Yes, I know it’s early, but the Colorado Avalanche are quickly earning the title of My Favorite Mistake so far in this 2013-14 NHL season. In my personal pre-season predictions, I picked the Avs to finish 12th in the Western Conference, but after four games – including Thursday night’s 2-0 win over the Bruins – they’ve yet to lose. And they’re winning in ways that many people, present company included, didn’t think they could.
Most hockey people I spoke with prior to the season suspected Colorado would be powered by their young core of forwards (including 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog, center Matt Duchene, and forward Ryan O’Reilly) and after they opened the season with a 6-1 thumping of Anaheim, those people believed their suspicions were in the process of being confirmed.
However, in the three games that followed, it was the Avs' defense that stepped up: they allowed only two goals in those games, getting first-rate goaltending from Semyon Varlamov and J-S Giguere and solid performances from their young, still-developing their defense corps. One particular revelation on the blueline has been veteran Andre Benoit: the former Sens d-man is leading all Avs players in average ice time (22:19) and shifts (30.3) and his presence has lessened the load on the rest of the unit.
As well, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the effect head coach Patrick Roy has had on the team. He knows he’s got a lot of blossoming talent up front, but Roy recognizes he has to improve his defense to have any hope of making the playoffs and thus far, he’s got his young forwards helping out in that regard. The victory over the Bruins was by a two-goal margin, but the second goal didn’t come until the final seconds of the third period via an empty-net marker. Roy had his charges playing with poise and resolve. As first impressions go, his couldn’t be better.
There’s every chance the Avs won’t be able to sustain this white-hot start. But they certainly aren’t as far away from being a Stanley Cup contender as some – OK, as I – had suspected.