Avalanche Danger Level: Moderate


Current Avalanche Danger Level: Moderate

On a weekly basis, we put the current Avalanche team chemistry and morale up against the North American Avalanche Danger Level Scale.  This scale has five ratings: Extreme, High, Considerable, Moderate, Low.  The higher the “Danger Level”, the better the team chemistry and morale is right now.

Our first week, coming in week 11 of the 2014/15 season, the Avs come across as a Moderate danger level for the rest of the NHL.

The Colorado Avalanche started off the season probably as bad as they could have started after such a great run last season.  So, to start the season you could put the Avalanche Danger Level at Low.

Now, many injuries, call-ups and line shake-ups later… The Avs seem to be finally playing better hockey.  Although it has not translated into many wins lately, Colorado is playing in close games, and it seems like they are right there in terms of being able to turn these good efforts into two points.

The Avs are 1-3-3 in the month of December so far, putting up just five points in seven games, but only one of the games was really “out of reach”.  The blowout 6-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th was one of the lowest points of the season, and it did not seem like they could turn it around after that game.

However, their next game against Nashville showed a better effort, as two late empty netters from the Preds tells that the 3-0 score does not reflect the overall play of the team that game. The Avs then built on that performance to come out and beat the Jets 4-3 in a shootout decided game last Thursday.  Add that to a gut wrenching overtime loss to the Blues on Saturday and you have a determined but questionable group of Avs heading into the three-game road trip this week.

The highs and lows of this season are very easily definable, and are outlined when you look at the timeline of injuries.  Just when the team seemed to be playing better in November, you had injuries to starting goalie Semyon Varlamov, forwards Alex Tanguay and John Mitchell and add in the long-term absense of veteran defenseman Brad Stuart. Its hard to build much chemistry when you constantly have a different lineup on the ice.

Team Chemistry: Top two lines are set.

The Avs 2nd line: O”Reilly – MacKinnon – Landeskog

After constantly mixing up the lines for the first two months of the season, head coach Patrick Roy seems to have finally found his top two line combinations.

The first line of veterans Alex Tanguay and Jarome Iginla playing around Matt Duchene has sparkled at times.  The past chemistry between Tangs and Iginla from their days in Calgary has re-ignited here in Colorado and it is a lot of fun for Matt Duchene to play with such talented and smart veteran players.  He is able to use his speed and skill to carry the puck around the ice and find an open Iginla or Tanguay for a scoring chance.  This line might not have a ton of points yet, but the chances have been there, and it is only a matter of time before they all three take off together.

On the second line, you have Nathan MacKinnon centering Ryan O’Reilly and Gabriel Landeskog.  Landeskog and ROR have played together in the past, going back to Landy’s rookie season, and they seem to compliment themselves on the ice very well, and are able to play a more physical game to open up the ice for MacKinnon more.  The chemistry between MacKinnon and Landeskog is crazy good for such young players.  It goes back to last season when both were wings on a line with Paul Stastny.  They were a part of the best line in the entire first round of the playoffs, but we are all still waiting on their offensive explosion this season. It seems like a move back to center might not be best for MacKinnon at this time, but hopefully it will make him stronger in the future. It sure would be nice to see Roy switch it around and put O’Reilly at center on this line at times, just to see if it would take a little pressure off the sophomore slumping Nathan MacKinnon.

The top two lines of this team have been set in stone, as Patrick Roy says he is going to “live and die” with these guys.  Hopefully the growth of chemistry continues among the top two lines and perhaps the healthy return of third line center John Mitchell can bring some normalness and chemistry to the bottom-six forward group.

Team Morale: Sparked by youth, rookie call-ups.

If you remember back to November, perhaps before most of these big time injuries, you would have been saying that this team lacked identity and effort.  Many were beginning to question the leadership by example on the ice, as it appeared that the big time players on this team were “satisfied” by being so good last year, and that they didn’t have to work as hard anymore.  From captain Gabe Landeskog to recently re-signed Ryan O’Reilly and even to breakout players from last season like Nick Holden and Nate Guenin, they just were not working with the same hard effort that gave them so much success last season.

This was turned around in late November when the Avs called-up a group of forwards before their game on November 22nd vs Carolina.  The three forwards, Tomas Vincour, Andrew Agozzino and Ben Street, played on the fourth line together and from their first time on the ice provided a spark to the Avalanche offensively by showing great hustle and forechecking on every shift.  They even combined for the team’s first goal, as Agozzino and Vincour assisted on Zack Redmond’s first of two goals in the game.

The hustle these rookies showed was apparent to the viewers and broadcasters of the game, so it had to have been noticeable by the rest of the team.  These guys were playing harder than the veterans on the Avalanche, and that is what seemed to have sparked this entire team.  Ever since this game, you have seen the Avs play with more hustle and grit towards every loose puck.  This one moment inside of the season is easy to overlook, but it could the single most important moment of the season.

At just 22 years old, Calvin Pickard has saved the Avalanche from being an embarrassment this season.

The Avalanche have also been sparked by another rookie call-up this season.  Goaltender Calvin Pickard has been outstanding in his first NHL action. When Semyon Varlamov first went down with a groin injury, and then again, and then again, many thought that would doom the Avalanche if they had any shot at the playoffs again.

They were wrong.  Pickard has been so great at keeping the Avs in just about every game he’s started. This is where the morale of this team is coming from. In net. Everytime Pickard has been in net, the Avalanche believe they can win. It’s a lot like when Varlamov is out there.  This team believes in it’s goaltender because of the way he has played.

This has been the first of many features called Avalanche Danger Alert.  We will revisit the status of the Avs team chemistry and morale each and every week here on Mile High Sticking.  In the future, the feature will focus more on individual player morale’s and how they relate to the overall team morale.  We will focus on quotes and actions from players and coaches, and give updates on how the chemistry is working with all of the line mix-ups.