Nov 8, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy calls out from his bench in the first period against the Calgary Flames at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

What We Learned: Avalanche - Panthers

Panic! Everyone run for your lives, the Avalanche are terrible again!

Alright, maybe not terrible and the panic button can probably be left alone for awhile, but it might be time to worry just a little bit and not just because the Avalanche lost to the lowly Florida Panthers.

The Avalanche are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have fallen to 6th in the Western Conference since their incredibly hot start began to fade. They’ve look sloppy and timid, their special teams have crashed back to Earth and Semyon Varlamov has looked more than human even before those very serious charges were filed.

There are a few things to talk about, so let’s get into what we learned from Saturday night’s 4-1 loss.

Not So Special Teams

I’m not here to blame the special teams this time. Really, I’m not. You can’t realistically expect a team to kill off four or five penalties per game on a consistent basis. It’s just no feasible.

Part of the issue of late is that the Avalanche are giving up a ton of penalties of late (Florida had five power play opportunities on the night) but can’t kill them all off like they could to start the season. When that happens, you end up shooting yourself in foot and killing your own momentum instead of building that momentum like you normally would with a big kill.

The Avalanche need to be more disciplined and stay out of the box. It sounds like a simple thing, but when your team is one of the best penalty killing units in the league, you start to get a little over-confident and it can lead to bad stretches like this when you finally start to falter.

Not only that, but the power play hasn’t been there like it once was. Granted, they only had one opportunity against Florida, but they couldn’t register a shot and they lost all the momentum they’d seemed to gain leading up to that moment. Part of this is due to the absence of Andre Benoit — he was a scratch — but not registering a shot? Against the Panthers? They need to turn things around on the power play soon if they want to regain their place near the top of the standings.

Tim Thomas – 1, Varly – 0

Varly wasn’t even bad in this one, so this isn’t so much a criticism of him. He’s had a lot on his plate of late but he’s still been okay. He turned aside 29 of 33 shots but consistently fought shots off and just hasn’t looked like the totally locked-in Varlamov we became accustomed to seeing through the first 10 or 12 games of the season.

We all knew the goaltending was going to come back to Earth and that can’t be blamed on either him nor J.S. Giguere; they were playing at unreal levels and they’re regressing towards the mean right now. But the rest of the team has to respond when that happens or the results will be like this more often than not.

Not only that, but Tim Thomas was outstanding. He made a couple of incredible saves that kept the Panthers ahead and a lesser goalie would have let by. The Avalanche didn’t play a bad game offensively — they had their chances — but when you face a goalie who’s running hot, this kind of thing happens.

Nov 6, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) defends his net in the third period against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A Different Tone

The biggest differences in the Avalanche of late comes down to two things.  The first of which is the team defense. There are a lot of simple things that they are no longer doing that are eventually showing up on the stat sheet. One of those things? Watching the puck in your own zone and not being aware of what’s going on around you. The first goal the Panthers scored, Brad Boyes snuck into the slot, stood there for awhile and quietly put it home when the puck came to him.

Watching the puck, not keeping your head on a swivel, not being aware of who is in the area and making sloppy passes in an attempt to get out of the zone are all reasons why the defense is starting to cost the team games. Though particular guys have been far more egregious than others (Cory Sarich), the group has been bad as a whole. They need to clean up the little things and stop letting guys get open below the hashes. That’s where most of the trouble starts.

Another issue revolves around the Avalanche transition game. Without looking into stats (I’m sure there’s a stat somewhere), a big part of the offense early on was the fact that the team used its speed to get going through the neutral zone and pin reeling defensemen deep in the zone.

The last few games, teams appear to have adjusted. They’re attacking the forwards soon after they enter the offensive zone and making them do something with their possession game instead of being able to just push their speed. Part of the issue is that they have been facing strong goaltending, so some of those chances will start going in, but what made them a truly special offensive team was that transition game and their fast-break offense. Find that again and the Avalanche will start finding the win column again.

Next up: 11/19 vs Chicago

Ryan is the editor of Mile High Sticking as well as co-owner of The Farm Club. Follow him on Twitter to talk Avs, Sabres, hockey in general, or to let him know what a yutz he is.

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Tags: 2013-14 Season Colorado Avalanche Florida Panthers NHL Semyon Varlamov Tim Thomas

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