The second training camp of the 2019-20 season has formally begun for the Colorado Avalanche, and the team's goal of being the top seed in the Western Conference remains the same.
The Avs first got together before the campaign back in September and set an objective to secure home-ice advantage during the playoffs. When the season paused on March 12, Colorado was second in the West with a 42-20-8 record and a .657 points percentage, just behind the St. Louis Blues, who had a 42-19-10 mark and .662 percentage.
Although the regular season has concluded, the Avalanche still has a chance to be the best in the West when the puck drops for Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Colorado and St. Louis will compete against the Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights in the round-robin part of the Stanley Cup Qualifier to determine what the top four seeds will be in the Western Conference for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"There is a lot to play for for us. We set our sights on finishing first in the conference at the start of the year, we were within two points and a game in hand when the pause started. It is still our goal," said Avs head coach Jared Bednar. "We want to have as many options and give ourselves the biggest advantage we can when it comes to entering the playoffs. For me, that would be trying to go out and secure the top seed. It is not necessarily life and death, but I think that there is value to winning that top seed and knowing if you are able to do it, it also means your team is playing pretty good to try and go 3-0 or 2-1 and secure that position. We are looking forward to that."
Video: Avs coach Jared Bednar after the first day of Phase 3
All of the Western Conference clubs participating in the Stanley Cup Qualifier will play at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta. Colorado is set to open its schedule against the Blues on Aug. 2 before facing the Stars on Aug. 5 and Golden Knights on Aug. 8.
While some of the traditional benefits of home-ice advantage such as the emotional aid of having the roar of the crowd behind you or the physical boost of sleeping in your own bed may not factor into the 2020 postseason, pros still exist for higher-seeded teams.
"It is important. It is obviously a little bit different than in a normal situation when you got the home advantage with your fans and your home rink, but still first seed is first seed," said Avs forward Mikko Rantanen. "You get the matchup in the best-of-7 series you get the four kind of home games where you can matchup even though there is no fans so you won't get advantage from that, but still. Still it is our main goal in those three games to get the first seed for sure."
Video: Rantanen on being back at Pepsi Center for Phase 3
At the same time the round-robin contests are being played, the other eight teams in the West will be battling in best-of-five series to determine the clubs that will advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Avs have already clinched a berth to the postseason, but according to Bednar, one way to help find success once the playoffs begin will be to approach the seeding matchups with the same intensity that will be required for the teams in the qualifying round games.
"I think if you take it serious, and you are after that top seed, then you are going to be engaged and ready to go when the playoffs start," Bednar noted. "I do think the teams that survive the play-in round, they are forced--although it may be uncomfortable going into the round--they are forced to automatically play meaningful games. It's a win or go home scenario right away, so they will have a little bit of added experience in that going into Round 1 of the playoffs. I would rather not be in that situation, I like the situation we are in kind of going into this thing, and we have a few games to experiment and get up to speed before we enter the playoffs here."
Colorado will work on rediscovering its chemistry and getting back in game shape on its home ice for the next two weeks, ahead of the team's July 26 flight to Edmonton. Once the Avs arrive in Alberta's capital, exhibition matchups will be played from July 28-30 before the Stanley Cup Qualifier games start taking place across the league on Aug. 1.
In the Avalanche's first day of its Phase 3 training camp on Monday, the 34-player roster was split into two groups, but Bednar noted after the sessions that he plans on incorporating some game-like scrimmages during the practices in Denver to help ramp up the intensity.
"We were doing full-ice stuff and the pace was good, and it's going be the team that comes together the quickest, gels the fastest, and unfortunately for us all of the momentum that we had built going into the playoffs was halted so we kind of have to recreate some of that," veteran defenseman Erik Johnson said. "The good thing from that is we were pretty banged up at the time (of the pause) so we're going to be healthy going into the playoffs. Whoever can get going the fastest and get their pace high and play with some tempo I think is going to be tough to beat, and I think with a young group that we have we should be in good shape, but it's kind of it's wide open, right? I mean any, anyone can win it."
While the short-term ambition is to earn the West's top seed, accomplishing that is just a step towards the Avalanche's ultimate goal of lifting the Stanley Cup.