Avs Can Build on Toronto Game as They Hit the Road: Thoughts From Last Night


The Colorado Avalanche found a way to get a win last night, and in true Avalanche fashion, found a way to make it interesting. This was a team in dire need of a victory, and hot diggity, it was music to my ears to hear the Star Wars anthem after the game. Here are some positive things the Avalanche can look to build upon, as they embark on a four-game road swing through the Eastern portions of North America. Plus one thing that they still need to get squared away.

1. New Defensive System

Most have heard, but the Avalanche ditched their pure man-on-man scheme last night, in favor of a bit more of a zone look. The idea is getting the forwards to stay back and help defenseman turn the puck over, and give the guy with the puck options once the Avs take possession.

The man-to-man scheme gave the Avalanche fits. First off, they have some severe personnel deficiencies that limited the potential of playing a real effective man-to-man defense to begin with. Players need to be quick skaters with good closing burst, and also confident and self-sufficient passers. This allows them to apply the necessary pressure, and once they do have the puck, find a pass or skating lane to get the puck out of the zone and start the transition to offense.

Secondly, the Avalanche as a team lacked confidence. Playing man-to-man requires an aggressive, confident mindset. Second guessing, sitting back, and poor communication are all recipes for a fruit-cake of a night on defense (gross).

The zone scheme puts the Avalanche in a position to succeed. It takes pressure of the defenders, and holds forwards more accountable. Based on practice reports, and tonight’s game, it seems the team is focusing on breaking out as a unit, rather than relying on one or two guys to do everything.

The system looked good, and should only get better as the guys get a few games with it under their belts.

2. Shootout

Really glad Patrick Roy finally utilized Nathan MacKinnon in last night’s shootout, and went back to the traditional home-side shoots first approach. In the shootout loss earlier this year to the Sharks at home, the Avalanche elected to have San Jose shoot first. The plan backfired, because the Sharks scored right off the bat, and the Avalanche weren’t able to recover.

All three players scored in the shootout (MacKinnon, Duchene, Tanguay), and gave Reto Berra an easy night. Matt Duchene had some high praise anyway for Berra.

"“We’ve been doing shootouts with Reto after pre-game skate every day, and you can’t score on the guy. I go like one-for-ten against him. He’s so good, and so patient.” -Matt Duchene"

Sure, shootouts aren’t relative in a lot of games – the Avalanche have gone to overtime or a shootout in 6 of their 15 games. That being said, the Avalanche are going to need to find extra points to get back in the playoff race, and when they do get to OT/shootouts, they need to get the win.

3. Can’t Close Games

The Avalanche now sit at 2-2-1 when leading after two periods of play, after being a stellar 35-0-3 in that department last season. They are also 1-4-0 when they lead after one period of play. A big part of this is probably mental. Tonight, the Avalanche were in full control for 55 minutes, and then looked like deer in headlights during the final 5 minutes.

The leaders of this team, whether it is Roy, Landeskog, Duchene, Tanguay, or whoever, need to make sure that everyone has that killer instinct mentality. Sitting back and waiting/hoping that something bad doesn’t happen is the fastest way to ensure that something bad happens in the world of sports. Perhaps getting a few wins will get that confidence back. But they can’t keep squandering away games. They almost did it again last night, allowing Toronto to tie things up with about a minute to go.

4. Looking Ahead

With the win last night, the Avalanche find themselves three points out of a playoff position in the West. This isn’t overly important right now, but it means they are in touch. The most important thing is getting the team playing consistent hockey, and believing in themselves again.

Last year, the Avs were fearless, and that contributed heavily in their success. The switch in defensive scheme is going to be a huge building block going forward. I think it gives a little bit more structure in their defensive zone, and with the man-to-man background, hopefully they will be able to incorporate some of those twists still to pressure the opposition.

The Avalanche will be playing the Flyers, Islanders, Rangers, and Devils on the trip, and I’m eyeing three wins as a realistic goal. If they can pick up three our of four wins, they will even up their record at 7-7-5, and come home to a nice little four day break. This will set them up nicely to make a strong push toward the end of the calendar year. They will have 11 out of 18 games at home the rest of the way in 2014 after they finish off this next road-trip.