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Welcome everyone to another Colorado Avalanche roundtable. In this edition we’re once again joined by staff writers Blaise Miyakusu, Payton Bartee, Will Agathis, and myself and we’ll be taking a look at the Avs first round playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild.
1. What was the biggest thing that went wrong for the Colorado Avalanche against the Minnesota Wild?
Blaise Miyakusu: A combination of things. We didn’t play well on the road. Game 4? 12 shots on goal throughout the entire game? Forget about it. Another thing is Varlamov looked human. He let in a few easy ones that had a big impact on the game. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem because our defense can step up, but as many of you know, our defense isn’t the greatest. Losing arguably our best defenseman in Game 3 doesn’t help much either. The final and most important factor in our loss was that we didn’t adjust. Our defense didn’t move any quicker when the Wild decided to throw everything out on the forecheck and instead of trying to find holes in their trap and passing around to find a lane, they just continually dumped the puck in and gave up on the play.
Payton Bartee: I think the odds are strong that we’re all going to mention Matt Cooke‘s cheap shot on Tyson Barrie, so I’ll go in a different direction. The Avalanche took their foot off the gas after gaining a lead far too many times (four just in Game 7!!) to win this series. This relaxed attitude when ahead let the Wild got back into the game on multiple occasions and prove they just plain wanted it more in the end. Hopefully this flaw is one of those playoff experience lessons Patrick Roy will use to help harden the Avalanche for postseason battle next year.
Will Agathis: The defense’s inability to control the game in their back end: This one was probably a toss up for me between that and the offense’s inability to put up quality chances in Minnesota. The defensive play was a big factor in the Avalanche’s downfall.
Jeremy Lambert: A lot of little things went wrong throughout the series. Whether it was Semyon Varlamov‘s mediocre play in game seven, the power play failing without Matt Duchene, or the defense not moving the puck; it’s tough to point to just one thing. But I’m going to go with the Avs road play. They had the best road record in the NHL this season and yet failed to show up for two of the three games in Minnesota. After taking the first two in Colorado, all they needed to do was get a split in Minnesota. Instead, not only did they lose both games, but they played embarrassing hockey in both games. Game six was at least a good effort, but it still resulted in a loss. If the Avs played up to their regular season road record, they’d still be playing right now.
2. Most impressive player for the Avalanche in the first round?
Blaise Miyakusu: I’m going to go with the obvious choice and say Nathan MacKinnon. He is a proven playoff player, shown last year at the Memorial Cup. With 7 points in Games 1 and 2 and 3 points in Game 5, he lead the league in playoff points and is still second behind Zach Parise.
Payton Bartee: Easy answer would be Kid Dynamite, but I’m going with Paul Stastny. Yes, not having Matt Duchene opened up the limelight for Nathan MacKinnon to shine, but it also placed a certain pressure on Pauly Walnuts to fuel the Avalanche engine offensively. And with Captain Gabe & PAP disappearing from time to time, and Nick Holden really the only offensive contributor from the blue line, Stastny stepped up with consistent efforts each game. In tying for the team lead in playoff points, let’s just hope he didn’t drive up his off-season price tag too much.
Will Agathis: Nathan MacKinnon. Don’t get me wrong, I fully knew that MacKinnon was the real deal since December. However, it is rare to see a rookie so aptly adjusting to playoff hockey, especially against a physical team filled with veterans like Minnesota. I don’t see this team having trouble next year even if Stastny leaves thanks to MacKinnon.
Jeremy Lambert: Nathan MacKinnon and Paul Stastny had a great series, but I’m going with Ryan O’Reilly. For five of the seven games he didn’t have his season long running mate in Matt Duchene, yet he still found a way to contribute in all situations. He played like a veteran out there. He made smart plays with the puck, forced turnovers, killed penalties, and contributed offensively. MacKinnon and Stastny put up points, but O’Reilly all-around play stood out to me. Had Duchene been able to play all series or not been rusty in the two games he did play, who knows what kind of an impact O’Reilly could’ve truly had.
3. Least impressive player for the Avalanche in first round?
Blaise Miyakusu: Is the entire defensive core an answer? Aside from Nick Holden and Ryan Wilson (who played very decently considering how he played during the regular season.) our defenseman were extremely underwhelming. Hejda was playing with 2 broken fingers, Benoit was a non-factor for most of the series, Guenin was invisible, and Johnson played decently in his own zone but his offensive skill disappeared. The team really missed Barrie. That’s that.
Payton Bartee: I’ve dogged on him before, but P.A. Parenteau just looked slow/off out there against Minnesota. While he’s on the wrong side of 30, he led the team in points just a few years back and started off this season strong. But PAP sadly couldn’t find his mojo since returning from injury, unfortunately at a time when the Avalanche desperately needed scoring from the wing.
Will Agathis: Jan Hejda. Without a doubt, Jan Hejda played some of his worst hockey as an Av in the 2013-2014 NHL playoffs. He looked completely lost and was letting up big plays when he was in his own zone. That was unacceptable and a legitimate reason why Colorado’s defense fell apart.
Jeremy Lambert: It might not be popular, but I’m going with Gabriel Landeskog. He disappeared after game two and that can’t happen when you’re the captain of the team. Now, it did come out that he suffered a hand injury in game three, but Hejda played the whole series with an injured hand and I ripped on him, so Landeskog can’t be spared.
