smyth and the Colorado Avalanche have been just as mediocre as they were most of last season.
If you remember the latter weeks of the 2006-07 regular season, one thing that stood out was the desperate late surge of the Colorado Avalanche.

The Avalanche kept winning and winning, going 15-2-2 in their final 19 games, ultimately finishing with 95 points, one point out of the playoffs.

Colorado went out over the summer and seemed to get better. The Avalanche grabbed right wing Ryan Smyth and defenseman Scott Hannan in free agency, and there seemed little doubt the club would be among the best teams in the Western Conference this season.

So far, however, it hasn’t worked out that way. Through the first two-plus months, the Avalanche have been just as mediocre as they were most of last season. Today, Colorado is a borderline playoff team. In the Northwest Division, the Avs are right in the middle, roughly equidistant to the Canucks and Wild above and the Flames and Oilers beneath.

The Avalanche score lots and lots of goals. But they allow lots and lots of goals, too. Future Hall of Famer Joe Sakic has been sidelined lately with a groin strain, and Smyth thus far has fallen far shy of being the contributor he was expected to be. Hannan, meanwhile, has the worst plus/minus on the team, and neither goalie, Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore, has stepped to the forefront.

On top of all this, while the Avalanche have been very good at home, Colorado has been poor on the road.

Of course, it’s way too early to draw final conclusions about the Avalanche or just about any other team at this point in the season. Besides the Detroit Red Wings, no team in the NHL has been consistently impressive thus far this season.

Still, the Avalanche thus far has to rank as one of the League’s bigger disappointments. The most recent disappointment came last week in Columbus. Leading 3-1 with less than 13 minutes remaining, the Avalanche fell apart and wound up losing, 5-4.

“We didn’t play with the clock. We played well for the first two periods and let that lead go,” winger Ian Laperriere told the Denver Post. “It’s a matter of being smarter, doing the things we have to do with a lead in that situation, using the clock better.”

“We got sloppy and they took advantage of it,” Hannan told the Rocky Mountain News. “We had to get points out of that game and we didn’t get anything. It’s very disappointing.”

Though Hannan wasn’t with the Avs last season, Colorado fans need not be reminded about the dangers of letting early season points slip away, considering what happened last season.

“We’ve got to get it to overtime and get points out of it and we still don’t,” Hannan said, referring to the Columbus loss. “That can be costly and we just can’t be doing that.”

Two nights later at home, the Avalanche atoned for their sins, showing much greater discipline in the course of edging Philadelphia, 2-1. Perhaps the abysmal loss in Columbus will turn out to have been just the wakeup call the Avalanche needed.

“It was a great response across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We did what we had to do. The third period, even though we gave up some chances, I still thought we did a lot of good things. It was a nice rebound from a disappointing loss.”

The Avalanche won again Sunday, but it’s doubtful it was the kind of game Quenneville was looking for. Colorado beat St. Louis, 9-5, and Theodore stopped only 23 of 28 shots. The Avalanche had a 6-2 lead after two periods, but allowed it to be cut to 6-4 before erupting offensively to put the game out of reach.


Who’s hot -- In Colorado’s victory over the Blues, Milan Hejduk had six points – three goals, three assists – and Paul Stastny had two goals and five points. … Daniel Sedin broke out of a two-goals-in-13-games slump with two goals in the Canucks’ 5-2 victory at Nashville. Markus Naslund and Henrik Sedin had two assists apiece in the same game. … Jarome Iginla had two goals against the Penguins, but was foiled in the shootout as the Flames lost to visiting Pittsburgh, 3-2. … Jose Theodore stopped 28 of 29 shots as the Avalanche edged the Flyers by a 2-1 margin. … Shawn Horcoff continued his quietly outstanding season with two points in the Oilers’ 4-3 loss to the Blues. He scored another goal in a 5-4 overtime loss to Dallas, and had a goal and an assist the next night in a 5-4 shootout win at St. Louis. Horcoff had a career-high 73 points two seasons ago, and if he stays healthy, he might eclipse that total this season. … Nicklas Backstrom stopped 31 shots as the Wild eked out a 2-1 win at Columbus. … The Flames got a badly needed road win at Chicago, and Miikka Kiprusoff was a key to the victory, stopping 35 of 37 shots. He was sharp again in a 2-1 shootout win Tuesday at Florida, stopping 32 of 33 shots. … Roberto Luongo has helped lift the Canucks in the division standings, but recently has been shelved by sore ribs.

