Despite Tuesday night's loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Colorado Avalanche are still in a very good position to make a run for the playoffs. They are currently in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, one point behind the aforementioned Wild, who sit in the eighth and final playoff position. With 51 games in the books, the Avs will have 31 more contests to hopefully end the regular season on a high note.
Perhaps the biggest key to the Avs' success going forward is to turn their divisional record around. They currently hold a 2-9 divisional record. That leaves 13 games remaining against divisional opponents. The Avs absolutely must find a way to win games within the Northwest Division if they hope to be in the playoff hunt come March and April. Every team in the division, Vancouver, Calgary, Minnesota, and Edmonton always seems to play the Avs tough, but the Avs must persevere and earn two points in meetings with these rivals.
Although no professional player or coach will ever use injuries as an excuse, there's no question that they can greatly affect a team. If you ask a coach or player, they will tell you that the team must persevere with its healthy players and that good teams have depth and can be successful regardless of injuries. While that is certainly true, the fact remains that if your best players are out, they are your best players for a reason and cannot truly be replaced. The Penguins made a valiant run last year in the playoffs without superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but were eventually overtaken in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, Crosby's concussion issues have carried over to this season and the Penguins are not the same team without him. Similarly, the Avs are not the same team without Matt Duchene. Hopefully Duchene can return from his knee injury and play at a high level that can help propel the Avs into the playoffs.
Obviously, you cannot prepare for injuries and they are inevitable, but you can certainly hope to keep the injury bug at bay because a healthy Avalanche team could go a long way. Peter Mueller's sustained health could also provide a big boost to this club during the stretch run as forward depth has been an issue all season long.
As obvious as this may sound, your best players have to be your best players. It has sort have become cliche in professional sports, but it certainly rings true. Players who are supposed to be the team's leaders and best players have to play like it in important situations. Captain Milan Hejduk, alternate captains Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson, and Matt Duchene will all have to play good hockey for the Avalanche to be a successful squad.
Another cliche that rings true is that a team is only as strong as its goaltender. Over the next 31 games, the Avs will need both the young and talented Semyon Varlamov and the reliable veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere to play well. Both goalies will get their chances to shine and the Avs will need them both to perform.
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