Avalanche Roundtable: The Season So Far


Today, Nadia Archuleta joins me for a little discussion on how the Avalanche season has gone so far. We are doing this right after the debacle in Winnipeg, and Nadia claims to be much more zen than I am at the moment!

Alright Nadia. So, this season probably hasn’t gone as well as many Avs fans have expected. Do you think the Avalanche can recover, and still be a playoff team?

Nadia: I don’t know if I think the Avs are making the playoffs. Anything’s possible, but they’re in a pretty big hole. I fully expect them to play good hockey this season, though. What about you?

Austin: Ahhh, I see we are going with the old politician’s answer. Rats, I was going to use that one. I guess I can offer something up a bit more concrete. After tonight, I think the hole has gotten too big. This team isn’t making the playoffs. Oddly enough, this morning I was thinking a lot of positive thoughts, and noticed a lot of favorable trends in their possession stats since they switched to the zone. All that kind of went out the window though with their performance this evening.

The Avs would need to finish at 98 points to claim the final wild card spot with the current Western Conference paces. That translates to a 110 point pace for the rest of the season. I just don’t see it happening.

What has been the biggest difference from last season to this season in your mind. Why hasn’t this team been able to duplicate their success from last season?

Nadia: Fear factor. Patrick Roy said it during the summer that the biggest factor for the Avs would be if they could overcome their fear. They know they played a little better than they were last season, and that they won quite a few they didn’t deserve. They knew it wouldn’t be that way this season. Once that truth became their reality — once they lost so badly to the Wild after so looking forward to the games — they allowed themselves to go into a tailspin.

I do not for one second think that Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon, Barrie or Johnson is a worse player than he was last year. I also believe they’re playing as well as they possibly can. However, I think they may get into the thick of things, and then they choke. They start second-guessing themselves. Instead of playing with confidence, they play with that fear.

To be honest, that’s why I’ve been a little hard on Jarome Iginla this season. He’s supposed to be this great leader, he took the A — I really expected him to have more power to settle the young guys down.

In short, that’s why I get a little angry when fans start suggesting trades. We’ve got excellent players. We added an infusion with Iginla, Brad Stuart and Daniel Briere. I don’t see how a trade is going to fix the team’s mental state — and that mental state is the problem. Roy says it. ROR has said it. Iginla has said it. I believe them.

Austin: Yeah, I’m pretty on board with what you’ve said. It’s not often you get to enjoy a season where you go 28-4-8 in one-goal games, and are able to post a 35-0-3 record when leading after two periods of play, despite having possession stats in the bottom fifth of the league.

Fear factor is an interesting way to put it. I’ll be honest, when you wrote those articles about overcoming that fear at the start of the season, I was a little skeptical as to what you were getting at. But I’m coming around.

I think that losing can sometimes be a symptom of losing. And winning is really the only cure. The Avalanche have proven to not have much mental fortitude this season, and are failing to do the things that led to their success last year. They are 6-6-6 in one-goal games, and 3-2-2 with the lead after two periods.

I don’t know how much I’d question the letters. I would have preferred Matt Duchene or Erik Johnson to get that A, but this is a team issue. Iginla is a part of the team. If we’re going to squabble over letters, why on Earth does Cody McLeod still wear an A?

I also don’t think that a trade is going to fix anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a minor deal, just to shake things up a bit. That’s just how things go in sports. Those who are clamoring for O’Reilly to be shipped out of town have lost their marbles though.

You’ve already said, you think this team is going to play good hockey down the stretch. I tend to agree with you. I think the Avs will play solid the rest of the way, and come frustratingly close the playoffs. What needs to happen to ensure this team reaches its full potential for the rest of the season?

Nadia: Someone’s got to channel his inner Forsberg. When I was writing those articles about Peter Forsberg, and people talked again and again about his will to win, I wanted that desperately for the young core we have now. I think Duchene and Johnson especially have a strong will to win, but they need to take it that one step further. That “I’m going to play in extreme pain because I want to win THAT badly.” Roy did the same thing — he once played playoff games with appendicitis. I just don’t think Duchene or Johnson know HOW to do that. (Of all the players, they come closest, though.)

I also agree that losing is a symptom of losing. The Avs know how to lose. They know how to lose their mental focus. They don’t know how to grind on when it’s no longer fun.

As far as Cody McLeod and his A… I go back and forth. He’s another one who has a will to win — it’s just that he’s not a gifted player. I don’t think Cody McLeod has taken a shift off in his life, and that’s leadership.

