COMMENTARY | All the NHL buzz is about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The Colorado Avalanche have four players who will represent four different countries at the Olympics. Semyon Varlamov will represent Russia, Gabe Landeskog Sweden, Matt Duchene Canada and, of course, Paul Stastny for the U.S. Naturally, the Avs are proud of these Sochi-bound players.
However, the Avalanche have hockey business as usual until the Olympic break. The Avs also have a playoff run to gear up for. I don't think I'm going out on a limb predicting the Colorado Avalanche will make the playoffs. Heck, when interviewed for being the first star of the Buffalo Sabre's game, Avalanche rookie Nathan MacKinnon, in teenage exuberance, started talking about winning the Stanley Cup already!
The Avs have four road games before the Olympics break. The four Olympians may already be Sochi-dreaming, but the Avalanche need some production out of them first.
Varlamov may be the most excited of the bunch, barring Matt Duchene, since he's representing the host country at the Olympics. In fact, Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby, who played for Team Canada in the 2010 Olympics in Canada, talked about using that excitement. He told NHL.com's Dan Rosen, "I know for a fact that in Vancouver we used that energy to our advantage. It was a big boost being at home."
Granted, Varlamov's not an excitable sort. What the Avs don't need is for him to suddenly get butterflies about the upcoming Olympics and let that affect his goal tending. In fact, they need Varlamov to tighten up his play. He's maintained an even .92 save percentage for most of the season - 5th in the NHL. However, that percentage has fluctuated between .818 and .964 in the last five. The Avs will take the .96 percent and run, but the .818 and even .886 are not fabulous.
Varlamov let in seven goals in two games before stopping 27 of 28 shots in the game against Buffalo. He'll play at least two games of the upcoming four - the Avs need that tighter play from him. After all, the Colorado Avalanche just rewarded Semyon Varlamov with a lucrative five-year contract extension worth $29.5 million. They deserve to get what they're paying for.
Duchene, who is an excitable sort, is psyched about making the Olympics. He stated during a post-game press conference, "Other than getting drafted to the Avalanche, I think it's the biggest compliment for my career. It feels awesome. I feel so honored and humbled."
What the Avalanche need from him is simple - they need for him to break out of his goal-scoring slump. It's true that he's been recording assists, which are very important. He's top of the team in points. He's currently at a +5. But the Avs need him to be the goal-scoring machine he's capable of being. He only scored one goal in all of January. That's very un-Duchene-like.
It's only a matter of time. Color analyst Peter McNab stated he's happened upon Duchene after practice, long after the others have left, just shooting pucks at the net. The Avs just need him to sink some in before the Olympic break. Personally, I predict he's going to fire up the rockets in his skates and earn a hat trick in one of the games - pucks go in for Matt Duchene.
Truthfully, the Avs just need Landeskog to maintain the status quo. He's solid. He's second on the team in points. He's at an impressive +12. He earned two goals in the game against Buffalo and has seven points in the last five games.
Landeskog is a player with European finesse in his game. Yet he has adapted himself to the more aggressive style of North American hockey, much in the way of Peter Forsberg back in the day. As such, he's just as valuable as our formerly favorite Swede. (Ok, we probably like them equally -right?)
Landeskog is also a strong leader. So, the Avalanche need him to do absolutely nothing different in the next four - and to come home healthy from Sochi.
The Avs need Paul Stastny to get - and stay - healthy. Stastny missed two games in November with back spasms. He missed two games with a leg injury mid-January. Now he's day-to-day with an ankle injury he sustained when colliding with other players during the Minnesota Wild game. He missed Satruday's game against Buffalo. In fact, the Colorado Avalanche recognized the four Olympics-bound players in a pre-game ceremony. Landeskog, Duchene and Varlamov all skated onto the ice behind their country's flags. Stastny had to be content with walking a little ways out on a red carpet when his name was called. He did not look happy.
The Avs are not happy without him. Sure, they've shown time and again they can win no matter who is - or isn't - in the lineup this season. But Stastny's a points-scorer. He's a leader. The Avs need him to get healthy before Sochi and stay healthy while there.
The Sochi-bound Avalanche players may be gearing up for Olympics ice hockey. The Avs just need them to stay focused on Colorado Avalanche hockey for four more games.
Nadia Archuleta is a native Coloradan and professional writer. An Avalanche fan since their beginnings, she has a sports blog, Hockeygrrls on Blogger, and writes content for several websites.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- Colorado Avalanche
- Paul Stastny
- Semyon Varlamov
- Matt Duchene
- the Avalanche