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Hot off the press: Craig Anderson has been named NHL second start of the week for the second week in a row. Congrats to Mr. Anderson who earned the award for stopping 7 Canadiens in the final seconds of the Avs win over them in Montréal, and being a general stud last week. Ilya Bryzgolov of the Phoenix Coyotes was the 1st star and Ovechkin was 3rd star.
Photoshop from the estimable 'Nucks Misconduct

Anderson has been one of the key differences in the Avs this year. Even though I advocated signing him, I don't think anyone could have predicted how good he would be. We're still only 8 games into the season, but don't look now... that's 10%. There's still a long ways to go, but he has been a difference maker., and has deserved every good thing and accolade that has been said about him so far.

Night & Day
The difference between last season and this season is easily personified in a single play from Saturday.

with approximately 2:30 left in the game, and the Avs trailing 3-2 the Hobbit, Scott Hannan (I think), saw Detroit in a line change and made a nice 2 zone breakout pass to TJ Galiardi at the Detroit blue line. Galiardi draws a defender, and takes a check, while passing the puck to the trailing Avalanche 3rd line center (whom we'll get to and name in a minute) creating a 2 vs one.

This season the new 3rd line center, Ryan "Snook/Radar" O'Reilly, fakes a slap shot which accomplished 2 things.

a) It made Osgood commit to the shot, and
b) froze the defender for a split second.

Freezing the defender for a second allowed O'Reilly to slip the pass by him, and making Osgood commit allowed McLeod to shoot the game tying goal into the open net, since Osgood wasn't able to get over in time.

There are a bunch of things about that play that wouldn't have happened last season. First of all, Scott Hannan wouldn't have made that breakout pass. For whatever reason (cough* Coaching cough*) the Avs defenders simply did not look to make those kind of passes last season.

More importantly last season's 3rd line center, Tyler Arnason (whose tearing it up in AHL Hartford. and by tearing it up I mean is a healthy scratch) , simply would have botched that pass. There were an Avagadro's number of times that he was leading a 2 vs 1 and either shot a weak wrister gently into the opposing goalies midsection, or even more infuriatingly, tried to make the pass without doing anything to freeze the defender causing the 2 vs 1 to end without even a meek shot on goal to show for the effort.

photo from the AP, via Mile High Hockey

CLICHÉ ALERT!!! It's all the little things in a hockey game that make the difference in winning and losing . /CLICHÉ And the plays mentioned above are the little things the Avs just didn't do last season. They are doing them and it's leading to game tying and game winning goals.