When the Colorado Avalanche refocused for the second half of the season, stringing together wins and pushing for an end result, it set a goal for itself.
Making the postseason for the second year in a row would be a result of that goal, but it wasn’t something entirely in the hands of the Avs. The one thing the team could control was reaching the goal, finding a way to 95 points and a potential bid for the playoffs.
Despite a setback with Monday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, nothing has changed for the Avalanche moving into tonight’s contest with the Edmonton Oilers.
“It’s a good test for us in a way that it forces us to stay focused… Like I said to the players, we’re not going to give up. We’re going to push. Varly will play [these] two games,” head coach Patrick Roy said. “We have too much respect for our fans and our team. When you’re wearing that jersey, you’re wearing it with pride, and you’re going out there to win your games. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to work harder, and we’re going to try to find a way to stay in that race as long as we can.”
The Avs have been playing their best hockey of the campaign down the stretch, stringing together clumps of wins and posting a 19-12-4 record since the start of the New Year. That kind of consistency, the never-say-die mindset, is something the squad will carry through to the end of the 82nd game and beyond, wherever that may be.
“It’s all about the habits. We look at the standings, and we see the situation we’re in. Mathematically, it may not look good, but it’s not over until it’s over,” said defenseman Nate Guenin. “We’re not writing this year off yet. We’re going to keep playing every game like we need those two points. The habits, whether it’s this year or next year, that’s the one constant. You need to have good habits.
“It’s very important. We have a lot of pride in this room, and we hold ourselves to a pretty high standard and we expect that kind of effort game in and game out.”
That’s exactly the kind of attitude that Roy said he likes to see from his team, which has been learning and growing since the season started in October.
“We’re not where we want to be, but at the same time it’s a good situation for us to learn. I think this year has been a very good learning process for us,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t like the start. The fact that we had a lot of injuries hurt us a lot, but at the same time I liked the fact that we were resilient and the fact that we kept our mindset where it should be. As a coach, I’m certainly happy to see those things.
“I think we’re learning. I think it’s part of the process, and I think that makes us more mature.”
That process has been fraught with ups and downs, wins and losses, but has also brought the team to where it is currently: playing well enough to go 6-2-1 in the last nine games while staying in the playoff conversation at the very least.
The Avs skated in a hard-fought contest against the Flames on Monday, and they hope to replicate that effort again in Edmonton.
“We felt we played a pretty solid game there in Calgary. We didn’t get the results we wanted, but we’re not focusing on that,” said Guenin. “We’re focusing on ourselves and coming out with a good start and playing our game for 60 [minutes].”
“I was very happy with our game against Calgary. I thought we possessed the puck almost twice [as much] as them. We had over 17 minutes of puck possession in the O-zone against about eight or nine minutes from them,” said Roy. “In the second period, we had eight scoring chances against three. We did a lot of good things in that game. We were all disappointed because we could have played that game… 10 [times] and probably won nine times.
“We just need to continue, and tonight is going to be a good test for us against Edmonton. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to continue to play with the same enthusiasm, and also the mindset. The mindset is very important.”
The Avs have killed 31 of their last 32 penalties (96.9 percent) and 38 of their last 40 (95 percent). Colorado has not allowed a power-play goal in its last eight road games, killing off 16 straight away from home.
Ryan O'Reilly is currently riding a four-game point streak (three goals, three assists). He has 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) in his last 17 games and has won 57.8 percent of his faceoffs (201-of-348) during that stretch.
Gabriel Landeskog leads the team in scoring with 51 points. He has 20 points (11 goals, nine assists) in his last 18 games.
Alex Tanguay reached the 20-goal mark for the seventh time in his NHL career with a goal on Monday. It’s the first time he's surpassed the 20-goal plateau since he did it with the Flames during the 2010-11 season.
Jarome Iginla has 86 points (36 goals, 50 assists) in 92 career games versus the Oilers, the most he has versus any team. Iginla’s points are also the most of any active skater against Edmonton.
Matt Duchene has 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 23 games against the Oilers, his most versus any team.
Colorado's 59 wins against the Oilers since moving to Denver are its most against a single opponent.