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Rested Avs Keeping Things Simple

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

One day of travel, 48 hours of rest, and two strong practices have separated the Colorado Avalanche from its last game played—a 3-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils—and the club is looking to take that winning momentum with it into tonight’s contest against the Washington Capitals at Pepsi Center.

“We had some good skates, got some good rest, and we feel like we’re ready to go,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said following today’s morning skate. We feel like we’ve got fresh legs and are hungry to get back in the Pepsi Center.”

Success breads further success, and some hard work and much needed recovery time could be the right mixture for the Avalanche to scoop up more wins.

“You have to string a few together, and for us it’s been a little choppy at the start,” said Landeskog. “To be a good team, you have to be able to put streaks together.”

That’s what the Avalanche did on the tail end of a recent four-game road trip through the Eastern Conference: put together consecutive wins for the first time during this 2014-15 campaign.

The key to the club’s victories? Playing a simple game.

“Keeping it simple is about being safe at the blue lines, I think, offensively and defensively,” said Maxime Talbot. “I think we’re a very effective team when we play in the offensive zone, in the corners, and working it out there and keeping the puck to create.

“I think we did that the last two games. It feels good. It feels good to play in the O-zone instead of chasing after the puck in our own zone. If we create something good, then we’ve got to build on that.”

Playing low in the opposing zone means that you’re possessing the puck, which ultimately will translate to more scoring chances.

“I think we really possessed the puck down low, and we were really grinding it down. We were talking about it before the games, that we don’t have to force anything,” said Landeskog. “Hold onto it and protect the puck, and it seemed to be working. We were getting scoring chances off of it, and especially momentum.”

Utility forward John Mitchell goes one step further in talking about the team’s success, saying that the work beings with a strong mentality as well.

“You just have to have the will to battle and win your one-on-one battle. If you’re going to be stronger on the puck than the other guy, most of the time you’re going to come out with the puck,” Mitchell said. “You have to go in there with the right mindset, ‘that’s my puck and I want it first,’ and once you get it, you might keep it.”

While the Washington Capitals have only scored three goal across their last three games—including a 2-1 overtime victory in Arizona—that shouldn’t take away from the clubs potency. It lingers beneath the surface, looking to pour out at any moment.

Even so, the dry spell is something that the Avalanche has a formula for maintaining through tonight’s contest.

“Just sustain pressure on them constantly. Don’t give their skill guys time and space to make plays, because that’s what they want,” said Mitchell. “When we have an opportunity to jump on pucks that are maybe fumbled or in their feet, we’ve got to go and go hard at them, and obviously win those battles and get on the offensive as soon as we can.”

This includes continuing to neutralize lethal Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, who has scored just one goal in eight games against the Avalanche.

“He’s a good player, obviously. He’s been a very good player in this league for a long time now. His greatest attribute is obviously his shot. So we don’t want to give up any good scoring opportunities for him,” said Mitchell. “We definitely need to make him work for every opportunity he’s going to get tonight. The easiest way to do that is obviously play in their end, because… I don’t think he’s going to score from down there, or hopefully not. Just sustain pressure down there, and when he does get in our end, we have to be physical.”

The Avs are playing five of the next six games at home and have won two of the last four on the road. Still, the club is taking it one contest at a time instead of looking ahead to this match or that one.

“I was looking more at the standings last year than this year. This year as [little] as possible,” said Colorado coach Patrick Roy. “We play Washington tonight. We want to focus on Washington. Let’s play tonight. Let’s put all our energy on Washington, focus on them, and Carolina will be another day.”

“We had a couple good games, winning two big on the road. We’re coming back home here, and it’s about tonight,” said Talbot. “It’s about the first period. It’s about short-term goals. We need the points. We need the points to get back in the race. We’re not that far away when you look at the standings. It’s definitely going to be a big one for us tonight.”


Scouting Ovie

The Avalanche routinely discusses the best strategy for playing each and every opponent in the league, which also includes formulating a plan to silence the top players on the opposing team. For stopping Ovechkin, that means tracking him up and down the ice and prohibiting him from getting a shot off.

Alex Ovechkin

“There’s no secret that he’s got one of the best shots in the league, and he’s always dangerous every time he’s out there on the ice. We’re aware of him. We scout him just like we do with every other team,” said Landeskog. “We know what their tendencies are on the power play and penalty kill and whatnot, but for him, play hard and not give him the time to wind up for that one-timer.”

“He’s been one of the best in the league for so long now. We know his shot. Whether it’s on the power play, we know where he’s going to be and what he’s waiting for,” said Talbot. “He’s waiting for the big one-timer, and he’s a dangerous guy with a lot of speed. You have to know when he’s out on the ice and make sure you’ve got an eye on him.”

The Avs have had past triumphs in shutting down Ovechkin, so tonight the work should be nothing new.

“Obviously, every team has their opinion on how to play it, but us, last year, we had some success against him,” said Roy. “We kept a forward as close as possible to him, but he’s such a good player. Sometimes it’s as much as you can [do], and sometimes you rely on your goalie to make the big save.”

Sometimes keeping No. 8 off the scoresheet requires self-sacrifice—like lying down in front of his cannon of a shot—as well. This is a task that Talbot is familiar with.

“It’s part of my job, of course. It feels good when you block one of his shots,” Talbot said. “Yeah, it hurts, but it’s for a good cause.”


Adjusting the ‘D’

The Avalanche made some defensive adjustments on Nov. 5, a day before a big 4-3 shootout win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the new game plan seems to be paying off for the club.

“We’re very happy. I think it became a pretty important adjustment,” said Roy. “You always want to make some adjustments as a coach.

“In those games, it seems like we possessed the puck more, and it seems to make a difference. It was important, but at the end of the day, no matter what you’re doing, you have to be good in one-on-one battles and I think our guys have been extremely good in their one-on-one battles. I think it helps our defense at the same time.”

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