NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

Avs Q&A With Anthrax Jones And MileHighHockey’s Ryan Murphy

Yes, we made the mistake of letting Anthrax out of his cage. It happens from time to time. Ryan was kind enough to share a space with Thrax, which is more than 99% of the populace is willing to do. From tomorrow night’s program:

Since the Avs shutout the Hawks here last time, they’ve gone 5-2-1 which means they’re 10-4-1 since December 1st. Is this real or just a spike of good fortune?

Murphy: This is real. Despite their defensive shortcomings (especially with Erik Johnson out a couple of weeks), the Avalanche were never as bad as they were in November when they were trying to integrate a big chunk of new players onto the roster and losing an improbable amount of close games. Carl Soderberg, Blake Comeau, Francois Beauchemin, and Andreas Martinsen are now making important contributions on a nightly basis and have added a supplementary presence the core group badly needed. What we’ve seen since December is a market correction. Many of us predicted a borderline playoff team at the beginning of the year, and that’s right where they are now 41 games in.

Anthrax: When I was in high school, I got a puppy. Cutest little guy in the world, sweet face, big brown eyes. Problem with this dog was, he was impossible to train. Deuces dropped all over the house, pissing in the corner of the living room, it was awful. Then, finally, one day, it’s like something clicked! The dog is waiting by the door to go outside, I let him out, he goes out and drops corona-corona in the yard, like a Good Boy. I was thrilled! The next day, I woke up, and I couldn’t find my car keys. Do you see where this is going? The dog ate my car keys. Surgery for the dog, the dumbass.

Are the Avs gonna eat my car keys? Probably. I’m gullible though, so I have hope.

And yet during that timeframe, the Avs are the 2nd worst possession team in the league, only ahead of Vancouver (which is really funny). Are Roy and Sakic ever going to “get” this problem?

It’s been fascinating to listen to the language Patrick Roy uses to describe on-ice success evolve during his tenure. In interviews, he now uses words like shots-at-the-net for offense evaluation and shot suppression for defense evaluation. He’s starting to get it and I think the offseason hiring of Assistant GM Chris McFarland has quite a bit to do with this revelation. That said, Patrick Roy is forever a goalie and he is perfectly content to put the entire game on Semyon Varlamov’s shoulders as soon as they get an early lead (and they’ve had quite a few). Colorado’s possession metrics are heavily skewed by 2nd Periods with one or two-goal leads. Would I like to see this ridiculous clam-shell tactic cease? Of course, but it’s currently winning games and the team is pretty middle-of-the-pack possession wise in other score situations. This team is steadily improving in this area.

Until they decide the problem is actually a problem, probably not. Roy expects his goalie to be a magic eraser, like he was, and Varlamov (and occasionally Cal Pickard, and VERY occasionally Reto Berra) usually obliges. It’s a different looking team though, even if the #fancystats numbers aren’t there. As I write this, they’re outshooting and outchancing Nashville and their new baby boy Ryan Joe Hanson.

Iggy finally got his 600th, but we don’t hear much about him these days. What’s his stint as an Av been like?

Iginla had a very slow start in 2014-15 before turning on the gas and putting 29 pucks in the net. This season we’re seeing some real signs of the 38-year old showing age. He’s put up more consistent goal scoring totals so far (11 through 41 games), but he’s not keeping up with younger skaters anymore. Patrick Roy’s solution has been to stick him with the similarly struggling and aging Alex Tanguay on a 3rd line and protect them from defensive zone faceoffs as much as possible. The results are still brutal. Iginla trails all Avalanche skaters in CF% who get meaningful playing time. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and we’re really lucky to see milestones like his 600th goal, but his play is becoming a difficult problem for the team.

I’m probably the worst person to ask, because I’ve been an Iginla fanboy since, oh, the first time I saw him play. Last season, he had maybe the quietest 29 goal season a slam-dunk Hall of Famer has ever had. He’s already up to 12 this season, so he could push for 25, which isn’t too shabby for a 38 year old middle-six forward. He’s old, he’s slow, he doesn’t get open like he used to, but it never gets old seeing Jarome friggin Iginla wearing my favorite team’s jersey. It’s the hockey version of hooking up with the Prom Queen at your 20 year class reunion.

Why is Gabriel Landeskog such a red ass?

Who knows, because there is no more friendly and engaging personality in the NHL off the ice. Part of me thinks he’s trying too hard to embody someone else’s idea of what a captain should be. It lead to a lot of dumb penalties early in the year and a three-game suspension for a hit on fellow red ass Brad Marchand. I think most Avalanche fans would like Landeskog’s captain style to evolve more in the way of a Jonathan Toews and less in the style of Dustin Brown.

What, do you think it’s EASY being the most handsome man in the NHL?

The kid has always had a gritty element to his game, and given the Avs’ decided lack of hard-o at the top of their lineup, I’d bet he’s been encouraged to let his salty side shine through by his coach, who himself wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet. He’s a strange player to watch 75 times a year, because some nights you see Angry Marian Hossa, and other nights you see Pretty Scott Hartnell. It’s his 5th year in the league, and there’s plenty of time for some consistency to develop, but right now, from night to night, you don’t really know which Landeskog you’re gonna see.

Not that anyone believes it, but the Avs sit only two points behind the final wild card spot in the West. Could they nab it in April?

Right before I sat down to write this, I read a Sports Illustrated article that stated, “The Avalanche are a six-game skid waiting to happen.” Well, yeah — they are. But they’re also a six-game winning streak waiting to happen. This team rides an emotional roller coaster and players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are good enough to carry the team on any given night. Combine that kind of offensive talent with a hot goalie and anything can happen. I think a lot of the Avalanche’s fate rests in how the other borderline teams in the Central Division perform. It will be interesting to see how Nashville does with Ryan Johansen because that’s the only team I see the Avs catching. It’s a tough road ahead.

I’m not getting my hopes up, not in this division.

HOWEVA

The Avs’ record in the division right now is 8-2-1, pending the outcome of this Nashville game, and we’ve burned through most of our Eastern Conference schedule. If this team can continue to storm through #ConferenceIII, it’s gonna make things interesting for the allegedly “better” 3-4-5 teams in the division. I can tell you one thing: Dallas hasn’t beaten us since Bill Clinton was in office, so they’re one team that definitely doesn’t want to see us slide in.

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