Colorado Avalanche: Lessons from the Pittsburgh Penguins

Jun 12, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins players pose for a team photo with the Stanley Cup after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2016; San Jose, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins players pose for a team photo with the Stanley Cup after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game six of the 2016 Stanley Cup Final at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche have a lot they can learn from the current Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

By the time the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals in the semi-finals, I knew they were going to be tough to beat for the Stanley Cup. I thought the Tampa Bay Lightning and their playoff experience might give them a better run for their money, but it didn’t happen.

And now the Pittsburgh Penguins are the reigning Stanley Cup champs. They definitely deserve it, and, boy, am I glad it’s no longer the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Colorado Avalanche can learn a lot from the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s true the Penguins play in the faster, flashier Eastern Conference instead of the gritty Wild West. However, Colorado can still use to model itself after the Pens, with modifications.

What’s more, the Avalanche can learn a lot from Pittsburgh’s overall success.

Control your Emotions

Personally, I think we all love it when our guys lay out opponents with a gigantic hit, especially if those opponents happen to be the Minnesota Wild. However, taking penalties is the opposite of a good idea.

For example, during one of the Stanley Cup Finals games San Jose Sharks veteran Joe Thornton was trying to get under Sidney Crosby‘s skin. He cross checked Crosby’s helmet off. Crosby just stood there, knowing that in the bigger picture reacting wasn’t going to do his team any good.

The Avalanche can learn from that — pick your battles.

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Follow your Leaders

In that vein, as head coach Patrick Roy has been saying, the core of the team have to be the leaders. But here’s the next step — everyone has to fall into line. Everyone has to be following the leaders’, well, lead.

At times the Colorado Avalanche have looked like they’re all playing a different game. They are very talented and skilled players, yet I’ve watched them unable to complete a simple pass. The team leaders — whether they wear a letter or not — have to take control.

Heck, look at how goalie Marc-Andre Fleury acted. He’s the Pittsburgh Penguins’ starter, the man who backstopped them to a Stanley Cup in 2009. Yet because of an untimely injury, he didn’t start the playoffs, and backup Matt Murray got hot.

If Fleury had come back and acted entitled to the starting job, the Penguins might have had a goalie controversy on their hands. Instead, Fleury acted with grace. Players could follow his lead, and now the Pens have a Stanley Cup on their hands.

Cultivate both Goalies

Speaking of Fleury, the situation in Pittsburgh only worked because the team had a very capable backup goalie.

The Colorado Avalanche, of all the teams in the world, should be the strongest in the goalie department. The team employs the best goalie ever and that man’s goalie coach. No one on the face of the earth knows the position better than that tandem.

And a tandem is what’s going to work best in Colorado. Every goalie in the system has the opportunity to be technically sound because of Francois Allaire’s teaching. And every goalie in the system can get advice from Patrick Roy about the mental aspects of the game.

Use Speed

I don’t know why, but I never thought of the Pittsburgh Penguins as a speedy team. But watching them in the Finals, they were flying.

Colorado is speedy. Players like Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson can — and have — skate circles around opponents.

It’s true that other players might not be as fast. However, like the Penguins, the Colorado Avalanche have to find a way to make it work. They have to set up plays where one of the speedsters starts the rush, but following players set up as well.

Keep Blocking Shots

The system of blocking shots has been much-maligned in hockey, including on this site. However, as I watched the Stanley Cup Finals, I kept wondering why the San Jose Sharks weren’t getting more shots on goal. They’re known for shooting from everywhere.

Then I saw how the Penguins were blocking shots. In Game 6, when they won the Cup, the Penguins blocked 33 shots. Even Sidney Crosby blocked shots when it was all on the line — he blocked four! This is one of the most talented men in hockey, and he dropped down to put his body in front of the puck same as any grinder.

I acknowledge the reasons for shot blocking not being the best defense. It results in rebounds, and the player is no longer in a good position to play the puck. Plus, skill players can get injured — ahem, Nathan MacKinnon.

However, shot blocking is effective. It worked for the Penguins.

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Here’s the biggest one, though.


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The Pittsburgh Penguins had the Stanley Cup attitude. They were willing to do anything — including block shots, cheat on the faceoffs, play the backup goalie, put a star on the third line — in order to win.

I admit, I have a tender heart when I see the other team lose a series (except the Minnesota Wild, of course, and the Chicago Blackhawks). The players get so emotional, and I feel for them.

I don’t have a killer instinct. That killer instinct is essential to winning the Stanley Cup.

Retired NHLers Mike Rupp and Ryan Whitney talked about the Stanley Cup Finals for the Player’s Tribune. They discusedd how Crosby was playing “out of his mind” to win the cup. Whitney further explained:

"“Guys are going, at best, 95% in practice. Sid would be going 105% on a Tuesday morning in like January… He’s like [Michael Jordan]. They wanna stomp on your throat. That’s what makes them great.”"

I would add Patrick Roy to that list.

But that’s what it takes — that will to win, that dedication, that Stanley Cup attitude. It ain’t pretty or pleasant or fun. But it’s what wins championships.

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The Colorado Avalanche need to develop that attitude if the young core ever want to realize their talents and maybe get to drink from the silver chalice.