Nothing irritates me more than people talking about their team and their chance at making the playoffs with more than three months left in the season. In fact, the thing that runs through my mind is that clip of Jim Mora saying, “Playoffs (an octave higher than usual), you want to talk about playoffs.” Now a famous beer commercial, Mora had the right idea at that press conference. There is too much that can happen, especially in hockey, with more than half of the season left to play. With that said, I am going to take another angle and say why January is the perfect month for the Avalanche to gain ground in the Western Conference.
Currently Colorado is wavering between 8th and 9th place in the West with 45 points. In order to move up in the standings the Avalanche need to capitalize on their January schedule. The Avs play three teams that may give them fits; Chicago, Minnesota and Florida. Other than that their schedule is full of very winnable games.
The key for Colorado’s success is to glide with the momentum they created in December. Being virtually unbeatable at home and coming away with some hard fought games on the road, the young Avalanche team definitely matured. The team certainly had to grow-up after losing one of their top producers in Duchene.
One key player that has answered the call is goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov played an amazing game against the Kings in Los Angeles stopping all but one shot in a 2-1 game the Avs won by shootout. With Colorado taking too many “dumb” penalties and a shaky defense that is getting somewhat better as time goes on, Varlamov is going to be a player that the Avalanche must rely on night after night.
Two players that seem to find themselves around the goalmouth are Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog. These two Avs seem to have a knack for accumulating points. O’Reilly is on track to have a career year and Landeskog is proving to be a very welcome addition to the Colorado roster. With the Avs missing Duchene for at least 4 weeks, these two skaters need to keep producing on a nightly basis if Colorado wants to move up in the Western Conference.
The bottom-line is this; if the Avalanche want to improve their standing in the Western Conference they need to keep up their momentum. Posting a record of 10-5 in December, Colorado really turned up the heat in the second half of the month. After winning 6 out of 7 games starting on December 18, Colorado’s only loss came on the heels of a road game that took a lot out of the Avs. Carrying that momentum into January will be key if the Avalanche want to move up in the West. January will undoubtedly be a make or break month for Colorado. If the Avalanche can continue playing at consistent high-level, they absolutely have an opportunity to improve their chance at, I can’t believe I am saying this, making the playoffs.
Follow AJ Olivieri on Twitter @olivieriaj