Part of the reason that the Colorado Avalanche was so successful last season was because the club had three strong lines to roll out against opposing clubs. The personnel created hard matchups for opposing coaches, and thus opened up at least one line to have success on a given night.
Things seem to be heading back in that direction for the Avs, as the top lines are starting to gel. This is certainly the case with Colorado’s third line. Consisting of veteran Alex Tanguay, utility skater John Mitchell and first-year forward Dennis Everberg, the E.M.T. line has been just as important in helping revive the Avalanche’s success as the pairings with names like Matt Duchene, Jarome Iginla, Jamie McGinn, Ryan O’Reilly, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog.
Colorado will look to the third line to help them carry over the best parts of Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs into tonight’s matchup at the Philadelphia Flyers. For Mitchell, the right partners are what have made his pairing so balanced.
“It’s been great, with both of them. Tangs speaks for himself. A veteran player, he’s done great things in his career and he’s still doing great things obviously now. So that’s awesome,” said Mitchell following today’s morning skate in Philly. “Bergsy there, he’s a young kid but he’s incredibly smart out there with the puck. He’s got a lot of poise. He makes good plays off the wall in his own D-zone to get me the puck coming through the middle with speed, and then Tanguay’s kind of off to the races and it’s just a matter of trying to find him and stuff too.”
Everberg has become a bit of a hidden gem for Colorado, making the team for a stretch out of training camp and then continuing to impress since his recent call up from the Lake Erie Monsters.
“He’s such a big kid. He gets in the corners there. He’s skating. He’s hustling. He’s on pucks quick,” said Mitchell of the 22-year-old Swede. “He’s smart. He recognizes if a D-man’s coming down on him and pinching on him. He can get the puck to me in the middle, and then if it’s not there he’ll eat it. He’ll bring it back down. He’s not just going to slice it and chip it off the boards and that’s kind of the end of it. He’s done great plays on the wall and hopefully he can continue.”
The Avs appeared revitalized defensively on Thursday, taking early control of the game against the Leafs on the strength of a retooled defensive system from head coach Patrick Roy.
“The less you play in your own end, obviously the more you’re going to be playing at least in their end or the neutral zone. I think our defensive system, there in our own end, worked very well for us last game, and we obviously want to continue that,” said Mitchell. “If we can just jump on pucks and head north as quick as possible, I think that’s going to help us out. When you’re moving forward and you have the puck in the offensive zone and you’re buzzing around shift after shift it’s kind of a contagious thing, and you just want to keep it rolling, keep it going.”
While Roy said he wasn’t sure how long it would take the guys to adjust to the zone-based game plan, it didn’t seem to take long.
“It’s pretty easy. I think probably 95 percent of the guys have played that way at some point or other in their career, so switching back to that zone defense isn’t very big of an adjustment,” said rear guard Erik Johnson. “I think it’s just something that we’ve gotten better at looking at video and practicing the last couple days, so it shouldn’t be too much more of a transition.”
Colorado has had nine games finish with one goal as the deciding factor in the win or loss and, despite the record, the guys feel that they are on the cusp of stringing some victories together.
“I think we’re ready to go on a little bit of a roll here. I think everybody’s happy with the direction things are moving,” said defenseman Zach Redmond. “It’s been all positive in here, despite the record. I think everybody knows what we can do. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together, and I think that’s coming along.”
The Avs look to continue building on the new system and strong offensive prowess tonight in Philadelphia at 5 p.m. MT.
The Evolution of Tanguay’s Breakaway
Tanguay put home a spectacular breakaway goal on Jonathon Bernier on Thursday night, splitting defenders at the blue line and deking Bernier before burying a backhander into the twine. The play began with an outstanding pass from Zach Redmond, who sent a Tanguay-seeking laser of a feed across three zones of play.
“I think it was kind of a—not a broken play—but there was guys changing for both teams. When that’s happening, I guess I have D-to-D, and then I could look up ice or I could skate the puck,” said Redmond of his options in that scenario. “It just so happened that I think their D-man happened to change, and Tangs popped off from somewhere, whether it be the bench or wherever he was. I found a nice little hole and I was able to get him the puck, and it was a beautiful goal.”
Redmond, who has played in just four contests this season, noticed a difference in the game with Roy’s systematic changes.
“I felt good. I felt like that new D-zone, we were kind of able to front pucks,” Redmond said. “We were able to create a couple odd-man rushes out of it, and a couple scoring chances.”