Colorado Avalanche: Early Games and The Lost Season


No one player can make or break a hockey team — it’s a group sport. By the same respect, no one aspect of the game can make or break an NHL season. At any given time, 20+ adult men are coming together with their own histories, health and preoccupations in addition to their hockey skills and talents.

Many reasons have been proposed for the Colorado Avalanche’s lost season this year, but practically everyone from head coach Patrick Roy to players to fans agree the slow start had a lot to do with it.

Veteran Alex Tanguay said during a post-practice interview upon learning they’d been eliminated:

"“We dug ourselves a pretty good hole at the start of the year, and those things are certainly hard to overcome.”"

In the Avalanche’s case, it was impossible to overcome.

Preseason Games

We all tried to not be worried in the preseason when the Avalanche struggled. They lost seven straight before finally managing a win against the LA Kings during the annual Frozen Fury matchup in Las Vegas.

Captain Gabriel Landeskog pointed out then that the players knew the difference between the preseason and the regular season while acknowledging they couldn’t just flip a switch.

When you look at the way the preseason went, though, you notice troubling trends that continued into the regular season. The Avs managed only 11 goals in eight games — including being shut out twice — while allowing 23.

Except for the first game against the Anaheim Ducks, a 4-0 loss, the Avs never lost by more than two goals.

The Avalanche lost four one-goal games. Like I said, these were troubling trends that continued into the regular season.

Season Openers

Amongst Avalanche fans, there were no games more anticipated than the 2014-15 season openers. The Avalanche were slated to face the hated Minnesota Wild in Xcel Energy Center before hosting them at Pepsi Center.

I’m certain the NHL scheduled those games as a division rivalry continuation of the 2014 playoffs, when the Wild eliminated the Avalanche in Game 7. I imagine Wild fans felt gleeful anticipation, but Avs fans wanted retribution.

We know by now we didn’t get it. The Avs were shut out in both games. They were blown away 5-0 in Minnesota and shut out 3-0 in the home opener. And that just sucked. A team that was only shut out once in the 2013-14 regular season had already doubled that number.

Significance of Early Games

Eight preseason games and two regular season games did not lose the whole season for the Colorado Avalanche. Rather, those 10 games showed the flaws in their game that eventually led to the lost season.

The Avalanche couldn’t score goals — they got shut out a total of eight times this season. By the end of the year, opponents had scored eight more goals than the Avalanche, but that differential was radically higher early in the season. Hells, after the first two games, the goals differential was already eight.

As far as the “why” of the slow start — that’s something we’ll spend a lot of time dissecting during the long off-season here at Mile High Sticking.

However, I return to the original observation — at any time you’ve got 20+ men coming into a game as individuals attempting to play as a team. It’s pretty obvious that the Avalanche players and even coaching staff didn’t manage that early in the season.

Judging by what players and coach Roy have remarked upon at the end of the season, it sounds as if they didn’t come into training camp with a hungry enough attitude. They didn’t take the preseason seriously enough.

And then those two games against the Wild happened, and that likely got into their heads.

One of my favorite quotes is from defenseman Erik Johnson talking during a CBS Interview with Vic Lombardi:

"“[Hockey] is 80% mental and 20% physical, and if you’re not engaged 100% mentally, you’re going to have a lot of struggles.”"

It’s obvious that the Avs players were not engaged 100% mentally — or, in sports parlance, they didn’t have their heads in the game at all times.

After those early games, the season progressed and things were not easier than they had been the year before and were in fact harder. I think different players at different times lost focus during games. That resulted in inconsistent play. That resulted in those maddening games that looked like they took shifts, minutes and even whole periods off.

And as the struggles continued, it became harder and harder to overcome those mental hurdles. Picture it like a dangling thread that, when pulled, can unravel a whole section of a sweater.

The Avalanche did eventually overcome those mental hurdles. However, in the impossible Central Division, where 90 points means you’re bottom of the pack, it wasn’t enough.

The players know this. The central core of young Avalanche players know this. What’s more, they’re the ones that pulled themselves our of those doldrums.

When training camp and the preseason roll around five long months from now, they’ll have that well of experience from which to pull.

Next: Why Didn't the Avs Make the Playoffs

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