Austin: Yeah, somebody on this team has to step up. Your statement about this team not knowing how to grind when the games aren’t fun is spot on. I think this is a big problem for a lot of these players. The veteran leadership hasn’t really solved that issue either, and the guys they brought in have been… uhhh… interesting fits.

To be honest, I’m disappointed in Nathan MacKinnon. I’m not going to rag on him too much, because he’s 19 years old. But at the same time, I feel like his game hasn’t progressed from last season to this season. I thought he was going to take a big jump, but it just hasn’t happened. The hype-train has really derailed with this dude.

He had a real rough start to the year, and then seemed to get things going, but now these past few games he looks to be in a total funk again. I wrote a big article on him earlier this year, and about how I thought a lot of his issues are mental. I wonder if he should attend a few sessions with Matt Duchene’s sports psychologist.

I also notice, unlike most of the rest of the young core, MacKinnon zips off the ice right when practice is over (at least the few I’ve attended). Guys like Dutchy, Landy, O’Reilly, and Barrie are all out there working on things after practice, but MacK hits the showers. Iginla also rarely practices. I wonder if that has affected MacKinnon’s chemistry, and Iginla’s ability to really share his wisdom with the youngsters.

I do feel like the Avalanche are missing a Chris Drury type player though. One of those guys who just finds ways to make plays and win games. The talent is certainly there for a lot of these guys, and I think they do have the will to win. They just need to constructively harness it.

We’ll wrap this thing up with one final question (err two final questions). What are your thoughts on Nathan MacKinnon? Any other players who have been pleasant surprises, or frustrating disappointments?

Nadia: I was thinking already last season that MacKinnon was more Dutchy than Landy when it came to his mental state. Yes, he should have a session or three with Dutchy’s sports psychologist.

Yes, I’m a little disappointed in MacKinnon, but only a little. Sophomore slump is a cliche for a reason. I truly think he’s going to be a dominant player in this league. I’m glad he’s got the leadership of guys like Landy and Dutchy plus EJ to rag on his butt — after all, EJ knows a thing or two about having high expectations and potentially not living up to them.

I’m not going to lie — I wanted EJ to have a career season, but I wasn’t sure he really would. He’s my fave, and I admit I’m a little biased, but he is killing it. He has added layers to what was already a sophisticated game. I’m also pleasantly surprised by Barrie — I wasn’t sure he’d live up to the hype.

Like the rest of the Avs Nation, I’m disappointed in ROR. But I know he’s disappointed in himself, too, so I don’t want to rag  on him.

Austin: Absolutely. Most of your readers probably know of your affinity for Erik Johnson, so I will vouch and say he has been fantastic this season. Tyson Barrie is coming along nicely as well. Barrie’s ability to create on offense is really a pleasure to watch.

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Another guy from the blueline who has impressed me is Zach Redmond. I liked his game from the start, and wanted him to get his chance earlier than he did. Now that he has, he’s taken advantage. He reminds me of Nick Holden from last year, which is why I won’t get too carried away.

Ryan O’Reilly is funny. I’m more intrigued by him than disappointed. I know he turned a lot of people against him, with his contract demands. He upped the anti, and by his own actions, put the microscope on himself. He needs to produce, and hasn’t. I won’t deny that. I actually had a tweet pinned to my profile for a while on O’Reilly, citing the fact that he has been the 2nd best possession forward on the team, but his numbers are being driven down by atrocious shooting percentages, and on-ice save percentages.

I do think O’Reilly has a level we haven’t seen yet. He seems to be missing on opportunities that he buried last year.

As far as a few other positives, I’ve been extremely impressed with Alex Tanguay, and pleasantly surprised by Daniel Briere.

Well, thanks for doing this with me Nadia. Helped me to relax and get my mind off that mind-numbing Jets game. That one had me all riled up. Any final thoughts before I go on to my next adventure?

Nadia: I concur with the Tangs, Danny B and Redmond observations. That’s part of what makes the Avs’ season so frustrating — they have so many positives going on. I mean, Landeskog is snake-bitten like MacKinnon was for awhile — Landy leads the team in shots, yet he’s only got seven goals. I’m very impressed by his leadership, the way he plays a rough game. The way he stands up for his teammates — I know he took a penalty in the Jets game, but I think it’s important that he stood up for his linemate. He’s also very willing to face the media and answer the tough questions without making excuses.

Anyway, I agree this was fun, getting the different perspectives!

Austin: It was fun! Until next time. You can find Nadia on twitter @hockeygrrls and myself @Cottstigan.