5 Storylines for the Avalanche vs Flames Game


“It’s important for us now to get our mindset where it was last year. ” — Patrick Roy

The Colorado Avalanche are hosting the Calgary Flames in the Pepsi Center Sunday, September 28. Considering the fact that the Colorado Avalanche haven’t won a preseason game yet, the Avs Nation may not be looking as forward to this game as they once were.

Remember, though, that head coach Patrick Roy implemented the Cinderella rule last season — at midnight, all highs and lows from the previous game are forgotten.

With that in mind, let’s look at the storylines for the first of two exhibition games against the Calgary Flames.

#5: Goal tending

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Coming into the preseason, the Avs Nation were pretty confident in two aspects of the goal tending situation: starting goalie Semyon Varlamov was a stud, and backup goalie Reto Berra was a dud. I’ve never shared either of those opinions, and if the Avalanche faithful are being truthful, they shouldn’t either.

There’s no sense in berating a player wearing burgundy and blue, but Varlamov didn’t look sharp in the game against the Montreal Canadiens. He stopped 22 of 25 shots for a save percentage of 0.88 — this against Montreal’s B-team. All the goals came on even-strength play with the Avalanche’s A-team in front of him.

In comparison, the night before Berra stopped 33 of 36 shots for a save percentage of .917 percent. He was facing the Canadiens’ A-team with the Avalanche’s B-team in front of him. And two of those three goals came during Montreal power plays.

The Avs Nation is going to have to give Berra a chance. Coach Roy hasn’t said, but it’s likely Berra will start against the Flames in one of the games.

The Flames, of course, have their own goalie situation — a brand new starter in Jonas Hiller. Hiller for some reason lost Anahiem Ducks’ coach Bruce Bodreau’s confidence during the playoffs last season. He’s going to want to have a strong season this year to prove his old coach wrong. It’d be fun if the Avalanche started Berra the same night the Flames started Hiller — fellow Swiss, they were teammates in the Olympics.

#4: Specialty Teams

The specialty teams were a positive aspect of Colorado’s second loss against Montreal. In reality, they weren’t half-bad in the first game of the series — it’s just, unfortunately, the penalty kill was more often on the ice than the power play.

Cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson spoke to the media after the second loss. He acknowledged the Avalanche would rather have a win, of course. He added:

"“If you search for positives, PK was good, power play was good. Special teams are critical during the season, so it’s good that we did pretty well with that tonight.”"

As Johnson pointed out, if your specialty teams are strong, it will carry you through a lot of games. Coach Roy is trying some different lineups this preseason, partially due to the loss of defensive forward Paul Stastny.

But Roy also just likes to tinker. Johnson himself saw time on both teams, even though he’d only been on the power play previously. And with power forward Jarome Iginla quarterbacking the power play — well, that’s one aspect of the game to watch.

#3: Fear Factor

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  • It’s setting in, Avs Nation. Just a little bit, but it’s setting in — the fear factor.

    The Avalanche are a young, relatively inexperienced team. The majority of the essential nucleus have little big-game experience, which means little in the preseason, except… What’s bigger than games that don’t count?

    Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog pointed out, “We know the difference between preseason and the regular season.”

    Well, that’s true, but… it doesn’t matter. Preseason is a time to work out issues of chemistry, timing and new plays. It’s not a time to blow off.

    Landeskog, naturally, knows this. He added:

    "“We also know you can’t just flip a switch when the regular season comes. You have to prepare yourselves the right way and create good habits.”"

    That’s what being a winner is all about. And though he’s still hunting the elusive Stanley Cup, Jarome Iginla has to be one of the leaders in this area. As he stated, even if it’s just an exhibition, you want to be on top. You want to win.

    That’s the kind of attitude that overcomes the fear factor.

    And speaking of attitudes…

    #2: Leadership Roles

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    Coach Roy has stated that he talked to Iginla about being an assistant captain for the squad. Well, I don’t agree with that selection just because he’s so new to the team and because there are players such as Matt Duchene and Erik Johnson who have worked hard to deserve such recognition.

    That said, it’s at times like this that Iginla needs to distinguish himself as a leader. He’s got what none of the other players have — star quality and leadership. Everyone else has one or the other — a nucleus of young stars and a handful of role players with experience. Iginla, on the other hand, has both.

    He needs to step in and show the way to the young stars. He needs to coach them, berate them, coddle them — whatever is necessary for them to overcome their fear factor and complacency. Because Iginla was brought to Colorado only partially because of his skills — both Roy and Joe Sakic have said all along they greatly value his leadership.

    Time to show it.

    #1: Old Friends

    Speaking of Iginla, one of the intriguing storylines, of course, is that this is the first time he’s going to play against the team he suited up for during 17 season, and captained for almost 10 as an Avalanche.

    Let’s explore that tomorrow, though, because Iginla has faced his former team in different uniforms. One young man who has not, though, is Reto Berra.

    Yes, he’s the forgotten equation in the homecoming situation. He spend the majority of his first NHL season in Calgary before the Avalanche acquired him at the trade deadline. From that time until the end of the season, Colorado didn’t face Calgary again. One of these games is almost certain to represent the first time Berra faces his old teammates.

    So, Avs Nation, the Colorado Avalanche are taking a little longer than we might like to warm up this season. However, as coach Roy points out — that’s what the preseason is all about.