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Updated Defense Key In Improved Play

by Ryan Boulding / Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche has won three of its last four games, and was certainly competitive in all four contests, but the success isn’t something that the players are looking at. The team is taking a “day at a time” approach to the current stretch of the schedule, which includes games against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday and the Dallas Stars on Saturday.

“I think that we have to go game by game,” said rear guard Jan Hejda following today’s practice. “What happened yesterday or what happened two days ago or three days ago doesn’t really matter anymore. We have to be prepared for next game.”

Even so, it’s no secret that the team has looked better in its own end following changes to the defensive system by head coach Patrick Roy.

“It’s obvious that we’re playing better defensively. If you look at the number of shots against, we’ve cut down a lot on those. A lot of games were below or around 25. Scoring chances have been pretty much the same,” said Roy. “I think we’ve been possessing the puck more offensively, and we don’t stay down long in our end. Early in the season, we could be like a minute, minute-ten, minute-twenty in our end. Now it’s like 10, 15, 20, 30 seconds at the most.

“Maybe one or maybe two or three times we’re going to be more than 30 seconds, but I think this is good.

“I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Said Hejda: “We just have to play our game and everything else is coming.”

The right direction includes a top-down directive of keeping things simple on offense. Don’t look for the pretty play—those come with continued success. Instead, Roy wants his team creating chaos in front of the net, throwing pucks on goal and following up on second chances. A goal is a goal whether it makes the highlight reel or not.

“We talk about simplifying our game offensively. I mean more traffic to the net,” said Roy, who lauded the effort of Erik Johnson and Jarome Iginla in tying the game against Carolina on Saturday on the strength of a screen in front of goaltender Cam Ward.

Roy’s praise also included forward Nathan MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog, who really began buzzing late in the third period on Saturday night.

“Wasn’t [MacKinnon] fantastic in the last 10 minutes of that third period against Carolina? He dominated the game. That line was really good. I liked that line in the third period. They were skating well,” said Roy. “Landy, he’s a leader on this team, and I thought he took charge there. He showed leadership. It helps Jarome. It takes a lot of pressure off.

“[Iginla] needs to be the third guy on that line, and I’m sure if Landy and MacK are playing hard, he’ll be perfect with these guys. He’s going to help them a lot.”

Faith in Berra

Reto Berra

Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra was pulled from Saturday’s contest in the first period after allowing three goals on 10 shots. Calvin Pickard came in to relieve him and ended up stopping all 17 shots faced to earn the win, his first in the NHL.

For some this raised a question as to who deserved to start between the pipes on Tuesday night in Arizona. For Roy, the answer is obvious.

“Reto will play,” said Roy. “We’re going to go with him.”

When pressed about whether there were lessons to be learned from Berra’s play on Saturday, Roy chuckled, before offering up a philosophic response.

“I think we’re learning every day. quite honestly,” said Roy, before shifting gears back to Berra. “But at the same time, that was only one bad period. I thought he had a great game in Boston. I thought he had a great game against Toronto at home, against Florida. Against Philly, we just didn’t play well in front of him. I thought against Washington he was okay. He gave them one bad goal. I have to admit that part.

“Other than this, I can’t say he’s the reason why this team was not winning hockey games.”

Berra’s role as backup means stepping in and providing support when called upon, whether that means a night off for Semyon Varlamov or filling in when the latter is out of the lineup. According to Roy, Berra has been one of the better players this season and certainly deserves a chance to maintain his role.

It isn’t easy for backups in the league, a fact Roy pointed out to the room during his post-practice press conference.

Said Roy: “This morning, I did a bit of an exercise. I was looking at backup goalies. Can you name me five backup goalies around the league?”

There was a prolonged silence broken only with a countdown from Roy and subsequent laughter from those attending his press conference.

“But at least you know ours,” Roy joked. “But you’re looking at stats and record and wins and losses, he’s in the mix. Down the road, ask me the same question, but right now I think we have to give him [the] benefit of the doubt. He’s been one of our better players.”

Injury Update

When pressed about the long list of injuries—there’s currently nine Avalanche players out with various maladies—Roy offered updates on the guys that are progressing:

“[John] Mitchell (leg) is day-to-day, [Jamie] McGinn (back) is being evaluated every day, [Brad] Stuart (leg) is not progressing like we’d like to [and] we’ll have more in the next few days. Varly (groin) is doing really well, and we’re going to be very cautious again with Varly. When he’s going to come back, he’s going to be like 110 percent.”

Veteran forward Alex Tanguay, who took a point-blank Alex Ovechkin shot to the face on Thursday night, was on the ice for practice today, and spoke about the incident afterward.

Alex Tanguay
Left Wing  - COL
Goals: 7 | Assists: 4 | Pts: 11
Shots: 28 | +/-: 1
“It’s a reaction. I was trying to block the shot. Threw my stick in there and unfortunately the puck came up on me,” Tanguay said. “It’s the third time in three weeks I [got] hit with a puck in the face, so I hope my turn [has] passed.”

When asked about the moments after the impact, Tanguay iterated that it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

“Not fun. First half hour to an hour after, you have that feeling where you want to throw up. It didn’t feel good,” he said. “Then [I] got to the hospital, gave me some medication, and [I] was able to relax there. I felt fine after the medication.

“I saw the CAT scan. I saw the fracture. The bone’s not displaced, so I guess that’s a good thing.”

Tanguay was sporting a full face shield—which offers additional protection for his cheeks and jaw—at practice.

“Feels fine. It doesn’t bother you,” said Tanguay of the change in equipement. “There’s a little bit of an adjustment when the puck is in tight, but I’ve played with it for 20 years before getting to the NHL. It shouldn’t be a problem.”

Tanguay is traveling with the team to Arizona. His status for the game has yet to be determined.

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