The Colorado Avalanche could easily have a spoiler role mindset entering the final week of the regular season. Now officially out of the playoff race, the Avalanche closes out the year with three home games against clubs jockeying for position in the Western Conference postseason picture.
However, only playing spoiler against three Central Division opponents isn't quite what the team has in mind during the final stretch. The Avs' focus is instead on themselves, finishing the season strong and building for the 2015-16 campaign.
"This is about us. That is my feeling," said defenseman Jan Hejda. "It is all about us because definitely nobody is happy about the season. We have to have a better season next year, and this is our chance for us to show what we will do."
At the heart of what the Avalanche wants to show over the next few days is improvement it its game management and puck possession. Those are areas where the team has struggled to have consistency in throughout the year, and in the end it cost the Avs a playoff berth.
Despite not playing beyond this coming Saturday, game management and puck possession are still priorities for the club entering game No. 80. Head coach Patrick Roy and his coaching staff went over video with the team this morning regarding those areas, showing how the squad can be better going into the final meeting of the season tonight against the Nashville Predators and when camp begins in September.
"We showed a few clips this morning," Roy said. "I really like my group. They look at it, and as I said to them, 'It is our duty to look at those clips and learn from it. It is not in order to embarrass anybody. It is in order to make us a better hockey team and learn from our season. If we're going to take a step backward this season, we at least need to learn from it.'
"I think we're learning a lot, and I think that will make us a better team."
In his pregame news conference, Roy listed several times during the year where the club was in the game or had a lead in the third period, only to come away with one or zero points at the final buzzer.
The players agree that they squandered too many opportunities during the season.
"We didn't have the start we needed, and it hurt us," forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "We were real tight there (in the standings), almost a few points back. You think back at the games that you let slip, those points are so important. It is frustrating."
This evening is an opportunity for the Avalanche to show its fans a complete game and that it has pride in itself.
"Obviously, it is not where we want to be right now," defenseman Tyson Barrie said. "We have some things that we are focusing on going into these next three games. We're going to try and win every one of them. We have a lot of pride, a lot of character. We're going to leave it all on the ice."
While the Stanley Cup Playoffs are just a bit too far out of reach in 2015, the team still wants to get as close as it can. The Avs aim to show that despite a bad start, inconsistencies during games and all of the injuries (470 man games lost entering Tuesday), the team was right there until the very end.
"We want to win these games no matter what," O'Reilly said. "All of us have pride in the game and pride in the organization. We want to win these games and prove to everyone that we should be in the playoffs."
BRIERE RETURN UNLIKELY, MORE INJURY UPDATES
A return to the ice this season for Daniel Briere is doubtful, but Roy is still hopeful that the 37-year-old forward will play game No. 81 and/or 82.
|Daniel Briere |
"I have no idea," Roy said on if Briere will play again this season. "Right now, it doesn't look good. Obviously, I would like to see him play a game in the end."
Briere will miss his eighth consecutive contest tonight because a foot injury, suffered March 23 at Calgary. The injury likely occurred when he blocked a key shot late in that game against the Flames to prevent a scoring chance.
Roy confirmed after morning skate that Patrick Bordeleau (knee) and Borna Rendulic (leg) won't play again this year, but he did indicate Rendulic could appear for Lake Erie if the club's minor-league affiliate makes the American Hockey League postseason. Roy said on Monday that Jamie McGinn (back), Ryan Wilson (shoulder) and Jesse Winchester (head) are also out for the season, and that he would be very surprised if Erik Johnson (knee surgery) would return for the final two contests.
Nathan MacKinnon, whom Roy had previously said won't return this season after breaking his foot, will likely start skating in a few weeks and should be ready for training camp.
With eight total players expected to be out of the lineup this evening, the Avs' man games-lost total will increase to 478, breaking the Avs record of 474 set in 2010-11. Only Columbus has been struck by the injury bug more this season, with 499 man games lost entering Tuesday's contests.