The Colorado Avalanche have been one of the hardest teams to figure out from the perspective of somebody who covers the team and they have been even harder to figure out as a fan. One thing is certain, though, the Avalanche are now playing with a ton of confidence as they have surged into the top Wild Card seed in the Western Conference, recently leapfrogging the Minnesota Wild. There is plenty of praise to toss around for the recent developments, but the one guy who may deserve the most credit and will get not nearly enough of it is Head Coach, Patrick Roy.
The Slow Start
The end of the 2014-2015 was a disappointing one for the Avalanche but also one that gave people a lot of hope. Colorado had a terrible first half of the season but finished out the year playing some fantastic hockey, pulling a 90 point season out of what seemed to be yet another top-5 draft pick year. Then came a slew of moves in the off-season that turned over about one-third of the previous year’s roster.
Patrick Roy boldly stated, before the start of the 2015-2016 season, that he wasn’t in Denver to miss the playoffs and that he intended to get the Colorado Avalanche back into the chase for the Stanley Cup. These comments, and his coaching in general, were treated as a bit of a laughing stock by national media, especially as the Colorado Avalanche stumbled out of the gates, yet again. It appeared that Patrick Roy was on the hot seat and might not survive the 2015-2016 season as Head Coach. He was also frequently used as a punching bag by the Marek vs. Wyshinski podcast, called out as the worst coach in the league. I have personally questioned if Roy was too soft of a coach because of the team’s seeming inability to consistently stay with his coaching points.
Yet, Joe Sakic and the Colorado Avalanche showed faith in Patrick Roy and his coaching. If nothing else, Roy’s ability to help the previous season’s team find their way, albeit a little too late in the year, seemed reason enough to give him a chance to do the same with this Avalanche roster, and he has done just that.
One of the things that Patrick Roy has taken a lot of heat for, sometimes justly and sometimes not, is that he just doesn’t adjust. Over the past two season, this particular criticism isn’t a particularly fair one. During last season, Roy completely abandoned his defensive zone structure of man-to-man play because his players said they weren’t comfortable with it. This season, Patrick Roy changed his forecheck and neutral zone system from a very aggressive 2-1-2, to the much more structured 1-3-1.
The power play has required a few adjustments for the Avalanche, as well. For quite a while the power play seemed to be stagnant and predictable, largely because the team essentially contained itself on one half of the zone, making things far too easy for the penalty kill. Roy and coaches got the players to start using the whole zone again and saw immediate dividends. The Avalanche power play is currently ranked 9th in the NHL at 20% efficiency.
One of the most important things that he has done, recently, is take a chance on some of the younger players. With Erik Johnson out of the lineup, the Avalanche had a few games with some very questionable defensive series. This prompted Roy to call up Nikita Zadorov and Chris Bigras, giving them both a chance over some of the veteran players that Roy has always liked. The defense improved immediately and both younger players received a great amount of confidence. Yes, Nikita Zadorov has been sent back down to the AHL, but only because Erik Johnson was the one coming back into the roster.
Confidence is a funny thing, especially in sports. When a player, or a team has it, it’s like there is nothing that can’t be done. Throughout his career as a player, Patrick Roy had some of the unwavering confidence that has ever been seen. It allowed him to forget some truly abysmal performances and bounce back the following night as if nothing had happened. It bled over to his teammates, who knew that they would always have a chance to win a game with Patrick in net. Patrick Roy still has the same confidence in himself now and it is, once again, bleeding over to his players. He has shown that he believes in them, that he believes in what he is preaching and that the results would come. The results are starting to come for the Colorado Avalanche and, even though he will likely try to give most of the credit to the players, Patrick Roy deserves a ton of credit for the coaching job that he has done.