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Free LCS 1997-98
Reader Hockey Pool
head coach: Marc Crawford
roster: C - Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Stephane Yelle, Jari Kurri. LW - Valeri Kamensky, Rene Corbet, Eric Lacroix. RW - Claude Lemieux, Adam Deadmarsh, Keith Jones, Jeff Odgers, Shean Donovan. D - Sandis Ozolinsh, Sylvain Lefebvre, Uwe Krupp, Adam Foote, Alexei Gusarov, Jon Klemm, Aaron Miller, Eric Messier, Francois Leroux. G - Patrick Roy, Craig Billington.
injuries: Keith Jones, rw (knee, February); Wade Belak, d (shoulder, early February).
transactions: Assigned Marc Denis, g, from Hershey (AHL).
Western Conference - Pacific Division Team GP W L T PTS GF GA Colorado 46 22 9 15 59 139 113 Los Angeles 44 17 19 8 42 122 125 Anaheim 46 15 23 8 38 107 137 San Jose 43 16 22 5 37 104 119 Edmonton 45 14 22 9 37 109 133 Calgary 47 12 25 10 34 117 142 Vancouver 45 12 25 8 32 122 156
12/15 Toronto W 3-2 12/17 Detroit T 2-2 12/19 Pittsburgh T 3-3 12/23 Los Angeles W 5-1 12/27 at Edmonton W 5-1 12/29 Montreal T 1-1 12/31 NY Islanders W 3-1 01/02 at Buffalo T 2-2 01/03 at Pittsburgh W 5-4 OT 01/06 Calgary L 3-1 01/08 Vancouver T 4-4 01/10 Ottawa T 3-3
by Greg D’Avis, Colorado Correspondent
What's with all the ties? During the Avalanche's season-high 10-game unbeaten streak, four of the games were ties; it was enough to make even the most hardened purist beseech the hockey gods to end a game with a shootout, or a skills competition, or a coin flip, or a game of "Life," or anything that would be more exciting than all these damn ties.
At least the Avs were winning most of their other games, making it all at least bearable (except for local newspaper columnists' near-constant joke that the Avalanche would be "getting another tie for Christmas." Har har har.)
After an early-December loss to Calgary led to Coach Marc Crawford severely lambasting his team, the Avs suddenly turned red hot. In particular, the line of Peter Forsberg, Valeri Kamensky and Claude Lemieux went completely insane; Forsberg was leading the league in scoring, and both Lemieux and Kamensky were exhibiting an ability to score goals at will. Not bad.
Forsberg was the story in the Avs' 3-2 victory over Toronto on Dec. 15; he got the game-winner and frequently skated around Toronto defensemen like they were standing still, which, considering the Leafs' defense, is quite possible. On the other end, Craig Billington was fantastic in place of the injured Patrick Roy, and stopped the Leafs on most good chances.
Of course, no one was too interested in the Maple Leafs; not with Detroit making their first visit to Colorado two days later. The last time the two teams played, Lemieux dropped the gloves with constant nemesis Darren McCarty three seconds in; many of the fans were anticipating that they wouldn't last three seconds this time.
Instead of a bloodbath, though, what they got was one of the best hockey games of the season. Lemieux wasn't looking for blood; he was looking to win. He got a gorgeous goal in the second, then, after Detroit rallied in the third to go up 2-1, Lemieux skated around a bunch of Red Wings like he was, well, Forsberg, then took a blast from the point which Forsberg deflected in for the tie. The game was fantastic - lots of hits but not much cheap stuff (including an amazing Forsberg check which knocked Kris Draper flat); good, fast hockey from both teams; lots of passion.
The defensive pairing of Adam Foote and Alexei Gusarov was extremely effective; Foote went toe-to-toe with Brendan Shanahan throughout the game, and the normally-graceful Gusarov laid a savage hit on McCarty, rendering McCarty ineffective the rest of the game. It was a match to make someone proud to be a hockey fan, tie or not. Two great teams, at the top of their game, with a tremendous amount of mutual loathing and respect.
Pittsburgh came in next for a weird game. I'd swear the first period never happened; if it did, as the box scores claim, it was so stultifyingly dull that I've since erased it from my brain. The second period, naturally, was a free-for-all, as all six goals of the 3-3 tie came in the second 20 minutes. Third period was a carbon copy of the first, and as has been the case too many times this year, the OT period didn't actually feature players but rather peanut vendors dressed in hockey jerseys. The big guns - Forsberg and Joe Sakic - took care of the scoring, and a now-healthy Roy returned to the nets.
The Los Angeles Kings have been one of the year's big surprises; no one without the benefit of hallucinogens honestly believed they'd be the Avalanche's closest Pacific Division competition (if a 17-point deficit is considered "close" or "competition"). The Avalanche treated them like the Kings of old, scoring repeatedly on old pal Stephane Fiset in a game that wasn't even as close as the 5-1 final. The highlight unquestionably came when Jari Kurri finally got his long-awaited 600th goal (against one of his former teams, no less); after that, it was all anticlimax. Kamensky returned from an injury to rack up three assists, and his pals Forsberg and Lemieux popped in a few.
