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Angélique Murray writes  for the Colorado Avalanche blog, Mile High Hockey.  You can follow Mile High Hockey on Twitter @MileHighHockey.

Colorado Avalanche Mid-Season Review

The Colorado Avalanche entered the 2010-11 season hoping to improve on their eighth place finish from the previous year. Despite sneaking into the playoffs and giving the San Jose Sharks a tough series, before succumbing to them in six games, the Avalanche had a relatively quiet off-season. Their major acquisition was obtaining forward Daniel Winnik, for a fourth round pick in 2012, from the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Avalanche entered the second year of their rebuild relying on the continued development of their young players. Yet, the club suffered an early set back due to the injury of forward Peter Mueller. Mueller was concussed in a pre-season contest and has yet to suit up for a game this season for the Avs.

Yet, despite the loss of Mueller, the Avs have had little trouble scoring, with a goals for average of 3.22 per game (which ranks fourth in the NHL as of January 17, 2011). Furthermore, Colorado’s power play is running at a 20.0 percent clip, which is currently ninth best in the league. Where the Avs have had problems is keeping pucks out of their own net.

Colorado has given up an average of 3.18 goals per game and currently sports the third worst penalty kill at 77.3 percent. What’s perplexing is that Colorado is excellent killing penalties on the road at 87.3 percent, which is third best in the league. Yet, they have the worst home penalty kill at 69.1 percent.

The club is clinging to the eighth spot in the Western Conference with a record of 23-16-6 (through 45 games); which is in part due to a reduction in quality goaltending and injuries. Last season, Craig Anderson was easily the most valuable player for the Avalanche, but entering an important contract year, his play has slipped. Anderson was coming off a season in which he had a goals against average of 2.64 and save percentage of 0.917.

This year, Anderson is sporting a 2.98 goals against average and 0.908 save percentage. While the defense for the Avalanche is considered mediocre at best, they are giving up one fewer shot per game compared to last season (from 32.1 to 31.1). Backup Peter Budaj, who has started 22 games (more than last season due to an injury to Anderson), has a goals against average of 3.12 and save percentage of 0.896.

While goaltending and defense have been a concern, the Avalanche have also been hit by the injury bug. Only forward Matt Duchene and defenseman John-Michael Liles have suited up for every Avalanche game this season. Power forward Chris Stewart missed 21 games after breaking his hand in a fight. Colorado also missed forward TJ Galiardi for a several games and has lost defenseman Kyle Quincey for the season due to a shoulder injury.

The team expects defenseman Kyle Cumiskey to return to the lineup shortly after suffering a concussion. The club did appear to avoid a major disaster as forward Ryan O’Reilly spilled into the boards in a recent game against the Minnesota Wild. It was feared the second year forward would be lost for the season, but could return to the team in a matter of weeks.

Offense has been the name of the game this season for the Avalanche. Forward Matt Duchene leads the club in scoring after the midway point and has been invited to participate in the 2011NHL All-Star Game.  Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny have also contributed to the Avalanche offensive attack significantly this season.

Defenseman John-Michael Liles is poised to surpass his best offensive season of 2005-06, in which he had 49 points. Rookie Kevin Shattenkirk got off to a raring start offensively for the Avalanche. While the defenseman has cooled off, he has contributed 20 points in 33 games for Colorado.

The Avalanche have been perhaps the most active club in the league this season when it comes to trades. The club has made three trades during the season, which have had varying results. The Avalanche gave up recent 2010 third round draft pick, Michael Bournival, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for defenseman Ryan O’Byrne. Often a healthy scratch for the Canadiens, O’Byrne was in need of change of scenery, and a chance to play, and the Avs were able to offer that opportunity.

O’Byrne has brought a steady presence on the blue line for the Avs since his arrival and the defensive defenseman has a team high plus 13 rating for the club. Colorado’s second transaction involved the exchange of defensive prospect Colby Cohen for speedy defenseman Matt Hunwick. The trade was a bit of a head scratcher as the club has similar defensemen on its roster and within its farm system. Yet, Hunwick was a player in which the Avs have had their eye on for several months.

However, Hunwick’s overall performance has been a disappointment thus far.  Averaging over 19 minutes of ice time per game, Hunwick has put up three assists and a minus nine rating for the Avalanche. His plus/minus is the worst on the club and his production is not befitting a player described as an offensive defenseman. While there is still time for Hunwick to make his acquisition better in the eyes of Avalanche fans, the trade for Tomas Fleischmann might be the steal of the season.

With the arrival of the younger Ryan O’Byrne, the Avalanche moved their veteran defensive defenseman, Scott Hannan, to the Washington Capitals in exchange for forward Tomas Fleischmann. Both players will be unrestricted players at season’s end.  Yet, Fleischmann is 26, and with the acquisition of O’Byrne and a plethora of young defensive prospects within the farm system, Hannan became expendable.

Like O’Byrne, Fleischmann was a bit of a disappointment with his former club. Yet, he has been a breath of fresh air for Colorado. Skating on a line with Matt Duchene, Fleischmann has produced nearly a point per game since joining the Avalanche. With the possible retirement of Milan Hejduk at the end of the season, Fleischmann could be a fixture in Denver for near future.

Heading into the second half of the season, Colorado will need their goaltending to step up and for the offense to continue to flow if they hope to secure a playoff spot in the Western Conference. The chances of a division title are slim, but with heavy competition, the Avs cannot afford too many more slip ups, or they will miss the playoffs all together.

Would missing the post-season be so bad? This club overachieved last season to sneak into the playoffs. So missing them this season would be a disappointment. Yet, fans must remember that this is the second year of a rebuild and the team is only introducing the first wave of young defensemen who will hope to help carry the club for years to come. Colorado management will preach patience and fans may have to adjust their own expectations should the Avs fall short of making the playoffs.