Clicking with linemates key to Carl Soderberg's contributions in Colorado

One thing that happens in a parity-filled league in which teams rocket up and down the standings is that you have to remake your mind on teams and players numerous times.

Case in point: The Colorado Avalanche and center Carl Soderberg.

First, the team.

The Avs woke up the morning of Dec. 1 sitting in last place in the Central Division at 9-14-1. By a show of hands, how many of us wrote them off at that point given especially the division they were in? (Probably a lot of hands.)

Ah, but this is the season of the crushed-beer-can standings.

A 14-7-2 stretch since then has Colorado sitting in a wild-card spot -- yes, their hold is tenuous, but they are very much in the playoff race. Their improved team play, married with the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators regressing, has provided the recipe for hope in Denver.

"It was a really tough start, and no one was happy about that," Soderberg, 30, said during a phone conversation. "But we had a really long road trip in November and that went pretty good and seem to turn it around for us.''

The Avs went 4-3-0 on a trip from Nov. 10-23. Being a game above .500 in that stretch isn't exactly earth-shattering, but it's also a trip that could have completely written off their season had they gone 1-6-0, for example.

They kept their heads above water on that trip and that eventually set up their December turnaround. One big key?

"I think we've scored a lot all season but our defense is a lot better now than it was in the beginning," said Soderberg. "That's a key for us, we don't give up as many goals and that makes it easier to win games.''

It's still going be touch-and-go for this Avs team because the reality is that they still don't have a blue-line corps that's strong enough to truly compete with the elite teams. Management knows that, and will no doubt try to address that need either before the Feb. 29 trade deadline or in the offseason.

In the meantime, GM Joe Sakic and head coach Patrick Roy can take a bit of pride in a few of their moves from last summer.

Notably, their decision to acquire and sign pending free agent Soderberg in June (five years, $23.75 million), and trade away Ryan O'Reilly, whom they felt they couldn't sign, was a head-scratcher for many around the league.

O'Reilly has been terrific in his first season in Buffalo, which is no surprise.

But Soderberg has also found his stride with the Avalanche. He has 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) in 47 games while playing a solid two-way game.

"Good signing and good player,'' said one Western Conference scout via text message. "Responsible, a playmaker, especially good on the PP, patient with the puck, not the fastest guy but gets there with a good hockey sense. Not too physical but does not shy away, either.''

Soderberg has found chemistry on a line with Blake Comeau and captain/fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog. Comeau was signed to a three-year deal worth $2.4 million each season last summer, both his contract and Soderberg's funded with the money Colorado didn't spend on O'Reilly.

That aside, the line has come together on the ice.

"I've been playing with Comeau the last 30 games or so and that's been perfect for me and for him," said Soderberg. "Then Gabe came in the last 10 games with his skill. I think it's a heavy line and a skilled line, too.''

Having Soderberg and Landeskog on a line was the original plan, of course. It just didn't take earlier in the season. Now, it's on.

And for a team that looked dead in the water two months in, there's true hope, even in the difficult Central Division, where the Avs have gone an impressive 10-3-1 against divison foes, by the way.

"We've been playing pretty good against division teams and that's been a key for us to get back in the race," said Soderberg. "It's a tough division and it's going to be tough the whole way.

"We can't hide. We can't relax, it's going to be like that to the end. We just need to keep going like we've been going and hopefully we can make the playoffs in the end.''