It’s fitting for the Colorado Avalanche, which is in the hunt for a postseason berth, that the month of February features eight all-important games against divisional opponents. This is a trial by combat run that could make or break the season, and the club wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a big month for us. We play Dallas three times. We play [Minnesota] once, Winnipeg once,” said Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy. “There’s a lot of conference games in the month, and we’re going to start tomorrow night with a big test.”
February kicks off with the first of three contests against the Dallas Stars, a club similarly entrenched in a battle for a wild card sport. Sitting just ahead of the Avalanche—thanks to more wins in regulation and overtime—the Stars have the same point total (53) as the Avs, making Tuesdays matchup critical for both sides.
“This time of year, in order to get results you need to put in the work. We’re all very well aware of that. This is a situation where on most nights, the team that works the hardest comes out with the two points,” said veteran forward Alex Tanguay. “And in our situation, we have to be desperate. We’re on the outside looking in, and in order to pull ourselves across that line where we’re finally inside the playoffs, we need to win some games and be desperate, and certainly tomorrow night is a great example of that.”
Colorado is hoping to ride a string of strong performances into the heart of Texas, having managed to net three points in two games against the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators last week, including a 3-0 victory at Pepsi Center on Friday.
“I really liked the way we played the last two games against Nashville. I thought the team played some sound hockey. We were smart in our decision making, but solid in our end,” Roy said following Monday’s practice. “I like the energy. The guys are picking up some confidence [after] picking up three points against Nashville. I like the energy out there.
“I’m very pleased with our offense, the way we’ve been playing. I know that we haven’t scored as much as we’ve liked to, but I think we’ve generated a lot more chances than we did. And I think we’re more complete in a way that we’re playing very well offensively, but we’re also playing very well defensively. This is very important.”
With new jump in their step and a 8-4-3 record through the last 15 games, the Avs are looking to bring some momentum and confidence into American Airlines Center.
“A 3-0 win is definitely a good accomplishment for us. With our [goaltender] playing really good, [playing] defensively is something that we have to maintain all the time,” said center Ryan O'Reilly. “Having a game like that [before] going into Dallas, a team that scores a ton of goals, it’s good confidence for us, and we know what we need to do to have success.
“We need a consistent game. Also, discipline is going to be a big part of it, they’ve got a good power play. If you give their top players confidence with the puck and let them feel it on the power play… they’ll start to perform better. So for us, definitely staying out of the box is a big thing, and we’ve got to be sound defensively, make sure we’re tracking hard, clogging up that middle [and] making it tough for them to make plays.”
Not only is limiting Dallas’ 19th-ranked power play important, but making the most of man-advantage opportunities against the Stars’ 24th-ranked penalty kill will be crucial. It could also be the spark that jumpstarts Colorado’s own power play.
“Right now, nothing’s really going right out there for us. We’ve been trying new things. I think we’ve really got to get back to simplifying it, just getting pucks to the net,” O’Reilly said of the added-skater scenario. “We have one extra guy out there. We just have to outwork the opponent and hopefully we get our chances.”
“There’s still 32 games, so there’s a lot of things that can happen. We all think that we can do better. As individuals, as a team, we’re not happy with what we’ve done so far this season, but we’re not that far away in another sense as well,” said Tanguay. “We’re going to take it one game at a time, hoping to find that consistency, hoping to [be] a little bit better. Looking personally at each and every single one of us, we know that we have more to give, and we hope that we can find it collectively as well.
“We know that we’re not going to run the table until the end of the year. We’re going to lose some games, but certainly tomorrow, we know the importance of that one. I’m sure they know it as well, but we just have to prepare ourselves the best we can and make sure we’re ready and that we bring our best effort tomorrow.”
Moving up the standings while holding an opponent behind is the objective entering Tuesday’s contest, and while Colorado could use some assistance from other teams, the squad from the Mile High City will only be focusing on what it can bring to the table.
“It’s kind of funny because when you’re winning, you’re looking at it and when you’re losing, you don’t want to look at it,” Roy said of the Western Conference standings. “Right now, we’re winning. We’re looking for help, but at the same time there’s over 30 games left. I think it’s good for us to focus on what we have to do.”