It’s something that the club worked on in practice yesterday and during today’s morning skate, and because it incorporates zone coverage, Avs head coach Patrick Roy said he believes it should be easy to employ in a game scenario tonight against the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We’re going to make some changes on D-zone coverage. The fact that we’re spending too much time in our end becomes a problem,” said Roy after today’s morning skate. “We might not be perfect tonight, but these guys have been playing the zone for what, pretty much their entire career. I think it’s an adjustment that could be made pretty easy in some ways.
“As coaches, you always try to find solutions. Like I said to the players, it’s not our system, it’s the players’ system. They need to be comfortable, and we need to find a way to play that our players are going to be very comfortable [with] as well.”
The change comes as the Avs have struggled to maintain puck possession, playing on defense more often than not. As Roy said, he sees opposing clubs getting too comfortable in the Avalanche zone, and the shift in strategy will help the Avs return to an area in which the club is more dominant.
“If we’re spending less time in our end and we can create more rushes off our D-zone coverage, we’re going to work more in the area where we are the best,” Roy said. “By going to that system and simplifying the game, I think it’s going to help everybody.”
The change comes tonight against a Maple Leafs squad that has no shortage of talent. Forward Phil Kessel is finding his stride early in this young season, and was a source of frustration for the Avalanche in the club’s previous meeting after he assisted on the first tally of the game and then scored the game-winning goal just 34 seconds into overtime.
“Obviously, he has great speed and a great shot. He can make plays. He’s just a good player,” rear guard Zach Redmond said of Kessel. “You’ve got to keep him in front of you, keep him to the outside as much as you can and make sure you’re a little physical on him.
“Those goalscorers find a way to get to loose pucks and to find the quiet areas, so you’ve got to pay extra special attention to them, and make sure he’s accounted for.”
For Redmond and the rest of the Avalanche defense, the key to tonight’s contest is teamwork.
“I think we’re working toward it right now too, but having our defensemen and forwards on the same page, knowing where each other are in the defensive zone,” said Redmond. “I think we’ve been spending a lot of time in our D-zone. So having that level of trust and communication, and just knowing where people are and talking out there.
“I think basic fundamentals like working hard for 60 minutes, and making sure that we have a good start, kind of managing the game, making sure that they don’t score in the last minute or first minute or last five, first five, whatever you want to call it. Just [making] sure that we stick to our system, and everybody’s communicating and we play as a unit of five.”
The same scenario translates to the offensive side of the puck, though forwards like Matt Duchene tend to thrive in this finesse, back-and-forth kind of match.
“These guys like to play a skating, kind of wide-open game, and they like to use their offense. So you’ve got to be really aware defensively, but when that puck turns over you know you’re going to have some open ice,” said Duchene. “You’ve got to be ready for it. I really enjoy playing against these guys. It’s my style of game and I really enjoy that kind of open brand of hockey where you’ve got to play really good defense, but when it’s time to go on offense you’ve got lots of room.”
Duchene has seemed irked of late, unaccustomed to seeing so many scoring chances go against him and others on his team. As a competitor, that fire can make or break a player, and Duchene doesn’t shy away from how he feels.
“I think it’s good to be frustrated at times. I think it’s good because, if you’re not frustrated, it means you’re accepting mediocrity or failure. I think the best way to approach it is you get mad and you bear down and you work harder, but at the same time you can’t lose your confidence,” said Duchene. “When it turns, you’re going to get chances, and when those chances come you’ve got to be ready for them because, if you’re not ready for them and you miss, then you become even more frustrated.
“I think that’s the biggest key in this whole thing. You get mad and you get better, but you don’t lose your confidence.”
Roy gave updates today on the various injuries that are impacting the Avalanche. Defenseman Brad Stuart is expected to miss around 14 days with a hamstring issue.
“Two weeks. Roughly two weeks,” the coach said. “It’s a loss, but again, you look around the league, everybody’s affected by injuries.”
Forward Jesse Winchester remains out of the lineup as his health hasn’t improved to a consistent level.
“It’s up and down. He has good days and he has bad days," said Roy. “Until he [has] seven or eight good days in a row, he’s not going to play.”
Ryan Wilson, who injured his shoulder on Oct. 24, is close to being healthy.
“Everything is on pace for him to be back in a short period of time,” Roy said.
Jamie McGinn — Matt Duchene — Ryan O’Reilly
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay — John Mitchell — Dennis Everberg
Cody McLeod — Marc-Andre Cliche — Maxime Talbot
Jan Hejda — Erik Johnson
Nate Guenin — Tyson Barrie
Nick Holden — Zach Redmond