The Colorado Avalanche suffered yet another embarrassing third period relapse last night. All the tight forechecking and backchecking and just plain defensive play that had gotten them down by just one in the third period went up in smoke. In the span of 11 minutes they allowed two power play goals and a short-handed goal from the Florida Panthers. (Granted that’s better than the four goals in 5:07 seconds against the Minnesota Wild, but I’m not really feeling a celebration is in order.)
My initial response, as it is with most Colorado Avalanche — or sports fans, actually — was anger. Why did they suffer yet another mental relapse? They’re being asked to stay focused only for spurts of 90 seconds at a time! I bet you stay focused for much longer periods of time at your job — and probably don’t make six much less seven figures. (If you do — any openings?)
Ok, venom out. Now, Mile High Sticking writer Will Radke wrote an excellent article about the culture of winning — and the culture of losing that appears to be permeating the Colorado Avalanche team:
It’s time to start solving that problem. I’ve suggested — only half jokingly — that the team needs to bring a sports psychologist onboard. Here’s another idea — let the players just go out and play.
This idea is inspired by the fact that I had to watch the Florida feed of last night’s game. During the broadcast, the announcers remarked on part of Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant’s coaching philosophy, which essentially boils down to telling the players “Do what you do.”
Now, I’m not suggesting you cross-stitch that cute phrase onto a pillow and send it to the players — unless that’s how you roll — but there is some good advice embedded into that seemingly innocuous phase.
Right now, the Colorado Avalanche — especially the players — are trying to conform into a mold of defensive play driven by the whip of advances stats. Everywhere you turn the media — including this site on occasion (not me) — is hounding the Avalanche for how bad their advanced stats are. Corsi, Fenwick/Fenway/Fen Fen — it’s all bad for the Avs. (That last could kill you.)
During my 3 am mental rant about being able to focus (I was quite focused at the time), part of my rationale was that these players have been playing hockey for as long as they can remember. Most of them start at the age of four or five, so they literally don’t remember a time before playing hockey.
On top of that, every single one of the, — Nate Guenin included — must have some level of talent at the sport to have made it this far. Every player knows how to hockey better than 99.9999999% of the general population and at least 90% of the hockey playing population.
So, why keep letting the psychotic Dominatrix of advanced stats and defensive systems beat them into submission? For some players, like Erik Johnson and Blake Comeau, defense comes naturally. For others, such as Tyson Barrie and Carl Soderberg, they can easily learn that part of the game.
Then there’s guys like Nikita Zadarov who just likes to hit — our captain, too, seems to have that predilection. And Cody McLeod likes to fight.
And Matt Duchene doesn’t like to play defense! He’s not good at it. He’s simply terrible at the backcheck. He’s best on a breakaway. He can check — he laid a couple big hits last night, and I’ll always love this — but Matt Duchene will never be a two-way forward.
You know who else isn’t a two-way forward? Jaromir Jagr. Isn’t he bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame or something? Hasn’t he had a successful career for, like, 1,000 years? (OK, 25, but you get the point.)
Matt Duchene on a breakaway is a beautiful sight to see:
I noticed during the Dallas Stars game that the Avs didn’t play too well defensively. They were skating all over the ice, missing some of their defensive assignments, allowing 33 shots on goal — and winning the game! How’s they do that? By spitting in the face of advanced stats and the defensive-based system and scoring lots of goals!
Now, unfortunately, a lot of teams are defensive minded themselves, and they’re going to exploit a loosey-goosey system like the Colorado Avalanche’s. However, lots of bad teams are exploiting the discomfort of an externally-enforced system so counter to the Avalanche’s natural culture.
So, I propose this — let the mathematicians worry about advanced stats. Let the defensemen (yes, Barrie, too) and two-way forwards worry about the defensive side of the game.
From there, create lines based on players doing what they do. Select the goalie who can face lots of shots, and pop him in net. And then sit back and watch these skilled, talented, highly-paid players do what they do best — play hockey in their style.
Sure, the Colorado Avalanche are going to get annihilated by some teams. But they’re getting annihilated now. At least the games themselves would be a lot more fun to watch.
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