The Colorado Avalanche are in the heat of the playoff hunt. They hold the sixth spot in the Western Conference with 92 points and a record of 42-27-8, but have recently been hit by the injury bug. They lost their No. 1 goal scorer in Marek Svatos for the year and are currently without the services of Alex Tanguay.
The injuries have forced the Avs to look within for goal scoring and have forced the team to rely more heavily upon the rest of their line-up including goaltender Peter Budaj and center Brad Richardson.
According to Colorado Head Coach Joel Quenneville, “No matter who’s gone down someone has picked up the slack. The top guys continue to produce but we’re getting some distribution throughout our line-up for scoring and we’ve been happy with that.”
The injuries have given Richardson a chance to show his stuff. Richardson was recalled for the second time this season on Jan. 8. At the time of his latest recall, he ranked fourth on the Avs AHL affiliate Lowell Lock Monsters in scoring with 17 points (4 goals, 13 points) in 29 games. The Avalanche have benefited from the youth and energy that Richardson brings to the line-up and Quenneville has liked what he has seen thus far.
“Brad’s been good for us. He gives us some speed. He’s a smart player. He’s a young kid that’s going to get better too. He’s a good prospect for us and we like what he’s been giving us. He gives us good energy on a game to game basis.”
The Belleville, Ontario native spent the 2004-05 season in the juniors with the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL where he enjoyed his best offensive season. In 68 games, he scored 41 goals and 97 points with a +26 rating. Richardson was runner up behind Corey Perry (ANA) for the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player Award.
This season, Richardson has split the year between the Lock Monsters, and the NHL. Richardson made his NHL debut on Nov. 27 against the Vancouver Canucks and appeared in four games before being sent back down. Having been in three different leagues in 2005, the 5’11 center has gotten used to stepping up his game.
“The adjustment in every league from the OHL to the American Hockey League is a big jump. Guys are stronger, guys are faster. Then the jump from the American League to here [NHL] is also kind of the same thing. Guys are smarter, faster and it just takes a lot to adjust to it.”
Since being recalled this January, Richardson has stuck with the NHL club. Now having appeared in 31 of the Avs last 33 games, the 21-year-old appears to have made the adjustment to the NHL.
“I think so, but there’s always work to do and I’m going to try to keep on improving. You know if you work hard and watch other guys, what they’re doing, you’re going to improve.”
The injuries to the Avs top scorers have already given Richardson the chance to step up his game. In 36 games played, Richardson has 3 goals and 11 points while averaging 10:51 minutes of ice time a game.
“I mean obviously losing Tangs for a bit has been tough,” he said. “People are going to step up and to lose Svatos for the year has been really tough but hopefully everyone can step up and fill in for those guys.”
In addition to battling injuries, the Avalanche have also played without the services of their No. 1 netminder. Their former No. 1 goaltender David Aebischer was dealt to Montreal at the trade deadline for injured goaltender Jose Theodore. The trade for Theodore, who has been out with a heel injury, has meant that Budaj has started in 12 consecutive games since the trade and will continue to start until Theodore is healthy enough to return. And while the media has questioned whether or not Budaj was ready to shoulder the load of being a starter, Budaj has responded to the pressure going 6-4-2 in the last 12 games with a 2.98 goals against average.
“Everybody is really confident in him,” said Richardson, “He works so hard every day and you know what when he’s back there we’re comfortable with that and he’s playing great. We’ve got to pick up our play ourselves and we’ll be fine.”
Both Richardson and Budaj have enjoyed the pressure that has come with the playoff race. Just three points separate spots six through nine in the West, meaning the Avs could very well lose their playoff spot if they don’t play well.
According to Budaj, “I think until the end of the regular season there is going to be that sense of urgency because everybody is so close. It’s a matter of a point, maybe two, so it’s going to tight until the end.”
“Yeah it’s going to be a nice finish,” said Richardson. “It’s going to be tight. We’re battling every night for our playoff lives. I hope we can keep pushing and keep playing hard and if we do that we should be OK.”
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