After that came a road trip to Edmonton, which is kind of like a trip to Disneyland for the Avalanche; in regular season play, the Oilers haven't beaten the Avalanche since 1936 or so. As they've done so many times, Kamensky and Forsberg abused the Oilers worst of all, registering multi-point games in a chippy rout. In goal, Roy got to nap for the second straight game, as the biggest worry was that disoriented Avalanche players might fire it into their own net.
With four straight games either exciting or well-played, the Avalanche gave their fans a break with a 1-1 tie against Montreal. Sandis Ozolinsh continued to rock on the power play, scoring the Avs' only goal in a game so dull that viewers were left praying for fights. The Roy-vs.-Montreal subplot isn't even interesting anymore, although it's worth noting that ex-Avalanche goalie Jocelyn Thibault finally had a good game against the fellow he was traded for.
I only saw sporadic portions of the Islanders game, coming as it did on New Year's Eve, but hey, it was the Islanders - it's not like there was a lot of suspense. It was actually a pretty good game, as the young Isles gave it their best shot, but the Avalanche put it away with a Claude Lemieux blast. Happy New Year - for the second straight year, Kamensky was injured in a New Year's Eve game.
The next game was a bigger test; going into Buffalo to face the now-white-hot Dominik Hasek. The Avalanche didn't do themselves any favors by getting down 2-0 against a goalie who has, what, 16 shutouts or so each month? But as usual, in a bad situation, Sakic started things off with a power-play goal, followed by a game-tying shot from Mr. Clutch - Lemieux.
Talk about deja vu: last January, the Avalanche played Pittsburgh; got off to a big lead early; blew that lead in the third; then had to rely on a goal from Valeri Kamensky, returing from the injured list, to win it in overtime. This January, the Avalanche played Pittsburgh; got off to a big lead early; blew that lead in the third; then had to rely on a goal from Valeri Kamensky, returing from the injured list, to win it in overtime. The goal gave Kamensky his first hat trick of the season, and provided a good argument that maybe the Avalanche should, say, put him on the disabled list and take him off right before the playoffs.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and the lousy third period against the Penguins was mere foreshadowing of the debacle in Calgary. What is it about the Flames? They stink; they probably are about equal in talent to the Avalanche's Hershey farm club; yet they always torment Colorado. The Avs would probably rather play Detroit without Sakic, Forsberg, Lemieux and Kamensky, and with Hardy Astrom in net, than play the cellar-dwelling Flames. Anyone who can suitably explain this to me gets my everlasting respect. Without going into the gory details, the Avalanche were great in the first and only Dwayne Roloson, managing to look horrible even as he kept the puck out of the net, kept it to 1-0. After that, the Avalanche stunk, and lost, like they always do against the pathetic Flames.
In the next day's practice, Crawford went apoplectic, screaming at the players he judged to have not put forth the requisite effort - everyone except Sakic and Roy, basically, but he especially singled out Forsberg, Kamensky, Kurri, and especially, especially, especially Adam Deadmarsh. Deadmarsh is tough, talented, can score - he led the team in goals last year - but often this year has been invisible. After Crawford told him to go ahead and ask for a trade, because Crawford really didn't care any more, Deadmarsh went out and saved the team the next night, getting a goal in the last moments to eke out a tie against Vancouver in what had previously been "Night of the Bad Goaltending." Kamensky also scored, as did Francois Leroux - Francois Leroux! - getting his first of the season.
Against Ottawa, and the newly-recovered Daniel Alfredsson, the Avs again got into a hole early, giving up a hat trick to Alexei "Leave me off the World team, huh?" Yashin. But the Avalanche rallied again, getting a goal from Ozolinsh and two from Rene Corbet (who had, himself, just returned from the injured list) in the final minutes to get yet another tie.
Keith Jones' return date from a knee injury keeps getting pushed back - now it's late February - but finally there's some good news. He skated without pain for an hour before the Ottawa game, first time he's done that, and word is that he may be back before the Olympics. The Avalanche could use him; on Sakic's right side, he gives the Avalanche two legitimate scoring lines and takes a lot of pressure off Deadmarsh. He's also another tough, scrappy guy. Hurry back, Jonesy.
The Avalanche have a lot of players on the Jan. 18 All-Star rosters, but they'll be facing off due to the weird new "North America vs. the World" format. Roy was voted to the North American team, and Sakic was added as a reserve; on the World side, Ozolinsh and Forsberg were voted in, Kamensky was added as a reserve (his first All-Star appearance) and Kurri was a special addition by Commissioner Gary Bettman.
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