Sunday, February 11, 2007

It’s an epidemic….

That’s right folks; there is an epidemic in Denver. I know what you’re thinking. No, it’s not Bird Flu or Ebola….It is however much worse and possibly lethal. That’s right, I know it’s terrible, but is seems that both the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Pioneers have contracted Inablitiytowinitis…symptoms include blowing multi-point leads, goalie carousels, flat and/or uninspired play, losses to “weak” teams, and ultimately an inability to win games.

Last Saturday was easily the most frustrating day of my life, here’s the scoop: I began the day by watching the Colorado Avalanche play the Edmonton Oilers. After heading in the second period with a 1-0 lead over the Oilers, the Avalanche come out flat allowing the Oilers to take control of the game by scoring 3 unanswered goals. In the second, Ales Hemsky scored to tie, then in the third Ryan “The Mullet” Smyth and Shawn “I don’t look old enough to have played 400 games in the NHL but this was my 400th” Horcoff scored 30 seconds apart. Joe Sakic scored with 30 seconds remaining after Peter Budaj was pulled but Super Joe can’t do it all and the Avs lost 3-2 on their home ice.

What made this loss so frustrating was that Budaj allowed two very soft goals and the team just didn’t play. They reminded me of the peewee teams that are often showcased during intermissions with the caliber of play. Here’s where I’m gonna pull out my soapbox, Budaj is not ready to be a starting goaltender. He often has poor positioning as well as his inability to properly read the play. The issue that I’ve seen throughout this season is that it seems the team plays better defensively in from of Budaj because he is a back-up caliber goalie, whereas in front of Theodore, the team takes defense for granted. I believe that a goalie is a last line of defense as well as a big play maker. The team must play well defensively to support the goalie, while the goalie must do his best to “come up big” on the shots that are impossible for the defense to stop. It’s clear the defense is not doing their job when Theodore faces 42 shots. Granted, Theodore is not doing his job when he allows 4 goals on those 42 shots but regardless I think Coach Quenneville should take a serious look at his strategy for goalie management. Admittedly last year was far worse, having seen 4 goalies play for the Avs. However, at the current rate, the Avs are on pace for 41 wins, 28 losses, and 7 OT losses.

The rest of the games this week were pretty dismal as well, but it didn’t start that way. The Avs hosted the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, pulling out an amazing come-from-behind 5-4 OT win. Thursday saw the Avs fall to the Atlanta Thrashers in a 6-3 tilt at the Pepsi Center. Today the Avs met the Dallas Stars, losing 5-7 in another frustratiting game. Oddly enough 4 goalies played in this game, Budaj having been relieved by Theodore and (Fat Ass) Turco being relieved by Mike Smith.

On the DU side, the Pioneers seem to be losing control of their season. Last Saturday saw the Pios lose to the basement dwelling Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 6-4. The Pioneers allowed 3 PP goals and 2 shorthanded goals. Senior goalie Glenn Fisher made 21 saves in the loss, which, in my opinion, was a consequence of terrible defense. With Cody Brookwell out for the weekend with a sprained knee, DU only 4 viable defensemen to use, Adrian Veideman, Andrew Thomas, Chris Butler, and Keith Seabrook. While Julian Marcuzzi and Zach Blom both dressed, they can’t really be called viable d-men as they are some of DU’s greatest liabilities. While I hate to admit it, I think the loss of TJ Fast has hurt the D-corp in that DU no longer has 3 full lines to work with.

Besides the poor play of some of our defensemen, the forwards really need to step up and think better defensively. This can be seen in looking at who was on the ice during the two shorthanded goals. Trotter, Dingle, Ruegsegger, Rakhshani, and Butler are currently serving as DU’s first Power Play unit as the team has struggled with scoring on the man advantage. However, these 5 players were on the ice for both of UMD’s shorthanded goals. While it’s true that these 5 also happen to be the team’s leading scorers, it’s a matter for concern that only Rakhshani ended the evening not on the minus side.

This weekend things got a little worse. DU traveled to Houghton, MI to face the Michigan Tech Huskies. Friday night saw the Pioneers lose 2-1. Peter Mannino made 14 saves in the loss. The bright spot of the night was that Patrick Mullen, who has not scored a goal since December 9 against Minnesota State, scored the only goal for DU. Saturday was only slightly better as the game ended in a 4-4 tie. Peter Mannino once again got the nod as starting goalie. DU blew a 2 goal lead in the first, allowing a PP and even strength goal. They regained the lead in the second on the Power Play, only to lose it once again on a soft goal 20 seconds after Brock Trotter scored. Shortly thereafter, Peter Mannino was pulled in favor of Glenn Fisher. However, it looked like Tech was going to pull out the win when Malcolm Gwilliam’s (I really love his last name…) wrist shot “trickled past” Fisher 10 minutes in to the third period. Then Chris Butler blasted a puck from the neutral zone, surprising the Tech goalie to tie the game. The Pioneers were unable to capitalize on an OT power play, leading to the tie.

My theory for why both the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Pioneers have contracted terrible cases of Inabilitytowinitis: they watch each other play too much! Having been to several Avalanche games this season, it never fails that there are at least 5 DU players at the Pepsi Center during any given home game. Concordantly, on several occasions Avalanche players (Wojtek Wolski, Brett McLean, Brad Richardson, John-Michael Liles, and former Pioneers Paul Stastny and Mark Rycroft) have been spotted in Magness Arena. Several months ago, the Denver Sports Guide featured a great article centered on the relationship between the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Pioneers. It’s quick an interesting read that I highly recommend. My question is, are they too close? Do they share each others’ pitfalls and strengths because of their relationship? Maybe I’m making things up, but these teams seem almost identical to me…