What ever happened to the depth?
Coming into the Avalanche/Detroit series, all the talk was how the
Avalanche's depth simply couldn't match up to the Red Wings. And for
two games, they were right; particularly in Game Two, the Avalanche
seemed far more interested in racking up stupid penalties than, say,
playing defense. But with a few new additions and a new lease on
life, Colorado went flat-out wild.
Stephane Yelle went down with a knee injury in the final game of the
San Jose series - he's expected to miss the entire Detroit series -
and he's been a huge loss. The loss of the Avalanche's top penalty
killer forced Dale Hunter up to the third line for the first two
games, and that was a mess. The third and fourth lines were basically
useless; pundits called the fourth line of Warren Rychel, Jeff Odgers
and Shean Donovan the "IHL Line". Hunter appeared to be intent on
setting a record for ill-timed high-sticks (only teammate Peter
Forsberg, who played the first two games in a blind rage, could give
him any competition), and Detroit was able to key on the Avalanche's
stars and shut them down.
What A Difference A Russian Makes
Then, for Game Three, Valeri Kamensky made his first appearance with
the Avalanche in two months, since his arm was broken by Enemy of
Humanity (and Red Wing) Kirk Maltby. While Kamensky hasn't set the
world on fire since coming back - two points in three games - his
impact can't be overstated. He's outplayed the Red Wings' vaunted
Russian crew, and his presence allowed coach Bob Hartley to move Adam
Deadmarsh to the third line with Shjon Podein and Chris Drury and
Hunter back to the fourth - with fantastic results. Since Kamensky's
return, the third line has been hot, particularly Deadmarsh, and the
fourth line has even chipped in a couple of goals. So the Red Wings
can still key on the first line of Joe Sakic, Theo Fleury and Milan
Hejduk, as they've done with success, but now the Avalanche have two
more scoring-threat lines instead of just one.
Meanwhile, add a Russian, lose a Russian. The Red Wings have had to
live without smart, experienced center Igor Larionov, replacing him
with Brent Gilchrist - not a good trade-off. And the Red Wings'
much-ballyhooed depth hasn't paid off; no goals from Brendan Shanahan,
Darren McCarty, Martin Lapointe, Sergei Fedorov.
For the third straight year (and, admittedly, last year it was
nothing to brag about), Aaron Miller has been the Avalanche's best
defenseman in the playoffs. He's leading the league at +10, chipped
in a bit offensively, but most of all, just been a steady, strong
presence. This year, Avalanche fans have seem him evolve from a
seventh defenseman into a blueline leader, and that's continued in
Other Avs deserve notes. Deadmarsh has been fantastic, Forsberg has
played well after being out for blood in the first two games, Adam
Foote and Sylvain Lefebvre have been steady, and while they haven't
been scoring as much, the line of Fleury, Sakic and Hejduk have
kept the Red Wings on their toes and worn them out. And, of course,
Patrick Roy has been great.
There's still at least one game left, and no one expects the Red
Wings to lie down and die. But, thus far, the Avalanche have put to
rest the concerns that surrounded this team coming in.