Colorado Avalanche: Act Like You’ve Scored Before

The Colorado Avalanche can’t put the puck in the net.  Is confidence the problem?

Usually the phrase, “act like you’ve been here before“, is reserved for overzealous and egocentric goal celebrations.  Although I’m glad the Colorado Avalanche don’t have a showmanship problem, it would be nice if they had some goals to celebrate in the first place.

If you’ve followed the Avs in the last few games, you don’t need me to tell you that they have a goal scoring problem.  What I’ll try to do is explain “why?”.

In the last five games, the Avs have scored only five goals.  In this stretch the Avs have gone 1-4, dropping to a below .500 record.

No need to overreact – this is not a serious problem.  But it is symptomatic of other problems.  When your top six includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabe Landeskog and Jarome Iginla, scoring should not be a problem. Yet, it is.

Currently, the Avs have scored twenty goals this season.  This places them 29th overall in the league, only one spot above the Vancouver Canucks.  And “only” twenty-five goals back from the number one, New York Rangers who’ve scored forty-five goals in their eleven games so far.

Once again, no need to overreact.  This is a cause for concern, but there’s no need to panic – yet.  At the center of this is the fact that the Avs top players are not scoring, sans Matt Duchene, of course.  In other words, MacKinnon and Landeskog are not scoring.

So far, MacKinnon has six points in nine games, while Landeskog has five in nine.  These are not bad numbers – if you’re a run of the mill NHL’er, in fact these would be great numbers for most players.  However,  If your name is Nathan MacKinnon or Gabriel Landeskog, these numbers should be disappointing.  As top three draft choices and exceptionally skilled players, both guys should be scoring at a near point a game pace.

This, of course is an easy thing to say from behind my computer, but it stills bears some credibility.  Both Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy called out the Colorado Avalanche core last year for not stepping up, and here we are, nine games in, and the guys that need to be scoring goals aren’t doing it.  This is where I get concerned.

No one doubts the skill that these guys possess, but the fact that they aren’t putting the puck in the net raises some bigger questions about the ability of the Colorado Avalanche to compete.

I spent five years living in Chicago, during which I watched the Blackhawks avidly.  Two of those seasons were Stanley Cup championships.  Night in and night out watching this modern dynasty, the thing that most amazed me was the ability of the Hawks, especially captain Jonathan Toews, to make things happen.

In other words, Toews and the rest of the Hawks found ways to win.  Every sports has its intangible skills and abilities, and undoubtedly this is one in hockey: finding ways to win.

We saw this Thursday night in the 4-0 loss against the Hawks. After getting denied on a skilled deke around Erik Johnson, on his next shift, Toews buried a rebound while getting boxed out by the bigger and taller Patrick Wiercioch.  This is a small example of the play that Toews brings every night.  Quite simply, he finds ways to win.

Too often the Colorado Avalanche star players are non-factors in the outcome, especially Landeskog and MacKinnon.  The two are both undoubtedly team players and competitors, but seem to lack the direction or will power to make things happen when the team needs it.

With his speed, hands and agility, MacKinnon should not just be pushing defenders back to open up passing lanes, but should be pushing towards the net.  Too often, he makes a couple moves then passes it off, or rifles a shot off from behind the circles.  Playing against the exceptionally large and skilled goalies of modern day, only shots from inside the circles have a good chance of beating a goalie without a screen.  Each night, MacKinnon wastes his accurate and powerful wrist shot by shooting from too far away.

Landeskog, like MacKinnon, does not make use of the skills and talents he possesses.  Although not as preternaturally skilled as MacKinnon, Landeskog possesses size, strength, offensive awareness and an ability to beat defenders one-on-one, not to mention a powerful shot. 

Again, Landeskog is an excellent team player, but with these skills, I’d like to see him take control and forcibly take the puck to the net, running over anyone who gets in front of him, at the very least causing a mess and forcing the defenders to scramble.

To be fair, these are not easy things to do.  But, I’d rather see these guys take control and give it a run, rather than continue to play passively, waiting for opportunities rather than making them.

This all reminds me of Peter Forsberg.  Few other players demonstrate the same abilities of Peter Forsberg to make things happen, to turn nothing into something and to find ways to score.  Many remember Forsberg for his incredible playmaking abilities, but this was only half his game.  A true observer would also remark on Forsberg’s indomitable will that allowed him to be a dominating force on the ice when the odds were stacked against him.  As much as he relied on finesse, he relied on tenacity, physicality and risk-taking.

I use Forsberg as an example for Landeskog and MacKinnon, because like Peter, they possess great levels of skill (not as much as Peter the Great, of course).  However, unlike Forsberg, these guys hold back when Forsberg would go full throttle.  Peter Forsberg had the confidence to take risks, to hold onto the puck, to take on defenders even when outnumbered.  These are the things Landeskog and MacKinnon could do, but don’t do.

Both these guys know what it’s like to score and to be commanding forces in games, but they look timid.  In other words, they act like they’ve been here before.  These guys can undoubtedly put the puck in the back of the net, but they’re acting like they’ve never done it before.

Take a risk.  Take control.  Take the puck to the net.  At the end of the day, I wonder if they’re just lacking confidence in their own abilities.

I have the utmost respect for both these players.  And as a lifelong hockey player myself, I know what it’s like to be in a rut.  The thing that always gets you out of it is giving yourself permission to take risks and use the skill you have.  In other words: confidence

 The NHL continues to evolve in skill level and it is not easy to beat these goalies and defenders.  NHLers today naturally possess more skill than their forerunners a decade or two ago.  My critiques are simplified and only part of the picture here. It takes more than confidence and skill to score in the NHL today.  Nonetheless, I think our star players can do more.

Players like Toews and Forsberg both show us that while skill and teamwork are part of goalscoring, so is the willpower that comes with confidence.  Undoubtedly, MacK and Landy have the heart and drive to become game changers again.