After a day off yesterday, in which the Avalanche players got to enjoy the Super Bowl like the rest of us (unless you're a Patriots fan), they took to the ice for practice today with a slightly new-look roster. Stefan Elliott is gone and in his place is Tyson Barrie, the 20-year-old defenseman who was enjoying a very successful season in Lake Erie before his call-up to Colorado on Saturday. Barrie will likely be in the lineup tomorrow when the Avalanche host the Chicago Blackhawks.
Tomorrow night's game will certainly be a big one for the rookie defenseman who will be looking to make a strong first impression in his regular season NHL debut, but it will also be a big game for the entire Avalanche team, who has lost five games in a row. Despite the five consecutive one-goal losses, the Avs still find themselves alive in the playoff hunt. They currently sit only three points behind Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff seed. They are one point behind the ninth place Dallas Stars but also only one point ahead of the 11th and 12th place Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes. Needless to say, there are many teams alive and battling for those coveted playoff spots. The Avs have been a streaky team all year and will need to end their current losing streak if they hope to stay in the picture.
Even though the Avs have not earned a win since January 21st in Los Angeles, there are still some positives to take out of the last few games. For the most part, the Avs have played well and it's just been the occassional turnover or bad play that leads to an opposing goal and ultimately a loss. The last two games especially, the Avs played very well and probably deserved to win. The Avs have not been dominated or outclassed, they've just been finding ways to lose. Obviously, this must change very quickly and effectively for them to be a playoff team.
Beginning tomorrow, the Avs will get a chance to get away from Northwest Division opponents, whom the Avs have still not found ways to beat, recently going 0-3-1 against Minnesota (twice), Edmonton, and Vancouver. Tomorrow night, the Avs will host the Chicago Blackhawks, a very good team from a very good Central Division. If the playoff started today, the Central Division would boast four of its five teams in the playoffs (Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago). The 'Hawks however, have been on a bit of a skid of late, going 0-4-1 in their last five, similarly to the Avs. Both teams should come out angry tomorrow and hungry to reverse their losing ways. The Avs have the edge in the season series against Chicago at 2-1, but the 'Hawks have plenty of offensive firepower in their superstars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa. In addition to hopefully providing an offensive spark, Tyson Barrie will have to be reliable in the Avs' defensive end as well.
The Avalanche will end their homestand on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes before embarking on a four game road trip starting Saturday in St. Louis.
Today marks exactly three weeks until the NHL trade deadline. With the Avs currently where they are in the standings, it is still too early to tell whether or not they will be buyers or sellers come the 27th. Either way, I do expect them to make a move. Possible candidates to be traded are defensemen Kyle Quincey, Shane O'Brien, Matt Hunwick, and Ryan Wilson. Forward David Jones could also be moved and Paul Stastny's name always comes up in the trade rumors, but with his salary and status as a top-line center, a deal for Stastny would have to be a big one. The Avs could use a top-line winger as their depth at forward has been tested and exposed all year and former Avalanche wingers Chris Stewart and Wojtek Wolski are rumored to be on the trade block. Obtaining a first round pick in this year's draft would also be ideal as the Avs are currently without one after the Varlamov acquisition.