“I do think that we have to really give our heads a shake here after this one, because it certainly wasn’t good enough,” Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog said after the loss.
Three Blues goals in the first period and one more in the second provided a quick deficit that would have been hard for any team to overcome, and mental lapses kept the Avalanche down and out.
“It’s just really brain cramps at the wrong times, and that’s really been the case for the last month or so,” said Landeskog, who admitted that he wasn’t happy with the performance of his team. “I sure wasn’t. You’re down three goals after the first period at home. We’re just giving them way too many opportunities and just giving them too much momentum.
“By the time you’re down 4-0 with a period left, against a team like that that’s so defensively sound, it’s going to be tough to come back. Too little too late, and it really started right off the get go.”
The Avs had a few shorthanded chances early, while Landeskog was in the box for a delay-of-game penalty, but a collision in the St. Louis zone resulted in an odd-man rush the other way and a goal against.
“It’s unfortunate because our penalty killing had two really good chances,” head coach Patrick Roy said of the quick turnaround. “[John] Mitchell was all alone and [Francois] Beauchemin had a great shot, and all of the sudden they’re all bumping into each other and [the Blues] go two-on-one and then they score. And then we turnover the puck at the red line, they come in the zone, two rebounds. Bang, bang, it’s in the net.”
For center Matt Duchene, that early scenario was the turning point of the game.
“It’s the same kind of story. I think we just shot ourselves in the foot,” Duchene said. “Having said that, I was thinking back to those couple chances we had early on, on the PK. The guys did a hell of a job to create those. If that goes in, I think it’s a different game. I think we win the game.
“It was disappointing, obviously, to go down 3-0 that quick. We did some good things. We had some good chances. Their goalie played well. We had a couple key moments there where if you pop one in, you never know.”
Duchene scored the lone Avalanche tally, a redirect from atop the crease in the third period. It was his 30th goal of the campaign and the first time he’s reached the 30-marker milestone in a season.
Regardless, the elation that would come with such an accomplishment, especially given the fact that the 25-year-old had one tally through the first 10 games of the season, was short-lived given the fact that Colorado has lost five of its last six matches.
“I won’t enjoy it tonight. Maybe it’s something I’ll look back on after the season and enjoy it on a personal level, but you play and you try and score goals to make the playoffs,” said Duchene. “If you’re not in the playoffs, it doesn’t really mean as much as you want it to mean. No one remembers that, and no one cares. Everyone just cares about who’s in the playoffs, and that’s all we care about. That’s all I care about. Obviously, it’s a nice milestone, but I’m not thinking about it at all right now. I’m just very disappointed about this loss tonight.”
Disappointment was certainly the word bandied about following the defeat, as the team quickly learned that the Minnesota Wild had also lost, effectively keeping the Avalanche’s playoff hopes alive.
“It’s disappointing, especially [because]—as far as I saw—Minny lost again,” Duchene said. “It’s disappointing not to come away with two there and gain a little ground on them, but the good news is we’re still in it. We have a chance here. We’ve got to regroup and go for it.”
While there is still a mathematical possibility that the season could extend further into April, it won’t become a reality unless the Avs figure out what’s been costing them points. For Roy, the issue starts with the psychological side of the game.
“I think we need to learn how to win. We need to change the mindset,” the coach said. “I think we have a losing mindset right now. I think we have to find ways to believe more in ourselves. Sometimes things are not going to go our way. It’s not going to go our way. We might give up one goal. We might give up two goals. Who cares? We need to play our game.
“For some reason, we’re in a funk at home and we’re struggling [to win] some hockey games. It’s not the type of hockey we want to play.”
Perhaps it is the pressure of knowing that every mistake right now could spell the end of the 2015-16 campaign. Maybe the weight of trying to play perfect hockey is heavy on the minds of those trying to push for that eighth and final seed.
“I think we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves. I think we’re overthinking things,” Duchene said. “I think if we just went out and played and played hard and played loose. At times this year, we’ve given up some big leads and lost some games that we should have won. I think mentally, we’re a little bit too fragile.
“I think those two games against Philly and Minny, if we even win one of those it’s a different story. I think it’s just one of those things, when the momentum starts to go downhill—because there’s so much at stake—sometimes it’s hard to reel it back in.”
Added Landeskog: “I think pressure is something that every team is dealing with at this point of the season, and for somebody in our situation where we’re right in the hunt, you’re going to have to deal with that. You’re going to have to find a way to overcome that and find a way to win hockey games, ultimately. Now we’ve lost five out of six here, and that’s not the best case scenario.”
This is where leadership comes in, and for Roy, the core of the team will need to champion the cause, fighting tooth and nail for the greener pastures of a postseason berth.
“First of all, I think we have some good leadership. Maybe not enough from our core. Our core hasn’t proven that they have the leadership to bring this team to another level. Eventually we have to admit it,” said Roy. “I love these guys. I think Landy is pretty much alone in that. I think [Erik Johnson] is trying, but we need more from these guys. These guys need to prove to us that they’re capable of carrying this team.
“When Washington needs a goal, they turn to [Alex] Ovechkin. When Pittsburgh needs a goal, they turn to [Sidney] Crosby. Their core players are the ones. Our core players are having a hard time to carry this team. It’s the bottom line. It’s the bottom line. I’m sorry. I can look at myself in the mirror, we can all look at ourselves in the mirror, but at the end of the day the core has to be our best players.”
Now, with just three games remaining and five points separating the Avs and the Wild, Colorado will look to rediscover the synergy it had when it went 3-0 on the road swing through Western Canada as the club heads out to face the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars in enemy territory.
“After the Vancouver game, we were in, and after that road trip we were still in,” Duchene said. “We’ve got three games left here. We’ve got to finish them hard and just do whatever we can. Maybe going on the road is a good thing for us.
“We’ve got to try because we’re fighting for our lives. We’re going to have to show what kind of mental fortitude we have here. Right now, it’s not as good as it could be, and we need it to be better.”