Colorado Avalanche: Explanations after Devastating Loss

Mar 26, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy on his bench in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy on his bench in the first period against the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche dropped a devastating loss to the hated Minnesota Wild, effectively ending their playoff chances. What happened?

We’ve been trained by Hollywood to believe good triumphs in the end, that our heroes will eventually be victorious. Whenever the Colorado Avalanche face the Minnesota Wild, though, reality sets in — our heroes fail again and again.

As Avalanche fans, all we can do is cheer our team on, especially at home. I was at all three Colorado-Minnesota games played in Pepsi Center, and only the December 7 game was a treat. The Avalanche ground out a win.

I’d say of the two home losses, the opening night debacle was worse for me. I still had hopes then. I didn’t for this game. I went in expecting the Avalanche to lose. I cheered my heart out, but when the team fell apart, I wasn’t surprised. I’d already watched them do exactly that a few months before on opening night.

I wish I had the answers. A lot of pundits. journalists and fans are going to say they do. Here are some of the highlights:

Coaching is the problem: Patrick Roy is in his third year as an NHL coach, and his team only made the playoffs once, seeing as they’re highly unlikely to do so now. His systems aren’t solid, and he mustn’t have the players’ ears anymore.

Captaincy is the problem: Gabriel Landeskog isn’t a force on the ice — he disappears at times. He’s young, and he’s known for not being vocal in the locker room. He doesn’t display enough leadership.

Defense is the problem: The Colorado Avalanche don’t have a solid enough defensive corps. The defensemen make critical errors at key times, costing the team games.

Advanced stats are the problem: The team is one of the worst in the NHL when it comes to Corsi and Fenwick, especially related to puck possession.

The power play is the problem: The Colorado Avalanche have yet to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play and are only at 18.9% conversion overall on the power play. The players don’t get set up, don’t cycle enough and don’t shoot enough.

Focus is the problem: The team gets up by a goal, and they take the foot off the gas. The team gets down by a goal, and they freak out. The Colorado Avalanche almost never play a full 60 minutes.

The game is the problem: The players don’t play a simple enough game, especially at home. They try to get fancy, and it costs them turnovers — which eventually costs them the game.

Truthfully, the problems with the Colorado Avalanche are complex. There’s certain to be a little truth in each of those points as well as deep, underlying truths of which we’re not aware.

I’ll address some of the key points.

I’ve made my stand on the coaching pretty clear. I don’t know where the disconnect is between what Patrick Roy is teaching and what the players are executing. I know some of the systems he’s implemented have gone awry — I’m thinking of man-on-man defense from last season. However, the players aren’t executing anything with any consistency. In fact, consistency has been a big problem for the team all season.

I will acknowledge that coach Roy changes up the lines a lot, which might affect consistency. Last night he was switching up defensive pairings as well — I saw Erik Johnson skating with Chris Bigras, Tyson Barrie and his usual Francois Beauchemin at different points in the game. These were not during line changes or specialty teams.

That said, adaptability is well-known as a boon for effective coaching. I know Patrick Roy has made changes to the lineup based on what he’s seeing on the ice. I don’t know where the fine line between consistency and adaptability is, though.

For the second point, I’ve also gone on record about Gabriel Landeskog’s captaincy. I admit that I wasn’t keen on his response to the Philadelphia Flyers loss:

"“We had a good first period. We had a bunch of good scoring chances. We had them on our heels, but in the second and in the third I think we let up a little too much, gave them a little too much room.”"

At the time, I wanted to see the anger and frustration that was clear in defenseman Erik Johnson’s interview:

That said, I understood what Landeskog was doing — refusing to tear down his team. Gabriel Landeskog has always been about building his team up.

I’m more frustrated with Landeskog’s alternate captains, especially Jarome Iginla. Leadership of a hockey team should be conducted as a group — if Landeskog is the morale coach, it’s up to his alternates to effect other aspects of team dynamics. Cody McLeod is an energy player, and his role in the locker room is supposed to be the fire that Landeskog holds back.

Iginla was given the alternate captaincy because of his veteran status. I would expect him to be a leader on and off the ice. He’s having a terrible offensive year, though. And I wonder why he, with all his experience, was unable to make the players keep focused — why he couldn’t get them to listen to their coach. That’s the role of the oldest man on the team, and a future Hall of Famer to boot.

On to the next point — defense is a problem. There is a clear divide between the top pairing and the second pairing — with Tyson Barrie roving all over, leaving Nick Holden to play all the D — and an even greater divide between the second and third pairings. That could be why coach Roy was shaking up the pairings.

Defense is also a problem for the forwards. I’ve seen them working on it in practice — one forward back with a defenseman for odd-man rushes. I don’t know why that doesn’t translate into game time.

In other words, I don’t have an answer for the defense problem except to say next year’s defensive corps should be better when Nikita Zadorov has matured and Eric Gelinas is healthy again.

I’m not going to touch the advanced stats problem. It’s true, but all the stats do is tell us we have a problem, now how we can fix it.

As far as the power play goes, the Colorado Avalanche are actually in the top half of the NHL, #13 overall for power play conversion. Their power play is better than it was last year. Also, you can’t discount how bad it is that we don’t have our top two scorers. Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are the main players when it comes to the power play.

To my mind, the last two points — focus and the game — go hand-in-hand. I think both those points are also the deep, underlying problem. The Colorado Avalanche don’t play like winners. Sometimes they try to get too fancy, and sometimes they freak out when things go wrong. They could be choking, or they could be self-indulgent.

Next: Time for the Avs to Own their Destiny

The truth is, when it comes to the mental aspect of the game, it’s different for every player and on any given night. I don’t know what it is about the team that allows them to become undisciplined when faced with adversity. I don’t know why some teams pull together when in the same circumstances.

It’s all tied together. Somehow Patrick Roy has to get the players to buy into the system 100%. It’s up to his captains to spread that belief. And the players themselves have to force themselves to focus.

It can all come together. It has at glorious times this season, most recently during the wins against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. That was a team that was mentally focused and all on the same page — and a team that could compete with any team in the NHL.