Shootout summary -- The other Alberta team does shootouts, too, but not as well. Edmonton is 8-1 in the shootout, which has kept the Oilers within reach of a playoff spot thus far this season. Calgary, on the other hand, is 1-2 in the shootout, the latest setback coming at home against the Penguins, followed up by a shootout win against Florida.

Kristian Huselius of the Flames opened with a goal in the shootout against Pittsburgh, but Petr Sykora quickly evened the score on the Penguins’ first shot in the shootout. Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Matthew Lombardi then all missed the net or were stopped by Pittsburgh goalie Dany Sabourin. Meanwhile, Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff stopped a wrist shot by Sidney Crosby, and got bailed out by the crossbar against Evgeni Malkin. But while Kiprusoff survived Crosby and Malkin, he could not handle Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, and Pittsburgh skated off with the victory. Incidentally, Crosby and Malkin are a combined 1-for-9 in the shootout this season.

The Canucks had no better luck in the shootout against the Penguins Saturday, falling 2-1, even though Roberto Luongo stopped Crosby and Malkin. Once again, though, he was no match for Letang, the Penguins’ budding shootout superstar. The Flames beat the Panthers in the shootout, with Huselius getting the only goal they needed and Kiprusoff making three saves. The Oilers got their eighth shootout win with Shawn Horcoff scoring the lone goal and the Blues failing to score three times against Mathieu Garon.

Here are our first weekly Northwest shootout standings, through Tuesday’s games:

W L Oilers 8 1 Avalanche 2 0 Flames 1 2 Wild 0 2 Canucks 0 3

Rumor mill -- The Oilers scratched Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll for a game against the Blues, which they lost, 4-3. The Edmonton Sun reported that the move was made because the two players did not perform well in a loss to Pittsburgh earlier in the week. But the benching could be a sign the Oilers are thinking about shaking things up, and the Ottawa Sun reported the possibility of a deal in which Stoll would head to Columbus for center Gilbert Brule. Brule, incidentally, was born on New Year’s Day in 1987 in Edmonton, though he grew up in the Vancouver area. The Sun also reported that the Oilers are interested in Ottawa defenseman Joe Corvo. … For those in Vancouver and Colorado and anywhere else who are wondering whether Peter Forsberg might soon be signing up, The Sun reported that there is speculation “Foppa” may have played his final game in the NHL.

The week ahead -- The Flames play the final four games of a six-game road trip. They will be at Tampa Bay Thursday, at Carolina Friday, at St. Louis Sunday and at Columbus Tuesday. The Flames were terrible on the road last season, and have improved this year, winning the first two games of the trip. They are 6-6-1 on the road this season after winning just 13 road games last season.

The Wild also have been on the road. They complete a five-game trip with games at Anaheim Friday and L.A. Saturday. They host the Predators Tuesday.

The Canucks wrap up a four-game trip by visiting the Sharks Thursday and the Oilers Saturday. Vancouver hosts New Jersey Tuesday night.

The Oilers have a tough task Thursday night, a visit to Detroit to face the league-leading Red Wings. The Oilers lost the first two meetings between the teams. They return home Saturday to face the Canucks, then host Dallas on Tuesday.

A home-and-home with the Predators highlights the week for the Avalanche, which also will pay a visit to California. Colorado is at Nashville Thursday, and the teams meet again in Denver Saturday. Colorado then visits L.A. Monday and Anaheim Wednesday.


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