Avalanche Lessons from the Road (Trip)


“EJ’s been outstanding for us. He’s been probably one of our better players all year.” – Patrick Roy

The Colorado Avalanche finished the road trip having played 500 hockey. That’s right, for as awful as parts of the trip got, they finished even in points, earning four out of the eight possible. (True, they gave up a point when the game against the New York Rangers went past regulation, but they’re Eastern Conference, so never mind.)

So, what can we take away from the Colorado Avalanche’s Eastern road trip?

Big Players with Big Games

Believe it or not, Matt Duchene is on pace to score 25 goals. It may not feel like it, but if he keeps going the way he is, he’d hit that mark. Even more impressively, Alex Tanguay is on pace to hit 30. No one on the team hit the 30-goal mark last season.

Unfortunately, overall points are a different matter. Duchene, Tanguay, captain Gabriel Landeskog, veteran Jarome Iginla and Ryan O’Reilly need to have games like their best of this road trip. Correction, Duchene and Tanguay need to match their best games of this road trip, and the others need to catch up.

Head coach Patrick Roy has said again and again that he needs to see more from his top forwards. They’re showing it — in fits and spurts, but they’re showing it.

Avalanche Defense

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Coach Roy continues to, well, defend his defense. Obviously they’re not the greatest in shutting down opponents, considering the Avs rank 29th out of 30 in allowing shots. Changing from straight man-on-man defense to a hybrid zone coverage has helped, but there needs to be a little more shut down to the defense.

On the flip side, part of Colorado Avalanche defense has always been its offense. Defensemen are pinching in — heck, stay-at-home defenseman Jan Hejda is putting pucks on net. And it’s showing. Rover Tyson Barrie is second only to Duchene in points, and Erik Johnson is fourth on the team.

Indeed, both Barrie and Johnson are on pace to record career seasons. Johnson in particular had a spectacular game against the New Jersey Devils. He recorded a ridiculous 30:25 of ice time — which almost makes Minnesota’s Ryan Suter look lazy. Johnson also scored the game-tying goal.

Johnson said of the play:

"“I like to think the game is fair and honest, and if you play the right way for the length of time we did you’ll get a bounce. That was one you shoot on net and hope for a rebound. It trickled through.”"

Cautiously Optimistic

No one’s questioning the Colorado Avalanche have skill and talent — and award-winning coaching, literally. Likewise, no one’s questioning that the Avs have been in a tailspin for large parts of this young season. As Landeskog put it, “You take one step forward and two steps back.”

Indeed, they win a big game against the Vancouver Canucks then blow leads in the next two games to lose in overtime and the shootout. They win huge again against the New York Islanders, then drop the next three, including an embarrassing blown lead against the Canucks. Claw their way back in the game against the Philadelphia Flyers, then embarrass themselves again, this time against the Islanders.

However, for the first time all season the Avs have strung two wins in a row. Even better, one of them was not only in regulation, it was a come-from-behind win against a very defensive-minded team, the New Jersey Devils. That’s something the team can build on.

Coach Roy is cautiously optimistic:

"“I like our game in Philly… I thought we had a really good road trip, played 500 hockey. Sometimes you’d like to be a little bit better than this. But if you look at the teams we played against, we’re very happy with those last two wins. Hopefully we can build on that for the next game against Washington.”"

Will to Win

With Peter Forsberg Tribute Weekend in full swing here at Mile High Sticking, in honor of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I’ve been thinking a lot about what he could do for the team right now. As far as moves on the ice, he could add nothing as he stands right now. It hurts to admit, our Foppa isn’t the player he was.

“We’ve had to will our way through this [tough patch].”- Matt Duchene

However, he could instill in the young core of the team one of the aspects of his game that made him such a force — the will to win. The Avs want to win, no doubt. They just don’t know how. They don’t know how to look at a 5-0 deficit like

Forsberg did against the Florida Panthers

and see that as a spur to dig deep, all the way to the toes if necessary, and make every shift your best. They’re just a little too young and inexperienced to know how to make plays happen without trying to do



No, we don’t quite have a Forsberg on the team now. But we’ve got some talented and skilled players, some young men who can score highlight reel goals. We’ve got the grit. We’ve got the work ethic — I genuinely believe that. We’ve got the leadership, and we even have the veterans. For some reason, though, the Avs don’t have that nebulous force, the will to win. Not just the desire, but the actual will to make it happen, whether it takes an ugly goal, sacrificing the body, passing instead of shooting, shooting instead of passing or relying on your instincts when the fear is deafening.

Duchene thinks it’s coming, though:

"“Last year if we played liked we played against the New York Rangers on Thursday [a 4-3 shootout victory], we’d score five or six goals and we win easily in regulation. This year it’s just not coming as easy for us. But these are the types of wins that create those to come back. We’re pushing hard and working, and we’ll get through this because we’re a strong-character team.”"

He added, “It hasn’t come easy, not for one second. We’ve had to will our way through this [tough patch].”

Bingo, there it is. The Avs have the talent. They have the skill. They have the mix of grit and finesse, youth and wisdom. With that will to win, they’ll match or exceed any team in the league.