News and notes from Colorado Avalanche practice.
It was three up and three down on the road for the Colorado Avalanche, which swept the three-game roadie against Central Division foes to improve to 7-2 in such games. Having just completed a stretch that saw the club play 18 of 25 contests on the road, the Avs are now back at Pepsi Center for three tilts before the holiday break.
One key to Colorado’s recent stretch of success has been the outstanding play of netminder Semyon Varlamov, who has won four games in a row and posted a 0.98 goals-against average and a .969 save percentage in that span.
“You can’t not mention Varly [with] how well he played on that road trip,” forward Matt Duchene said. “I think he let in three goals in three games. We’re going to win pretty much all the time if that’s the case. He was great, and I think it was just some really good team efforts, for sure.”
Defeating the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks all in one stretch was big for the Avalanche, which is working its way up the standings. It gave the team confidence and rewarded the players for continuing to put in hard work.
“I really thought we were doing a lot of good things and [weren’t] rewarded for the good things we were doing,” head coach Patrick Roy said of Colorado’s recent transition. “Obviously, on that road trip Varly was phenomenal. He played really well. He made some key saves at key moments, but I thought we played really well against Nashville. Played a good, sound game. We were pretty good in the neutral zone. We had a great start.”
A strong start to each and every contest will be key for the Avs, who are now 12-8 when scoring the first goal of the game—including in all three of the most recent road matches.
“We haven’t had the best starts [at home], and when we do have good starts, our third periods are kind of falling us,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “But if we play like we did on this road trip, and play solid hockey for 60 minutes… I think that’s something that we can definitely build on.”
“In those three games, one thing we did really well is we had great first periods,” said Roy. “We played with the lead, and obviously when you play with the lead and you have the quality of goaltending we had, [it] certainly helps the team a lot. Right now we’re feeding a lot from Varly in a way that there’s a lot of confidence coming out of him for the team.”
Now, the focus for Colorado is to take what works on the road and apply it at home, where the team will be for 17 of the next 24 matches.
“We know that we’re going to have to be better at home,” Roy said. “I think we’re going to have to simplify our game in the way that we cannot go out there feeling we have to impress the crowd, [that] we absolutely have to dominate the games. I think we need to go out there and play simple hockey like we’ve been doing on the road. We don’t have to open up the game if we’re down by one goal and give them a second goal. We need to find ways to stay within our structure and really make sure that we’re going to play a very smart and composed game.
“It’s early in the season. We’ve only played 32 games. I think it’s just a matter of confidence at home.”
Goals from all areas of the ice have been paramount for the Avs, and while Roy said he’s happy he put Landeskog, Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon together on a line, it’s not necessarily for the reason many would expect.
“Actually, it’s the best thing I think I’ve done because I am so happy with the line of [Carl] Soderberg, [Blake] Comeau and [Andreas] Martinsen,” Roy admitted before heaping praise on the young Norwegian. “Martinsen’s been playing really good hockey for us. He’s having that physicality. Seven body checks last night in Chicago. He was physical in Nashville. The same thing in St. Louis.”
Steadfast hockey against the Central Division, arguably the most important games of the season, has given Colorado new life in hunt for the postseason. The Avalanche is now only five points out of a wild card spot in the Western Conference and there’s more than half the campaign left to continue pushing upward.
“We know how important it is for us to come out and finish this,” Duchene said of the next three games. “Our kind of goal in the locker room a little bit was to be .500 by Christmas, and we’re one game away now. If we keep this thing going, we could be two over and really close to a playoff spot.
“There’s tons of time left and we want to play ourselves into that spot.”