He spoke to the team about Thursday’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and his desire for the squad to refocus itself ahead of Saturday’s matinee against the Minnesota Wild. The game had major implications in the battle for the final seed in the Western Conference playoff picture, and Roy wanted his guys ready for the start of the game.
The Avs were prepared, and they skated out to a domineering first period that saw them outshooting, out-hitting and out-attempting the visiting Wild. They did everything but score.
In the second, Colorado’s focus became a little muddled, and that’s when things turned sour for the home team. A tricky pass from Mikkel Boedker to Mikhail Grigorenko went south as the puck landed in the latter’s feet. Watching the breakdown unfold, Wild forward Zach Parise jumped up and snatched the puck away, moving into a give-and-go with Mikael Granlund before burying the eventual game-winner.
“We had the start we wanted. I thought we were physical. I thought our forecheck was really good. We put a lot of pucks at the net,” Roy after the 4-0 loss. “I was very pleased with the start of our game. I guess when they scored that first goal, from there on we just didn’t play very well. I guess we lost our focus, and for some reason they dominated the play.”
The sequence changed the entire course of the contest.
The Avs were off their game and never recovered. Penalties started piling up, mistakes started coming more often, their structure began to waver and the Wild capitalized.
“We had a really good first period. You have to try and come out and do the same thing in the second,” center John Mitchell said. “We knew they were going to come out with a push, so we just have to be prepared for that. Those turnovers, they’ll bite you, and obviously it did.
“Everybody was playing well. We were being physical, getting in on the forecheck. We were putting pucks to the net. We played really well in the first period, so that’s something that we just have to follow up in the second. We did an OK job, but just little turnovers, they’ll come back. They cost us the game because we weren’t able to put a puck in the back of the net.”
Netminder Semyon Varlamov was at the pinnacle of his play between the pipes, turning aside eight shots in the first and stoning two breakaway bids in the second before the first tally snuck behind him.
“He’s been outstanding for us all year. He made some big saves at big moments for us, and he’s been a rock for us all year,” said Blake Comeau. “They had some good scoring chances in the first, and he kept them off the scoresheet. We’re going to need him to be big from here on out as well.”
Colorado seemed to be in agreement that, while Varlamov was solid in stopping 31 shots, the energy and ethos that brought the club success in the opening frame—knowing that the game carried significance in extending the season—couldn’t be sustained for the final two stanzas.
“I thought we were more physical in the first, a little more energy,” Comeau said. “It felt like that goal maybe took the wind out of ourselves a little bit, but we’ve got to find a way how, when we get scored on first, we don’t let it affect us. We’ve got to continue to play how we were in the first.”
“The way we played in that second period was embarrassing,” defenseman Tyson Barrie added. “You know, we gave it away. I thought we were doing a good job controlling the game, and I thought we were playing well up until the latter half of that second period. We just kind of, I don’t know what we did, we just laid an egg. We started giving up odd-man rushes, turning pucks over, not getting it in deep and that’s ultimately what cost us.”
It all comes back to focus for Roy.
“After they scored that first goal, we just didn’t play as well,” he said. “We were not as focused, as sharp. We had something good going on, and when they scored that one, I just thought that our game went a different direction.”
The Avs are now 17-17-4 at home, an area where they’ve struggled to pick up valuable points.
“This is our home rink. We should be just as good here, if not better, obviously,” said Mitchell. “I’m not really sure what the problem is, but we just have to play a full 60 minutes, obviously. If we have such a good first period, we’ve got to follow that up in the second period and then again in the third period. If we win 1-0, we win 1-0, but we have to have that as our mindset.”
While the defeat didn’t help the Avalanche’s chances for gaining ground on Minnesota for the final wild-card spot, it didn’t eliminate the squad from contention. The team faces a tough test in back-to-back games against the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues on Monday and Tuesday, and if Colorado takes care of it’s own business, a playoff berth could still be on the horizon.
“When you think about where we were in November, we never quit. Then why should we quit [now],” Roy said. “I know the schedule doesn’t favor us. I hear that, but at the same time we have a game in hand. Let’s just play our games and play the way we’re capable of. It’s obvious that our home record this year hasn’t been good enough, but let’s go on the road and see what we can do.”
“We’ve got to find a way to move on and be ready for this road trip,” added Comeau.
The Avalanche announced after Saturday’s match that rookie forward Mikko Rantanen had been reassigned to the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League.
Recalled on March 19 fill in with both Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon out of the lineup with knee injuries, Rantanen spent this time playing center on a line with Cody McLeod and Jack Skille.
He skated in three straight games during his time with the Avs, his second stint in the NHL this season, accumulating two shots and two penalty minutes in that span. He averaged 13 shifts and 8:27 of playing time per contest.
Rantanen currently leads San Antonio in goals (21), assists (31), points (52) and plus/minus rating (plus-21) through 44 games played. His 52 points as a rookie set a franchise record.