Avs' slide has now started

BY foxsports • January 8, 2009

The Avs cannot blow this. Can they?

The NHL's feel-good story isn't feeling so hot. When the snow of winter blows, glass slippers lose traction. The slide has begun.

When the Avalanche fail to make the playoffs, don't come crying to me.

Think Wednesday's horrendous 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders was no big deal? Then you didn't see the anger seething in the eyes of Avs coach Joe Sacco.

"We didn't play our game," Sacco said.

The Avs might still be looking good in the NHL standings. Please don't be fooled.

Take a glance at this team on the ice and it is often cover-the-eyes, scary bad.

The Avs gave away the winning goal to Kyle Okposo at 16:43 of the third period. In a league where the visiting team tries to keep it close until the final five minutes of regulation in the hope of sneaking out of town with at least a point, Colorado cannot afford to blow games at crunch time.

"Got to win them all," Avalanche veteran Adam Foote said. "The NHL is not like it used to be, when teams could make big pushes at the end. It has to be playoff hockey from the beginning to the end. It's a sprint."

In way too many games, Paul Stastny plays C-plus hockey, which won't cut it for a man who is supposed to help carry Team USA at the Winter Olympics.

John-Michael Liles produced an assist on a goal against the Islanders, but when I asked Sacco to evaluate the highly paid defenseman's performance, it's seems to be no secret that the Avs would like to trade Liles to Mystery, Alaska, for a bag of pucks.

"I thought he made some plays, but at the same time I think he needs to be more responsible defensively," Sacco said.

In the Western Conference playoff race, where there's no margin for error and the Detroit Red Wings stand in ninth place, how is Colorado going to make a push in the second half of the season or make a trade at the deadline with so much dead weight on its payroll?

The Avs are getting next to nothing from Darcy Tucker, Marek Svatos, Ruslan Salei and Liles, whose combined salaries exceed $12 million.

On a bone-chilling, snowy evening when the Avalanche had a harder time getting cranked up than car batteries in the parking lot, the most passionate noise in the arena was the sound of fists pounding in frustration on the table from within the team's executive box.

Don't look now, but Colorado fans better prepare to deal with the depression from the biggest collapse by a local team since the hoodie started tightening around the neck of Josh McDaniels as his Broncos gagged down the stretch of the NFL season.

Sure, nothing was expected of this Avs team. This is a rebuilding project as obvious as the baby face of teenager Matt Duchene.

After Colorado shocked the league by roaring to an unexpected 10-1-2 start, we dared to dream. Didn't we just read this story in orange-and-blue ink?

The Avalanche have won only 14 of its past 31 games. That's more than a slump. It's a crash back to cold reality. Have these guys hit the bottom of the crater, or is the real free fall yet to come?

"We're a team that can't get away from our game plan," said Foote, who refuses to be discouraged. He believes in the team's talent.

"We're for real. I think we're in good position," Foote said. "But in the West, it's a battle."

The midway point of an NHL season might be too early to panic.

Sad to say: It also might already be too late for the Avs to get their mojo back.

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