Colorado Avalanche: Something Different On Opening Night

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

Looking at the biggest differences between the year’s Colorado Avalanche team compared to previous seasons.

The Colorado Avalanche are undefeated. It’s only one game and the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint, but the Avs looked like a different team than they were a season ago. First and foremost; they battled back from adversity, got the lead, didn’t completely blow the lead, and won the game. Every Avs fan lost count of how many times the team would blow a third period lead last season, but so far they’re 0/1 in blown leads this year. That’s one stat where you actually want a low percentage.

Aside from not blowing a 5-2 lead, and I should note that they tried pretty hard to do it and almost succeeded, the Avs we saw on Saturday night weren’t the Avs that we saw for the majority of last season.

They just looked faster. Everyone likes to compliment the Avs on their speed. Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene are two of the speediest skaters in the league. Mikhael Grigorenko is a strong skater who can make with the best of them. Gabriel Landeskog blends power and speed. Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson are very smooth on the back end.

Despite the narrative that the Avs are a good skating team with speed to burn, we didn’t see it a whole lot in games. Obviously the individual talent shined, and MacKinnon would blow by defenders while Johnson would weave in and out of traffic, but it was all individual efforts and not the team taking advantage of their skating talent.

Against the Dallas Stars, the best team in the league last year when it came to producing offense, the Avs outplayed them offensively. They were making quick decisions with the puck, getting it up ice and allowing their best players to utilize their talent. They looked much faster and much smoother in transition, leading to multiple chances and rushes.

The biggest difference I noticed was in their forecheck. Not since the days of Dan Hinote have I seen the Avs attack the other team so aggressively. The line of Andreas Martinsen, Ben Smith, and Blake Comeau hounded the Dallas defenders all night and created a couple of turnovers that led to scoring chances. It wasn’t just them, though. All four lines pressured Dallas and forced them into some bad turnovers. Had the puck bounced the Avs way a little more, they could have easily add another couple of goals.

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This wasn’t a team that sat back when they took a 5-2 lead. Yes, Dallas cut things to 5-4, but it’s not because the Avs sat around and watched them control possession before eventually giving up the goal.

That doesn’t mean they were perfect. You can’t give up five goals and be perfect. The penalty kill, which was great in the preseason, didn’t look good. There was some miscommunication on a couple of plays, players still have trouble clearing the zone at crucial moments, and the defense didn’t do a great job of clearing the crease throughout the game.

I think the penalty kill will be better (not every team has the firepower that Dallas has) and the communication issues will hopefully be cleared up as the players get more comfortable with each other and the new system. Clearing the puck out of the zone is just a matter of being smart with the puck and not rushing things. It’s not something that comes natural to every player, but hopefully guys learn and can clean this up.

Clearing the front of the net doesn’t necessarily mean pushing a guy out of the way. The Avs aren’t especially big on defense, with the obvious exception being Nikita Zadarov, but just tying up or lifting a guys stick can go a long way in preventing a goal.

It’s only one game. The Avs could go 1-81 and this post could look really dumb in a few months, but I think anyone who watched the game last night saw something that we haven’t seen since the coaching debut of Patrick Roy. That game started the magical year that was the 2013-2014 season, but this team still feels different. They didn’t luck into chances and capitalize on them. They outplayed the best team in the West last year.

Next: Debating Patrick Roy

We can only hope that this is the start of not just a magical season, but a magical era.