The Colorado Avalanche have to be the most infuriating team to watch on a nightly basis, you simply never know what you’re going to get from them. This is not only true from a night-to-night basis, it’s also true from period-to-period. The last three-game stretch for the Avalanche is a perfect example.
In Minnesota, they looked like a minor league team and were incapable of executing pretty much anything as they got completely dominated. The next game, on home-ice against Minnesota, they executed their game plan perfectly and pulled out a win. Then they start out hot against a struggling Penguins team only to completely fall apart after the first period, going from fast and exciting to completely inept seemingly at the drop of a hat.
The team’s inconsistency has been the only consistent part of their game, and not just for this season. The Avalanche have basically been the most inconsistent team in the NHL since all the way back in 2008 when Tony Granato took over the bench for the second time. The same story has been written time and time again all the way through this season.
The several different faces of this team are difficult to explain because this team is a combination of young talent and veteran savvy. Looking at all the names on the roster, you simply wouldn’t expect the team to be as wildly inconsistent as it is; and the frequency with which the team swings from one side of the pendulum to the other makes it difficult to pinpoint the best fix. So what are the causes and how do you the Avalanche fix them?
This is perhaps the most overused excuse in sports. There’s an old adage that the coach receives too much praise when things are going well, and too much criticism when things are going wrong; and this could not be more true in Colorado. That being said, there are definitely some things for which Patrick Roy can be criticized as a coach.
Patrick Roy definitely makes some questionable roster decisions from time to time. A perfect example is the use of Mikhail Grigorenko this season. Grigorenko started the season as a healthy scratch but has been a pretty stable fixture in the lineup since getting on the ice. Still, it has been an adventure for him as Roy can’t seem to find a place to play him. The worst part of this is that the place he has had his greatest success, playing with Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, has only happened a couple of times. Most recently, Grigorenko started the Penguins game on this line and was quickly demoted only a shift after Matt Duchene scored his 15th goal of the season, on which Grigorenko had an assist. It’s been puzzling to watch Roy’s use of him, and it’s only compounded by the fact that Roy has a history with Grigorenko from his time coaching in juniors, and knows what he can do. He just seems completely baffled by how to use him at the NHL level.
Going further with the roster choices, Roy’s lines seem to be in a constant state of shuffling. Some line juggling is to be expected, as every coach in the NHL juggles their lines from time to time, but the frequency with which Roy does this can be counterproductive at times. It should come as no surprise that the line that has been together the longest, “The 9 Line”, of Landeskog, MacKinnon and Duchene, has been the most consistently productive. There are definitely plenty of fair criticisms about Patrick Roy; however, he cannot be blamed for everything.
Oh yes, passing. Passing is perhaps the one thing that is the most inconsistent on the team that could go a long way towards fixing so many of the other problems the Avalanche have. The inconsistency with which the Avalanche are able to make a simple tape-to-tape pass is perhaps the biggest shortcoming of this team. Think about how many things can be solved with decent passing. How much better would the Avs’ be in their own zone if they could make decent passes to exit the zone and start transitioning. How many times do the Avalanche try too many “cute” passes, turn the puck over and get hemmed in their own zone? How many times do they put a pass in a guy’s skates or just miss them completely and turn the puck over in their own zone? A lot of people get frustrated with the way the Avalanche frequently just chip the puck out of the zone, but it seems like that’s their only real consistent way to relieve any pressure.
This is true in the neutral zone, as well. The Avalanche sabotage so many of their potential offensive chances before they even get into the offensive zone by passing so poorly. It’s no coincidence that when the Avalanche are at their best is when they are able to make good passes that hit players in stride so that the team is able to use their speed. The Avalanche want to be able to hit the blue line at full speed, force the defense to respect their skating ability and attack the offensive zone; but when they are unable to execute simple passing plays they completely derail their own offense.
Patrick Roy has been talking about this since last season; making constant reference to the Avalanche trying to be “too perfect” rather than just getting the shots on goal and it’s something that has been all too familiar with the Avalanche going back several years. This team has a lot of talent on it, and talented players often fall into the trap of believing they can make pretty plays happen all the time. This results in missed opportunities and turnovers because guys want to make that one extra pass to set up the perfect play rather than just getting things on net. Interestingly enough, it also seems to correspond to when teams are struggling.
When the Avalanche have had their most success this season, the formula has been incredibly simple. Get the puck to the net, drive the net hard for rebounds, create chaos and capitalize on rebounds. It’s hockey 101, really. All the Avalanche need to do is look at goals like the one Matt Duchene scored against the Penguins.
There is nothing pretty about this play at all and the goal results from MacKinnon just shooting the puck. The puck doesn’t even go on net, but it creates just a little bit of chaos as Fleury can’t track the puck fast enough to Matt Duchene’s stick. It’s something Patrick Roy has been preaching all season long, something they have been practicing every day and something that the players simply refuse to do consistently. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to watch the team abandon the formula that has given them the most success throughout the season. This is one thing that is 100% on the players because playing this way is simple, all players know how to do this because this is likely the first way they were taught to play hockey. They simply have to get out of their own way and do it.
There are plenty of other things to criticize about the Avalanche but these three items are the best road to finding some consistency. Patrick Roy needs to set a lineup, let it play out and trust the players a bit more. I understand a tight leash in some instances, but any player will struggle if they are constantly being forced to adjust to new line-mates. The players have to get out of their own heads and make better passes. The whole offense revolves around this and it’s easily the best way for the team to make a marked improvement in their advanced-numbers in which so many people place so much importance. Most importantly, the Avalanche need to stay simple. Yes, the team has a lot of talent and there will be opportunities to show that, but the Avalanche do far more to sabotage themselves by getting away from this. It’s time for the Avalanche to get out of their own way so they can finally succeed.
I’m a Denver native who has been a fan of the Avalanche since they came to town and a fan of the game before that. I started writing my own blog a couple years ago before moving to Bleacher Report and becoming a Featured Columnist there. You can also find me the Burgundy Brigade Podcast