Avalanche on the Defensive

By Derek Kessinger

Resident Avalanche tough guy defenseman, Shane O’Brien, is set to return tonight. The new guy on the blue line for the Avalanche has arguably been their best defenseman, as far as bringing toughness to the team. O’Brien went down in the Avs 4-1 loss to St. Louis. Since that time, the Avs have won one out of four games.

Avalanche Defenseman Shane O'Brien set to return to the lineup tonight.

Figuring out who Coach Sacco should sit for the Avs in O’Brien’s place is a huge problem. While the Avalanche have not been phenomenal on the blue line, their size has been a huge advantage the last several years. The Avalanche already have six viable defensemen on the roster. This defense has been responsible for 18 goals in five games.

Ryan Wilson has come back from an injury and continued to play well for the Avalanche. When healthy, he has been the team’s most consistent defenseman, the only one with a positive plus/minus rating of plus 4. He also has 14 points.

Joining Wilson in consistency is Ryan O’Byrne. I almost never notice O’ Byrne, which can be a good thing for defenseman but on the this Avs team, you would think a defenseman would be noticeable. However, O’Byrne has played every game this season and is even in the plus/minus category. O’Byrne does his job well every night but is not much of a scorer.

Jan Hejda and Erik Johnson seem secure in their roster spots for the moment because of the amount of money the team has invested in both of them. Johnson has 17 points but still constantly hurts the team with turnovers. He still needs to work on his defensive game to be an asset to the team. Hejda’s size just does not help the defenseman enough. It may slow him up. He is a club worst at-15, while Johnson is tied for second at -11.

This leaves two spots for Shane O’Brien to steal. The first is Kyle Quincey’s, who has not played at the same level since his return from injury. The scoring defenseman is a -2 with only three points since returning to the line-up on December 29th. The other spot is rookie defenseman Stefan Elliott’s.  Elliott does not have a point since 2012 began and his defensive play hurts the team at times.

Personally, I would hold Elliott out of the line-up tonight and see how the other defenseman play. He still has a lot to learn and should be held out if he’s hurting the team.

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