Sure, some defensive breakdowns cost goals against in Tuesday’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, but it’s hard to argue that the Avs haven’t been playing strong possession hockey lately.
In the last four games, the Avalanche has out-possessed the opposing squad at even strength three times—a solid indicator for which club is controlling the pace of play. Still, Colorado went 1-3-0 during that span, taking only a shootout victory over the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 24.
The Avs out-attempted the Sharks 54-49 in 5-on-5 play in that game, pulling away just seven minutes into the match after falling to an early 1-0 deficit. Still, it took the skills competition to decide a victor.
On Feb. 21, Colorado fell 5-1 to the Vancouver Canucks in a game where the Avalanche had 55 even-strength shot attempts to Vancouver’s 33. Netminder Ryan Miller stood on his head that night, turning aside nearly everything.
On Tuesday, the Avs out-possessed the Wild, accruing 48 attempts in 5-on-5 play to Minnesota’s 35. Despite having 57.8 percent of the chances, which included taking charge in the second period while trailing 3-2, breakdowns proved costly enough.
“I thought we did a lot of good things in the second period,” Patrick Roy said of what he’d like to carry over into Thursday’s matchup against the Florida Panthers. “I’d like to see us playing with that same grit and bringing pucks to the net.”
The overall offensive change has been apparent, and sooner or later the results will start going the right way.
“You just stick with it. It’s going to come,” center Matt Duchene said of the weird dynamic between the increased possession and lack of wins. “We have too much talent on this team not to score more. We haven’t scored that much in the past probably 20-25 games, especially 5-on-5. So that’s something we want to be better [at], and we’ll just keep pushing.”
This is the final stretch of the season, and the playoffs are on the line for Colorado. On the outside and looking in, the Avalanche has clearly elevated its game.
“I think we just upped the ante a little bit. I think we just started being a little more confident,” Duchene said of the change. “I think there’s other areas of our game we’ve got to get better at. We talked about it yesterday, and a lot of us really felt that we gave that win to Minny just with the chances we gave up. There’s some bad mistakes at the wrong times, but other than that it was a heck of a game for us. So we want to kind of forget the result and focus on the process and come here tonight and try and win a big game.”
The Avs face the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers in the first contest of a four-game homestand that could make or break the season, and the home club needs to continue controlling the pace of the game from here on out to have success.
Colorado has had 55 percent (200 of 363) of the even-strength shot attempts over the previous four games and will look to keep that going tonight. There’s no added pressure now that the Avalanche is currently out of a postseason position; the club will approach every remaining game with the same mentality until the playoff berths have been decided.
“It’s a grind. It doesn’t matter until it’s over,” Duchene said. “That’s what we’ve got to focus on. It’s a day at a time, one game at a time. Obviously, we’ve got to win our games.”
When he takes the ice at 7 p.m. this evening, Colorado Avalanche forward Jack Skille will be skating in his 300th NHL game.
He won’t be taking time out to enjoy the moment, however, despite it coming against a former team that he played 99 contests with.
“It’s a big game for our team tonight. Tough loss in Minnesota, but we’ve got to make sure we come out with good energy. I’m more worried about the team tonight than anything,” Skille said. “I’m not really focused on the milestone at all. I’m more focused on the team winning and doing whatever I can to play my role and help this team win tonight, that’s the key. Obviously, you know it’s a milestone, it’s your 300th game, but I’m not going to be thinking about it at all. I’m just going to be doing my job out there.”
The journey from Game 1 to No. 300 hasn’t always been easy, and that makes the milestone something the blue-collar, fourth-line wing said he can appreciate.
“I feel like it’s taken a while. There’s been years where I’ve missed a lot of games due to injuries, and I’ve been up for a lot more games than 300,” said Skille. “It’s good to have a season so far where, for the most part, I’ve been pretty healthy. I’m happy with that. So I’ve just got to keep that going. Obviously, I’m doing something right off the ice, so stay smart and keep working hard.”
While milestones like this have crept up on other guys, Skille wasn’t taken aback by it.
“I’ve seen it coming. Guys have been mentioning it in the room,” he said. “You see it coming, and it’s obviously an honor. As a player, you just want to keep going. You want to get as many games as you can. That’s my goal right now; stay healthy and keep trying to help the team as long as I can.”
Signed by the Avalanche on Oct. 6 after participating in training camp on a professional tryout basis, Skille has accrued 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 60 games, the most he’s played in a single season. He’s already tied a career high in goals (7) and is just four points away from tying his previous best (17) set with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2010-11 campaign.
Mikkel Boedker—Nathan MacKinnon—Gabriel Landeskog
Mikhail Grigorenko—Matt Duchene—Jarome Iginla
Shawn Matthias—Carl Soderberg—Blake Comeau
Cody McLeod—John Mitchell—Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin—Erik Johnson
Nick Holden—Tyson Barrie
Chris Bigras—Andrew Bodnarchuk
Scratches: Andreas Martinsen, Zach Redmond and Eric Gelinas (back).