Ride the Avalanche Hockey Rollercoaster


“We want to see our young guys. We have to give them a chance” — Patrick Roy

The Colorado Avalanche are shaking things up after their loss to the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Centre. Backup goalie Reto Berra was injured in the game. The Avalanche called goalie Sami Aittokallio back from the Lake Erie Monsters, while Berra is day-to-day. Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov is said to be out for a week with a groin strain.

Heading the other direction is Swedish rookie Dennis Everberg. He showed a lot of promise, but nothing’s panning out for the Avs right now. As Denver Post writer Mike Chambers put it, Everberg is young and on a two-way contract. With center John Mitchell back in the lineup, apparently Everberg was seen as unnecessary.

Colorado blew a lead going into the third, something they almost never did last season. Yet they had just done the same thing in Toronto.

The Avs Nation is finding it hard to shake off the dim beginning to this season. We all had such high hopes, and the rally “There’s still plenty of hockey to play” is starting to feel more like a threat.

Nonetheless, let’s take a look at takeaways from the 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators.

#1: The Nature of Colorado Avalanche Hockey

Colorado Avalanche hockey is not boring hockey. It is not a well-oiled machine that gets put on the ice every night. Avalanche hockey is a wild West, run and gun style based on fast skating and fancy stick handling.

The Avs have always played a thrilling game. Think about that first, glorious season — does their responsible D come to mind first? Of course not. If you want defensive-based hockey, best switch to the Minnesota Wild or the New Jersey Devils.

Well, guess what — when your team plays thrilling hockey, it’s going to feature the lows as well as the highs sometimes. The Avs are starting out low this season. However, one positive you can take from the Senators game is that the Avalanche offense has awakened. They scored all the possible ways — even-strength, power play and the elusive shortie. That means the team is climbing the roller coaster track — just hold on.

Gabriel Landeskog’s power play goal:

#2: Once You’ve Gone Roy, There’s No Going Back

That said, one characteristic of Avalanche hockey is that it relies heavily on goal tending. Remember the goalie tandem of Jocelyn Thibault and Stephane Fiset? If you do — props. Once Patrick Roy swooped in as the Avs goalie, there was no going back. The Avalanche became a team that relied on their goalie to save their bacon when their offensive style resulted in scoring chances from opponents.

That’s never changed. Roy retired from goal tending 11 years ago, but the Avs are most comfortable when they have a stellar goalie. It’s just not a position that can remain weak for them. Remember, so much of the story of last season was how great Semyon Varlamov was.

Speaking of…

#3: Revolve-a-Goalie

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  • Varlamov is slated to miss three games total with a groin strain. Berra, who has been very good this season, was injured early in the first period. According to Chambers, he’s out with a neck “stinger” as a result of a collision with Ottawa’s Kyle Turris. Coach Roy says he’s questionable for the game in Montreal.

    If Berra can’t play against the Canadiens, the man of Thursday night, Calvin Pickard, gets the nod. The big story from the Senators game was that, 2.5 minutes into the game, the Avs had to put in a goalie who’d woken up with his AHL team that morning. Pickard was strong early, but he just couldn’t stand up against the barrage that Avalanche hockey allows on the goalie.

    Defenseman Jan Hejda said of Pickard:

    "“He made some great saves there, and we cannot say this is his fault. That situation is obviously not easy for him. He comes in this afternoon and goes straight to the net.”"

    Plus, Bobby Ryan’s an elite scorer. Once Ryan beat Pickard on a sweet wrister in the third to tie the game, the Avs went on the offensive — and got sloppy. Pickard just didn’t have a chance. Clarke MacArthur beat him for the game-winner on a clear shot.

    #4: The Role of Nate MacKinnon

    Nate MacKinnon started the season as a top-six center, then got relegated to being a third-line center. For awhile it looked like he was going to be a top-six winger for the game against Montreal, with captain Gabriel Landeskog as his fellow wing and Ryan O’Reilly as center. However, coach Roy has decided otherwise:

    "“We want Nate to play center because this is the position he’s going to play if we’re going to challenge the top teams. We need to be patient — with Nate and the rest of our group … We need to continue to trust what we’re doing, believe in what we’re doing, and we’ll be just fine.”"

    Naturally, one of the most important roles of a centerman is to win faceoffs. Nate has been struggling with that in the last couple games. In the game against the Senators, he won only three out of 10 faceoffs for a dismal 30 percent.

    On the flip side, he led both teams in shots with seven. His speed and his shots will eventually lead him offensive success — Roy believes it, and the Avs Nation should, too.

    #5: Head Games

    “You can’t be too high after a win or too low after a loss.” – Patrick Roy

    The Avalanche are not going to succumb to the fear factor. They are going to take the season game-by-game and stay even keel.

    That said, you know they’re getting into their heads a little bit. The 19-year-old MacKinnon is bound to be questioning the curse of the “Sophomore Slump.” The defense never hears anything but how bad it is. Duchene is renowned for getting into his head space.

    It’s time for these veterans the Avalanche acquired over the summer to step up — in particular Jarome Iginla. Iginla accepted the assistant captaincy over the more popular choice of Duchene. I don’t presume to know what goes on in the locker room behind closed doors, but I sure hope it’s Iginla using that unflappable manner of his to soothe the high-strung young bucks in the Avalanche top-six. I also hope veteran defenseman Brad Stuart is fulfilling similar duties for the D corps.Third-liner Daniel Briere seems to be handling his end on the bottom-six.

    Strap in, Avs Nation. We do not have a boring season ahead of us.