4. How did Tyson Barrie’s injury impact the series?
Blaise Miyakusu: One of the biggest things to point to when thinking about the loss. We missed his offensive jump. I’ll point to the end of Game 4. Colorado down by 1 in the final minutes of the game. Johnson receives a pass in the slot. Shot hits a Wild player’s pad. Repeat 2 or 3 times and there you have the end of the game. You can’t help but to think that if Barrie had been taking those shots instead of EJ, we would have had a completely different series. Barrie also liked overtimes too.
Payton Bartee: It helped Minnesota win more than any other factor in the series. Yes, Semyon Varlamov had a few rough games, but he also had some gems. Trading Minnesota’s chief goon for our most dynamic offensive puck-mover is a deal Mike Yeo would make everyday and twice on Sundays. It put a couple elephants’ worth of offensive pressure on Erik Johnson–who didn’t have a great series, late game heroics notwithstanding–meaning Holden, Benoit, and Wilson (ugh) had to step up. Best wishes to Tyson the Destroyer for a speedy recovery this offseason.
Will Agathis: Minimally. Of course, Tyson Barrie’s injury led to less production from the defense and, likewise, the offense. That, however, is not the reason why the team lost their last two games. Sure, it would have been helpful for Barrie to be in, but the team was having so many problems on defense. Barrie was the only above average defenseman before he got hurt. This team would have been bounced out quickly in the second round with their defensive play. Making the first round versus the second round does not make much of a difference. Thus, Barrie’s loss minimally affected the team’s chances.
Jeremy Lambert: It definitely hurt. Minnesota changed their gameplan following game two and started going hard on the forecheck, forcing the Avalanche defenseman to make a quick and smart play. Besides Erik Johnson, the Avs don’t have a good puck moving defenseman from their own zone. Barrie would’ve been that guy. He showed great poise with the puck in the first two games and nine times out of ten made a good first pass out of the zone. Plus, he doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive ability. He had the best +/- of any Avs defenseman in the regular season, that doesn’t happen just because you’re only putting up good offensive numbers.
5. Was the 2013-2014 Avalanche season a success?
Blaise Miyakusu: In short, no. I would like to share a quote from Ryan O’Reilly after the Game 7 loss: In tears, “Obviously home ice an advantage for us and it’s good to have, but at the end of the day, who cares, you know? You don’t win a cup. That’s the only thing that matters is winning hockey games in the playoffs and we didn’t.” Am I proud of the Avs? Yes. Hopeful? Yes. Optimistic for the future? Of course. Satisfied? No way. No team should be satisfied if they don’t win the Cup. No season is a success unless you win the Cup.
Payton Bartee: It was unquestionably a phenomenal success, and the greatest Avalanche season in years; maybe since 2001. We’ve heard about the historic turnaround, but equally important was winning back the fanbase after the Sacco years. Despite the sad ending to our playoff run, the regular season established this new era of Avalanche hockey with a gusto. Patrick Roy is here to take these guys all the way, and we have the core talent on this team to get there.
Will Agathis: Yes. Colorado finished 29th in the NHL in 2012-2013 in points. Colorado fans held their heads in shame. Personally, I was a bit surprised by Colorado’s decision to trade for Alex Tanguay and Cory Sarich and then the idea to draft a forward over a defenseman. It led me to believe that the season was a wreck just waiting to happen. Making the playoffs alone is a success, but to finish 5th in the NHL in points was the cherry on top. Chalk this up in the success column.
Jeremy Lambert: I’ve gone back and forth on this. Obviously the regular season was a huge success. Very few thought the Avs were a playoff team, much less a team that would go on to win their division. But the playoffs were a huge disappointment. Did I think this team had enough to win the Cup? No. But I thought they were good enough to get past Minnesota. Instead they need late game heroics in two games and blew four leads in game seven. Again, I didn’t think this was a Cup winning team, but they didn’t even give themselves a chance by failing to beat the Wild. All things considered, I’ll say that the season overall was a success and the future is definitely bright.
6. What is the biggest priority for the Avalanche in the offseason?
Blaise Miyakusu: Re-signing free agents. Sure, they need to acquire a few defenseman, but what are they without Stastny, O’Reilly, Barrie, McGinn and Benoit? Worse than last year. That’s what they are.
Payton Bartee: The Avalanche’s offseason to-do list isn’t too long: 1) MUST re-sign Ryan O’Reilly (6 years, $5.8 mil), Paul Stastny (4 years, $6 mil), Tyson Barrie 2) acquire a reliable, non-ancient top-4 left-side defense-man through Free Agency or by trading PAP) 3) add some beef on the 3rd line to protect our stars.
Will Agathis: Re-signing Paul Stastny, Tyson Barrie and Ryan O’Reilly. While I believe that the Avalanche need to address their needs, specifically the ones on defense and bottom-six forward, the reality is that losing Paul Stastny, Tyson Barrie, or Ryan O’Reilly will have a greater effect on the team than any free agent signing. In an ideal world, Colorado would quickly re-negotiate with Stastny and then tender ROR and Barrie. With that settled, the team would be able to sign a high-end free agent like Matt Niskanen while letting Jamie McGinn walk. If Barrie, O’Reilly or Stastny leave, this team will be in a lot of trouble, no matter what other moves the team tries to make.
Jeremy Lambert: Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly, and Tyson Barrie have to be the priority. Obviously, improving the defense is also on the list, but I’d rather keep three of our core guys than overpay for a defenseman, especially given the bare free agent market when it comes to defense this year. Hopefully negotiations with Stastny, O’Reilly, and Barrie go smoothly and then the Avs can focus on other needs by the time the draft and free agency roll around.