They had already made a difference for the Colorado Avalanche, but the March 6th game may have been the one that announced their presence.
Late in February, Steve Downie
and Jamie McGinn
came to the Avalanche in trades six days apart. They weren’t household names to the casual fans, but the team knew what it was getting. Downie, a compact right wing, packs toughness in his 5-foot-11, 191-pound frame. McGinn, two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier, knew how to deliver a hit.
“Both those guys are gritty and finish their checks,” center Ryan O’Reilly says. “Downie’s an agitator out there. Guys know if somebody does something after the whistle he’s going to be right there. He provides that intensity that keeps the team on our toes. McGinn does the same thing, too.”
Trades can disrupt a team; two trades can pull at the fabric of a locker room. The deals the Avalanche made for Downie and McGinn invigorated them. Colorado went from an afterthought in the Western Conference standings to the thick of the playoff chase in the final month of the season.
“They’ve been two of the keys for our success,” rookie Gabriel Landeskog
says. “They wanted to prove they were good pickups and show their teammates they wanted to earn their respect, and they’ve definitely done that.”
|Steve Downie earned 13 points (2g/11a) and was +9 in 20 games with the Avs. He collected seven points (2g/5a) in his first four games, equaling the most ever scored by a player in his first four games with Colorado (Theo Fleury, March of 1999). Downie set a career high in assists (27) and his 41 points were the second-highest total of his career (46 in 2009-10). |
The Avalanche didn’t lack grit, but more was better, especially when it comes from two players who can provide a scoring punch. Against Minnesota in early March, Downie and McGinn were the stars in a game full of Colorado stars. Downie had three assists – his second three-point night in his first seven games with the team – and McGinn recorded the coveted Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, an assist and a fight.
The Avalanche’s 7-0 win that night was important, and not only because up to then they won just four of 18 games against the Northwest Division. In a late playoff push every point is vital, and Colorado’s new additions were showing the way.
“They don’t just bring toughness or grittiness, they bring that skill and smarts,” center Paul Stastny
says. “When you play that simple hockey it makes it easier for the other four guys on the ice.”
McGinn and Downie provided a physical element, and their ability to score was a welcome bonus. Downie had 10 points in his first seven games with Colorado, and after a slow start McGinn caught fire, scoring seven goals in a six-game stretch in which the Avalanche were 5-1. “Downie came in and lit the lamp right away and put the pressure on me,” McGinn says. “I wanted to do the same thing. It’s been a great start for both of us.”
Both players had come from teams with recent playoff success. Last year, Downie helped the Tampa Bay Lightning reach the Eastern Conference finals while McGinn was with the San Jose Sharks when they made consecutive trips to the Western Conference finals.
With both those clubs falling off some this year, they felt they needed to tweak their rosters.
“They were looking to make changes, doesn’t matter who, it happened to be me and I couldn’t have ended up in a better place,” Downie says. “It was shocking but I’m loving it here.”
The Avalanche jumped at the chance to add them. They got what they expected – and more.
“We’ve been so lucky,” O’Reilly says. “They’re a huge reason why we had a chance to make the playoffs. Without them I don’t think we’d be there.”
The biggest surprise was their ability to get on the scoring sheet, but it had a lot to do with their linemates. Downie has been playing with Landeskog and O’Reilly while McGinn joined Stastny’s and David Jones
’ line. The mix of grit and skill has been a great compliment.
|Jamie McGinn earned 13 points (8g/5a) in 17 games with Colorado. McGinn tallied seven goals (7g/2a) in his first eight games, becoming the first Avs player to score seven times in his first eight games with the team since Marek Svatos in 2005. "Ginner" established career highs in games (77), goals (20), assists (17) and points (37). |
“We lost a game and they threw him out there with us,” Stastny says of McGinn. “I don’t know if it was a last-hope thing or see what we had, but we clicked right away. Right off the bat he’s taken advantage of his opportunity.”
Head coach Joe Sacco agrees, and he likes the toughness McGinn has brought to that line.
“He brings an element, along with Downie, that we were looking for, to get a little bit more abrasive up front, a little bit harder to play against,” he says. “And he’s been popping in some big goals.”
McGinn had two of them against the Wild on March 4. After two scoreless games to start his Colorado career, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Minnesota that started a 7-1-1 stretch for the Avalanche. Two nights later he recorded the Gordie Howe hat trick. He’s been a regular in the box score since.
“You hope you can contribute right away, and it’s something you’re nervous about,” McGinn says. “Then you pop your first one. The first two games were slow, learning a new system, but the game in Minnesota I found my stride.”
Finding traction in the middle of a season isn’t easy. Players have to adapt quickly, and there isn’t always time to do it in practice. But Downie and McGinn meshed quickly and seamlessly.
“When Downie first came here, I don’t think we had a practice for four or five days,” O’Reilly says. “It was during that time we talked a lot. We’d come off the ice and he’d say, ‘If you have the puck here I’ll be in this area,’ and ‘When you get the puck there what do you like to do?’ There’s been a lot of talk between periods and shifts, and that’s how you find that chemistry.”
It has paid off for the Avalanche. The addition of Downie and McGinn has worked out better than expected, in large part because the pair doesn’t care about personal stats. Every player likes to score big goals, but Downie is one who would rather win than beef up his numbers.
He was excited to score on consecutive nights, including the game-winner in Detroit on Feb. 25, but he would have been just as happy if someone else got the goals as long as it meant two points at the end of the day.
“It’s about winning games,” he says. “If I scored those goals and we lost it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s about winning at this time of the year, it’s not about individuals.”
Once they scored their first goals in an Avalanche uniform they could relax and worry only about the big picture. For them, like the rest of the team, that means playing after April 7th in the regular season.
“Just to get the first one out of the way it felt really good,” McGinn says. “Now I’m enjoying being an Avalanche, I’m settling in more and more and loving my time here. Everything’s a lot better when you’re winning, that’s for sure.”