That’s exactly what the Colorado Avalanche has been doing down the final stretch of the 2014-15 season, which includes tonight’s home game against the red-hot Calgary Flames.
Perhaps this year’s biggest surprise, the Flames (38-25-5) are riding high and enter Denver sitting in second place in the Pacific Division—a position they’re looking to hold onto. They also stand in the way of Colorado’s own playoff hopes, making this evening’s matchup paramount for both clubs.
“There’s still a lot of points to be had. We know where we are in the standings, but it’s not a big picture thing. We want to… climb back into that pack, and a win tonight would go a long way in that,” said former Flames captain and current Avalanche veteran Jarome Iginla. “We’ve got to make sure we’re playing well consistently, playing with confidence, just trying to put little streaks together and hopefully stretch it into one big one.
“We’ve got to try to catch them and try to keep moving up ourselves.”
Pulling out a win against Calgary, despite the club having played last night in Canada, certainly won’t come easy against a team that features Johnny Gaudreau, a prime candidate for the Calder Trophy; Jiri Hudler, who has amassed six goals and six assists during his current six-game point streak; and Sean Monahan, a 2013 NHL Draft pick that has topped 50 points in his sophomore campaign.
“There’s no question, they’re playing well, especially lately. I did see that unfortunately [Calgary captain Mark] Giordano was out, and they haven’t missed a step,” Iginla said. “They’re playing great, high-tempo [hockey]. You can see they have a lot of confidence, and they’re rolling. It should be a good test for us.”
For Avalanche center John Mitchell, this is where the fire comes in.
“They’re no real surprise anymore, obviously. They’re a very good team. They’re young and they’re quick and they’ve got a lot of skill,” he said. “But we’re young and we’re a fast team as well. It’s kind of fire with fire, and we’ve just got to come out on top.”
In order to do that, the Avs will first have to work on containing Calgary’s offensive players.
“You’ve just got to try and be physical on those guys. They’ve got some smaller forwards that are obviously pretty quick and they’re shifty. So you’ve just got to bring the physical element to the game and make sure you play the body on them and play them hard,” Mitchell said of his plan for shutdown hockey. “I think that’s one that you can definitely do, and you’ve just got to be prepared when they’re out there.”
“I think we’ve just got to come at them with our speed game and try and play a lot in the offensive zone. They’re a good team. They get a lot of shots through from the point and crash the net, battle hard for rebounds,” Avalanche defenseman Nick Holden offered up. “If we can get good box outs, and get sticks in front, limit their forwards on second chances, I think that will be good for us. Obviously, if we can play our game and play in the O-zone, that’s going to limit their time in our zone and obviously play into our game.”
It helps that the Avs are rested while Calgary is coming in for the second of a back-to-back set of games. The extra energy, in theory, could be used to tire out the visiting team early. According to Holden, there’s a few ways this can be accomplished.
“Use your speed, try to get in on them. Get pucks deep, make their ‘D’ skate lots,” he listed. “Obviously try and be a little bit more physical in the first period, slow them down, make them work a little harder. Just don’t give them any time or space to make plays or anything like that, maybe frustrate them a little bit.
“They played last night so we need to try and use that to our advantage, and jump all over them and play a fast game.”
Holden’s suggestions tie into a bigger strategy for the Avalanche, one that’s been paying off for the Colorado club down the stretch. The Avs set a renewed focus on achieving three objectives in each and every game—outshooting, out-skating, and out-possessing the other team—and it has helped the club stay in the fight for the postseason.
Once something specifically highlighted for each contest, the objectives required to have success are now a more ingrained part of Colorado’s play.
“We don’t talk about it as much, but yeah, it’s more just kind of embedded. That’s our game plan, we all know it. We don’t really have to talk about it,” Mitchell said. “If we can work on those three components in every game, and come out on top in all three of those, we’re going to give ourselves a real good opportunity to win.”
Hitting that kind of zen-like approach on a nightly basis couldn’t have come at a better time. The Avs are 4-1-0 in their last five games, 7-3-0 in their last 10 and 9-4-0 in their last 13.
Two teams playing solid hockey and fighting it out for playoff positioning should lead to a good game tonight, one of significant importance for both sides.
“At the point we are in the season, it’s a big challenge because we’re trying to catch these guys,” said Holden. “They’re playing well right now and we feel like we’re playing well, so it should be a great game.”
Avs head coach Patrick Roy said he plans on fielding the same lines that he used at the conclusion of Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. The composition is as follows:
Gabriel Landeskog—Ryan O’Reilly—Alex Tanguay
John Mitchell—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod—Marc-Andre Cliche—Dennis Everberg
Jordan Caron—Freddie Hamilton—Daniel Briere
Nick Holden—Brad Stuart
Nate Guenin—Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda—Zach Redmond