For those who were unaware, the Avalanche lost their season opener against the Minnesota Wild. It wasn’t a particularly terrible game for the Avs, but it was frustrating nonetheless. The first period was certainly the best. The Avs scored quickly (two minutes in, John Mitchell earned his first for the burgundy and blue). Despite several strong chances, the score remained 1-0. Varlamov was only asked to make five saves, and the boys we wanted with the lead headed into the lockerroom ahead. Unfortunately, the penalties began in the second period. Steve Downie was given one penalty, and then he took another when he retaliated in frustration. Ryan O’Byrne made the team defend five on three after he held Zach Parise’s stick. David Jones iced a puck instead of taking a couple extra strides. Downie took another penalty. Hejda sticked someone in the face and was given four minutes. With all of those penalties and miscues. and the absence of a strong penalty kill, is it any surprise the Avs found the score 3-1 at the end of the second? Five minutes into the third, Cody McLeod scored a goal, which gave the Avs some hope. That flicker of hope remained until the final minute and a half, when the Wild scored their fourth. The game was over, ended with a 4-2 score.
I was angry last night, and frustrated with nearly everyone. I spent half an hour listing everyone and their faults during the game to myself as I paced in the living room. I’m still upset, but I’m a bit more focused.
The Penalty Kill
This needs to be better. Last night, the Avs were missing all three players from their top three man unit last year-O’Brien, O’Byrne, and McClement. The Avs failed to resign McClement, and O’Reilly is still in Russia, so that leaves only Paul Stastny as a center used to playing on the PK. O’Brien was scratched, and O’Byrne was in the box. The unit was a complete mess, and by the end of the second, it appeared as though Sacco was sending out completely random players. I only attended one day of camp, but from what I saw, the power play got way more attention than the penalty kill. I expect that to change, and for the team to focus majorly on the PK before Tuesday’s game. I’d rather have a power play that takes some time to warm up, then a penalty kill that takes ten games to mesh.
The players I expect to see on the top unit of a power play on the back end are Shane O’Brien and Ryan O’Byrne. Jan Hejda and Greg Zanon could make a solid second unit (assuming Greg Zanon never plays as horribly as he played last night, ever, EVER again.) I don’t really see Zanon being in the lineup come Tuesday (if O’Brien is scratched again, I think there may be a revolt in the Pepsi Center), so I think Ryan Wilson will fill in a role on the second unit (let’s hope he’s feeling better, he looked to me as if his “minor” foot injury was still bugging him). The forwards are a bit more difficult to figure out. I think Paul Stastny and John Mitchell will be the two centers, until O’Reilly (hopefully) returns. Stastny is the best defensive center on the team right now, and Mitchell had some penalty kill time last season with the New York Rangers. Olver is too shaky on faceoffs to have him act as a center for a PK unit, and Duchene has never spent significant time on the PK-he needs more than a couple days to be used for a lengthy amount of time. Gabriel Landeskog should be the second forward in the first unit, but I’m not quite sure who belongs on the second unit. I know David Jones saw some PK time last year, but I’m not sure he’s a long term solution.Cody McLeod could maybe alternate with Jones for that second unit second forward (McLeod’s never afraid to block shots, and he’s pretty good at it), but he’s the only other player I can really envision there. Who knows, maybe Sacco will unearth a previously unseen PK prowess from some unsuspecting forward.
I don’t mean killer instinct as in “hmm I’m mad, let’s crosscheck this dude in the face,” I mean killer instinct as in “let’s bury the other team in goals.” Even though the Avs certainly had some bad luck (three posts in one game), I would like to see them take advantage of their lead. The Wild were horrible during that first period, and the Avs could have really peppered Backstrom with shots. Even though they got off 12 shots, they didn’t have nearly enough quality shots. They need to keep firing away, and force more to go in the net. A bigger lead might have balanced the goals the Wild scored on their power plays.
I don’t like to blame the referees Last year though, the Avs had the biggest differential between time spent with an extra man and time spent a man down. This was not some petty, 15 minute differential. This was a difference of over 150 minutes. Somehow, it seems unlikely that other teams commit fewer penalties against the Avs than they do against other teams. It appears this trend is continuing, and the Avs can’t do anything to change the officials officiating. Therefore, they need to be even more disciplined. They need to realize that they are going to be called, perhaps more sharply than other teams, and suck it up. Ryan O’Byrne should not blatantly hold Zach Parise’s stick for three seconds during a penalty kill. Steve Downie can’t crosscheck someone in the face because he’s annoyed by the soft tripping call the referees just whistled him for. They need to keep their tempers in check, and they can’t take any shortcuts when trying to defend.