With the news that star left winger Ryan Smyth will miss the next eight weeks with an ankle injury, collars in Colorado have gotten considerably tighter. While Smyth’s absence on its own does not spell doom, don’t forget franchise cornerstone Joe Sakic will miss another two months (he’s been out since Nov. 30) after having sports hernia surgery.
That leaves the Avalanche minus about 30 years of NHL experience going into what will be the most crucial portion of its schedule. Columbus, St. Louis and even the upstart Phoenix Coyotes are nipping at Colorado’s heels in the Western Conference standings and the Avs learned last season what happens when you try to do all your winning in the last month of a campaign.
Without a serious goaltending pedigree in town, Colorado’s playoff hopes – which looked practically radiant in the summer – now fall on the shoulders of one happy-go-lucky fellow: Paul Stastny.
Sure, the Avs get solid contributions from the likes of veterans Andrew Brunette and Milan Hejduk, but it is Stastny who leads the team in points by a wide margin (44 to Hejduk’s 30) and Stastny who has the highest ceiling for stardom.
The American-Canadian-Slovakian, along with fellow youngster Wojtek Wolski, who leads the team in game-winning goals with four on the year, is clearly the future in Denver. Naturally, this season was supposed to be the beginning of the passing-of-the-torch phase, not a trial-by-fire one, but circumstances being what they are, it’s time for Stastny and Wolski to man up.
Can they do it? Stastny has already won several games practically by himself, but still pinballs between multi-point massacres and goose eggs on the scoresheet. When he’s scoring, he’s deadly. When he isn’t, he’s usually a minus player.
Of course, up until now, he’s never been expected to be The Man. With two of Canada’s favorite sons on the shelf for the long-term, it’s time for Stastny to rock the Colorado mountains on another level. Otherwise, it’ll be another cold summer in Denver.
Did you see how mad Toronto’s Darcy Tucker was at the beginning of his fight with Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu last night? His face was so red he looked like a grape!
How do you get so mad when you deliver the bodycheck that starts the fight?
Good bout, though.
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