The Colorado Avalanche opened up their season with a loss to the Minnesota Wild. After a brilliant first period that saw the Avalanche dominate every aspect of the game, they dug their own grave with a horribly undisciplined second period. Colorado made it close in the third, but ultimately fell short.
This particular blue print is one that Avalanche fans have become far too familiar with over the past couple of seasons. Since this is such a familiar story, it does make it rather easy for people to identify the keys for this very talented to team to be successful
Games a tale of two teams
Last night’t game against Minnesota was a perfect example of something that the Avalanche have struggled with for a long time now. Their first period was brilliant, the team was intense, physical, active, hard-working, disciplined, everything you want from your team. Then the second period came along and something had been switched off between periods. They weren’t as active, they didn’t anticipate, they took bad penalties and left their goalie out to dry. Then, in the third period, things were much closer to their performance in the first period.
This team has a serious lack of consistency that is almost inexplicable, and it seems to vary throughout the year. They have trouble starting the game, so they address that and then have a horrendous second period. So they address that and then stop skating in the third period. The message of playing a complete, 60 minute game is a message that still seems to be missing.
Take advantage of your opportunities
During that brilliant first period, the Avalanche got off to a quick start by tallying the first goal and then had several additional scoring chances that they just couldn’t capitalize on. Both Jamie McGinn and Paul Stastny missed on near open net opportunities, catching nothing but the cross bar. Those are big moments in a game that can swing momentum when you don’t catch a break, and the Avalanche have struggled with allowing their opponents to hang around and steal games that the Avalanche have no business losing.
Then, late in the game, Steve Downie had another open net opportunity where a simple shot right into the middle of the net would be good enough to tie the game. He missed, and the Avalanche were simply deflated the rest of the way. You simply cannot squander so many opportunities and expect to win the game. If the Avalanche bury all those golden opportunities, they win running away.
There was nothing special about the Avalanche special teams last night, and inconsistencies on the power play and penalty kills have plagued the Avalanche for years. The Avalanche simply took too many penalties during the second period to overcome, including multiple double-minors and a full two minute 5-on-3 situation. Positionally, the Avalanche occasionally look lost on the power play. I understand that from a young team, but this is a young team who has had largely the same players for the last three years. If players are still looking lost after that much time, that’s a coaching issue.
Then there is the Avalanche power play. The biggest issue that the Avalanche has with their power play is breaking into the zone and then maintaining possession. A large source of frustration for fans is the method the Avalanche use to enter the zone on the power play. The dump and chase method has been done to death and the team struggles so much with this. Yes, this can be a player issue if they aren’t hustling, but the refusal of the coaching staff to go away from this when it is clearly not working is horrible coaching.
Best players need to be the best players
This is something that comes up a lot in coach Joe Sacco’s comments to the media, especially when the team is struggling. Both Avalanche goals last night came from the third and fourth line. John Mitchell, the third line center, and Cody McLeod, a fourth line tough guy. The top two lines for the Avalanche were almost invisible after the first period. Yes, Stastny’s line did produce some good scoring chances, but capitalized on nothing. Paul Stastny had only one shot on goal, as did Matt Duchene. Gabriel Landeskog had three shots on goal, but was largely invisible after the first period of the game. Teams have to be able to count on their players to get them at least one or two goals a game, you can’t rely on your third and fourth liners to score all the time.
Colorado has all the talent that they need to turn the corner and become a contending team in the Western Conference. The keys that I’ve just listed are nothing new to this squad, yet they always seem to be the things that the Avalanche need to overcome. The only thing keeping the Avalanche from addressing these keys and becoming a serious threat in the West is themselves. Hopefully this will be the year they finally figure things out.