Colorado Avalanche: Lessons from the LA Kings Early Exit

Jan 4, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Tyler Toffoli (73) celebrates his goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 4, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Tyler Toffoli (73) celebrates his goal in the second period against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche can learn from the Los Angeles Kings’ mistakes, which led to their early exit from the playoffs.

Well, the Los Angeles Kings are the first team to bust my bracket — I had them making it to the second round before falling to the Anaheim Ducks. (The New York Rangers also put holes in my bracket, by the way.) In fact, that was the clever way the LA Twitter announced the elimination at the hands of the San Jose Sharks:

However, the Colorado Avalanche can learn from the Kings’ early exit from the playoffs.

Playing with a Deficit

The Los Angeles Kings were not the comeback kids at all in this series. As Kings forward Anze Kopitar pointed out in a post-game presser, Los Angeles was chasing the lead “pretty much every game.”

LA bruiser Milan Lucic observed the same:

"“We never came to the dressing room after a period with a lead, and we weren’t able to establish the lead and play with it for the whole series, and we were always playing from behind.”"

More from Mile High Sticking

The Colorado Avalanche are famous for going mental at the wrong time — and when your team is down, that’s the wrong time. When the other team scores, players need to get angry, not upset. A Stanley Cup attitude means they should want to pay back that upstart by scoring on his team — perhaps several times.

That involves pushing while still playing your game — that’s where the Avalanche often went awry. When an opponent scored, they’d get upset and try to correct the matter individually. A better response is to tighten up your game to prevent further scoring and pushing the team offense to score.

What’s more, Lucic’s and Kopitar’s comments highlight the importance of striking first. The Colorado Avalanche showed that quite often they were willing to come out with their guns blazing — their “guns” being Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, of course. Just as often, though, the players tended to come out flat and eventually try to correct a deficit in the third period. That attitude cost them a lot of games the last two seasons.

Working the Little Jobs

Skating around, puck handling, taking shots and hitting players — these are the fun parts of hockey. However, to win games in the NHL, those actions alone aren’t sufficient.

According to Lucic, a big difference-maker in the series was the Kings’ compete level. He said:

"“Plain and simple we weren’t hard enough on their top guys, on their D, or on their goaltender, and we weren’t committed to the little things that it takes to win a playoff series. They blocked more shots than us, beared down on their opportunities more than we did, and that’s why we came out on the losing end of things.”"

How many times did we hear Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy talk about “little things” such as players winning their battles, working the corners and driving the net?

That’s the hard work of hockey. It’s probably not as much fun. It’s also what went out of the Colorado Avalanche first whenever the going got tough. The players would get upset about how the game was going, and they’d start playing undisciplined hockey.

Sometimes it cost the team penalties, goals and whole games. That kind of undisciplined hockey didn’t serve the Kings well, and it’s something Colorado needs to work on as well.

Exorcising your Demons

This lesson actually comes from the San Jose Sharks rather than the LA Kings. For the last two seasons, Los Angeles has had San Jose’s number. Sound familiar?

Ok, for San Jose the owning took place in the playoffs. The Kings made an historic comeback after being down 3-1 in the second-round series in 2013 to eliminate the Sharks. LA then eliminated San Jose in the first round in 2014. Neither team made the playoffs last season.

As San Jose forward Logan Couture put it, ““Throughout the last couple of years things have been said by players on that team that to me I take it as disrespectful.” He added:

"“It’s nice to stick it back to them and beat them in this series. Even in this series someone said on the team they had us right where they wanted us.Wonder if they have us where they want us right now.”"

Well, what Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said was that, after the Kings cut the series lead 2-1, the Sharks had to be thinking about that so, “we’re right where we want to be.”

Nonetheless, in San Jose’s mind, the Kings were their demons. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said in a post-game presser:

"“I haven’t been around here for some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past but I’m sure for some guys, they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight. For the group in general, it was just a well-earned victory.”"

I remarked to my fellow Avs fans friends recently that I really hoped the NHL didn’t schedule the Colorado Avalanche against the Minnesota Wild for the first game of the season for the third year in a row. Ever since that Game 7 overtime loss that eliminated the Avalanche in 2014, it’s seemed that an opening night loss to the Wild has the power to derail their whole season.

That can’t be. They have to exorcise that demon the same way the Sharks did. It’s time to jack up the rent on the Minnesota ghosts in the Avs’ players’ heads and evict them.

The Minnesota Wild is just a team. They try to play a run-and-gun style of hockey but usually fall back into clogging the neutral zone. Their goalies, whether Devan Dubnyk or Darcey Kuemper, come up big in big games.

Next: Solutions for the Avs Defense

The Colorado Avalanche are simply going to have to get over it. They have to show Minnesota what a real run-and-gun game looks like — with Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon and (hopefully) Mikkel Boedker skating circles around the Wild. They have to clog down the neutral zone with their effective 1-3-1 trap. And for the love of Roy, someone other than Semyon Varlamov needs to be in net to come up big.

That, however, is a story for another post.