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Avs not making excuses for slow start

10/15/2014
The high-flying Avs have fallen back to Earth and were exposed by the Maple Leafs. Graig Abel/Getty Images

TORONTO -- About the last place anybody would have predicted the high-flying Colorado Avalanche to be after the opening week of the NHL’s regular season is dead-last in offense.

But that’s where they were Wednesday morning, with only four goals in four games, tied with Boston (four games) and Florida (three games) with that measly four-goal tally.

It hasn’t been the same sizzling start the Avs enjoyed a year ago, when they stunned the hockey world with a 12-1-0 record out of the gates under rookie head coach Patrick Roy, en route to a surprising Central Division regular-season title.

Many pundits have predicted some regression for the Avs this season, and the early returns (losing three of four) suggest they may be right, but it’s awfully early to know that for sure.

Veteran winger Jarome Iginla has had the chance to play with some pretty talented groups the last three years, ending the lockout season in Pittsburgh, playing last year in Boston, and now hitching his Hall of Fame wagon to the young Avs.

Iginla knows a good thing when he sees one.

"Definitely been fortunate to play with some really good teams over the last few years, and I believe this is one of them," Iginla said Tuesday night after a 3-2 overtime loss in Toronto.

"This is a very dynamic group of guys that can create a lot just by themselves. Their speed is second to none. Last year was a great year for the Avs, and we believe this will be another great year," Iginla continued. "We want to keep working on getting the chances [for] up and the chances against down. Later in the third period [Tuesday night], the Leafs had too many odd-man breaks.

"We’ll keep working on tightening the small things up, because with the talent and skill level in here, there’s no doubt we’ll able to score goals. We want to just to win that chances side of it, too."

Roy, the reigning Jack Adams Award winner as NHL coach of the year, talked eloquently during a preseason stop in Montreal about not betraying the Avs' identity while still wanting to be a better defensive team this season. The message was that they were making no excuses for their high-flying, entertaining style. It’s who they are, and their fans love it.

Those in the analytics community will point to the Avs as a team that was bound to take a step backward this year because of their mediocre puck-possession numbers.

To watch them in person Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre hammers home the point, both good and bad. When they’ve got the puck in transition or on the counterattack, watch out, because they’re perhaps the most dangerous team in the NHL, and they’re electrifying to watch.

But when they get bottled up in their own zone, like they did for stretches Tuesday night by the Leafs, they labor to regain puck possession and give up quality scoring chances.

The fine line for Roy this season is to still accentuate his team’s strength, speed and skill up front while mitigating the defensive zone issues.

We looked down at the Avs' bench during Tuesday night’s game and saw Roy seemingly agitated after his team would give away the puck, notably when a Nick Holden turnover in the neutral zone led to a 3-on-1 break for the Leafs in the second period. But Roy insisted afterward not to read too much into that.

"Me? Agitated? No," Roy said calmly after Tuesday night’s game. "It’s always the way I am, I love to be involved in the game. But no different than last year, I can tell you that."

That was echoed by star center Matt Duchene.

"You know what, he wasn’t frustrated at all, he’s just animated when he talks," said Duchene, who scored his first goal of the season on a beauty of a top-corner wrist shot Tuesday night. "He’s just teaching."

But former NHLer Ray Ferraro, who was between the benches for TSN during Tuesday night’s telecast of the Avs-Leafs game, saw what we saw.

"Roy is usually is pretty animated behind the bench, but [Tuesday] night he was very vocal, and at times seemed pretty frustrated when his team turned the puck over as frequently as they did in the last half of the game," Ferraro said Wednesday via email.

"The McKinnon-Briere-Tanguay line won't work, as the veterans can't come close to keeping up with McKinnon. I think they miss [Paul] Stastny a great deal, with him, it allowed O’Reilly and McKinnon to attack from the wing, and they were a better balanced team. They haven't addressed their blue-line sufficiently ... I think they will take a 15-20 point step back this year."

Duchene felt the reason the Avs gave up so many chances Tuesday night was due to the type of opponent they were playing, the wide-open Maple Leafs, who outshot the Avs 40-24.

"We played L.A. twice the last two preseason games, we played Minnesota twice and then Boston, you know what those types of teams are like," Duchene said. "We just haven’t seen that much ice and that kind of speed and game like we did [Tuesday night versus Toronto]. We had some great opportunities because of it, but we also gave up some."

They easily could have scored more than twice Tuesday night, including Duchene missing a breakaway in the third period that would have given his team a 3-1 lead. But at least the scoring chances were there. Those were harder to come by when being blanked twice by the Wild to open the season and prevailing in a 2-1 defensive game in Boston on Monday.

"When you start out with two shutouts against, you start to press a little bit," said Iginla, Duchene’s linemate. "But we’re getting better. Just throw out the first game, that was horrible. We’ve been getting better since.

"It’s a dynamic group, we’ll find ways to score goals," added Iginla. "Guys, you can just see, are starting to feel better. We need to build that confidence back up."

The Avs’ Eastern swing continues Thursday at Ottawa before wrapping up Saturday at Montreal.

Duchene stressed he wasn’t making excuses but said the early schedule wasn’t making things easy, either.

"Our schedule has been really interesting so far," he said. "I think it’s the most difficult we’ve ever had here [while he’s been there], just because we start home-and-home against a team [Minnesota] that is probably in our heads a little bit from the playoffs last year. Then Boston, a great team that’s a defensive juggernaut. Then we play a team [Toronto] that loves to play almost pond hockey out there. They’re fun to play against, and they’re fun to watch play.

"Plus you throw in the travel, no excuses by any means, but there’s been a lot of adjustments to be made early on here. We’re going to keep on learning and keep on getting better."