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Behind Enemy Lines: Struggling Colorado Avalanche on the verge of major changes

The last place team in the NHL visits Raleigh for the only time this season

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, there is really no sugar-coating it: the Colorado Avalanche have been the worst team in the NHL this season.

It’s not even close. Their 32 points are the worst in the league and they are a full 15 points behind the Arizona Coyotes for the coveted 29th place in the NHL standings. That being said, that doesn’t mean this is a team devoid of talent. Young goal-scorers Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are part of a younger core, which also includes defenseman Tyson Barrie, that could prove fruitful if not surrounded by such a poor supporting cast.

Perhaps some of that fruit will be bared in other locations as well. Rumors of a potential Matt Duchene trade have continued to swirl as the season itself continues to spin further out of control in the Rocky Mountains. While competing and gaining two important points in the standings is the top priority of the evening at PNC Arena, perhaps you should also keep an eye on Duchene and Landeskog, as if you were test driving a vehicle. Surely the Hurricanes front office will be looking forward to this in-person audition in Raleigh.

To get down into exactly why the Avalanche have been so futile this season, you need only look at two stats which make it crystal clear: 1) 30th in the league in goals scored with 109 on the season. 2) 28th in the league in goals against with 186. Simply put, this is a team that can’t score and can’t stop others from scoring on them.

Obviously this is an oversimplification, but sometimes there is no need to dig deeper. No need to pinpoint an lack of secondary scoring, chronic bad goaltending, or poor work on the blueline. No, this team has been deficient in all categories. Power Play? 29th in the league at a meager 14.88%. Penalty Kill? 25th at just 77.83%. They have been outscored, by wide margins, in all three periods throughout the season.

If you are looking for a bright spot, I suppose the five overtime wins to only one overtime loss (and one shootout loss) will have to suffice. This is a team that has become completely rudderless, and unquestionably has players wondering and perhaps hoping they will be in a different uniform before the pending trade deadline.

In terms of recent action, there also is very little to give the Avs hope. They are coming off of playing last night in Buffalo, a game which they lost by a 2-0 score - which could have been much worse if not for goalie Calvin Pickard making a few spectacular saves and the Sabres missing a few golden opportunities. The loss was the Avs’ fifth straight, extending a streak in which they haven’t scored more than two goals. Extended further, the Avs are 2-13-1 over their previous 16 games.

But enough statistics, let us be clear, a game such as tonight is an absolute must win for a team that has any serious aspirations for staying in the playoff fray. Without further ado, let us turn our attention to things we should look for in tonight’s tilt.

What to Watch For

  • Landeskog and Duchene. These guys might look pretty good in Red and Black, but tonight it is up to the likes of Jordan Staal, Jaccob Slavin and Justin Faulk to zero in and eliminate their offense from the game. Take these guys away and there is little else that can hurt you this evening.
  • Jarome Iginla is actually still in the league, and plays for Colorado. Perhaps he continues next season, but if not, this could be the final time in Raleigh for the future Hall of Famer.
  • Early rust could be a factor. The record for teams coming off the bye week in the NHL has been terrible thus far (3-9-1). The Canes need to break that trend. Not allowing a poor team to build a lead is the best way to accomplish that.
  • Finally, to go along with the rust factor, look for the Canes to try and establish a more physical game early tonight. This is not the typical M.O. for the Canes, but using physicality instead of the more cute, finer plays is a good idea as you try to re-insert yourselves into a playoff race.