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Avalanche shrug off doubters, slow start to season

by Arpon Basu / NHL.com

MONTREAL -- The Colorado Avalanche came into this season with many in the hockey world doubting their ability to build off their surprising performance in 2013-14.

The percentages simply didn't add up to long-term success.

So when the Avalanche came out of the gates with back-to-back losses by a combined score of 8-0 to the Minnesota Wild, the team that eliminated them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference First Round, it appeared as though those predictions of regression were not so off base.

Those whispers were heard by the Avalanche in the offseason, and they're still being heard now. But the only affect it has had on Colorado is to strengthen the resolve to prove those people wrong.

The Colorado Avalanche are eager to prove their slow start won't continue into a trend as many predicted based off analytics of their successful 2013-14 season. (Photo: Brian Babineau/NHLI)

"We certainly know that there are doubters out there. They're always going to be there," Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said Saturday prior to facing the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET, TVA, CITY) to close out a four-game Atlantic Division road trip. "As long as we in this group, in this room, believe in ourselves, we know what we can do, we know that we can accomplish a lot of good things. Sometimes, that only motivates you when people start doubting you, saying last year was a fluke and all those things. But we know what we can do in this room, that's what's most important."

Since those two losses to the Wild, the Avalanche beat the Boston Bruins on a last-second goal by Daniel Briere, lost in overtime to the Toronto Maple Leafs after leading 2-1 midway through the third period, and lost to the Ottawa Senators 5-3 on Thursday in a game they led 3-1 after 20 minutes.

"Everyone's talking about our slow start, but I'd rather face adversity now than later in the year," center Matt Duchene said. "We're right there. We should have won the last two if we just closed out the third period. We just need a little bit more relaxation in there and just get the job done."

Colorado's high shooting percentage and exceptional goaltending last season were the two areas that appeared ripe for a drop. The loss of starter Semyon Varlamov and his backup Reto Berra in consecutive games in Toronto and Ottawa certainly doesn't help maintain the goaltending numbers, but the Avalanche are also having trouble scoring at the same rate as last season.

Through five games the Avalanche are scoring on 5.1 percent of their shots at 5-on-5, down from 8.8 percent a season ago, according to the website war-on-ice.com.

"Scoring goals seems to be a little bit of a problem," Briere said. "When you look at the lineup it's the last thing you would think, but we've had a hard time finding ways to score goals. It's been the case all through training camp, it's been the case maybe until last game. If we were able to score a couple more goals every game we'd be 3-1-1 instead of 1-3-1."

Avalanche coach Patrick Roy doesn't seem overly concerned with the offensive output, pointing out the consecutive shutouts against his team to start the season can skew the numbers. If you remove those two games from consideration, Colorado's 5-on-5 shooting percentage jumps to 7.5 percent, still below last season's rate.

"In the last three games it's been much better, especially in Ottawa when we scored three goals in the first period," Roy said. "We feel it's coming, guys are starting to take higher quality shots and going to the net a little more. So for us, it's very positive."

The fact Roy's team is facing key injuries early is also a big change from last season, when the Avalanche were relatively healthy, at least when it came to their important players. Roy doesn't necessarily mind going through the early health problems, but he also suggested it shows the Avalanche still have organizational issues that need to be addressed dating to when they finished last in the Western Conference in 2012-13.

"We're learning from it," Roy said. "Sometimes you take things for granted, but now you realize how important the depth is for your team. That's why we made those moves this summer and we're very happy we've done that. Saying this, we're not going to fix everything in a year and five games. We have to remain patient. I like the plan that we have, I like the structure right now and I think we're heading in the right direction."

Roy said prior to the start of the season that the Avalanche will give up shots, and he insisted again Saturday that their open style of play will not change. In the past three games the Avalanche were outscored 7-5 and outshot 71-68 at 5-on-5. When it comes to shot attempts, however, the difference was more drastic.

The Avalanche allowed 128 shot attempts against at 5-on-5 in three games and took 100, or 43.9 percent of the total shot attempts in those games. It is the same problem that plagued them last season, when they were at 46.9 percent, and one of the main reasons they were targeted to take a fall.

"We can't listen to what everybody else thinks, whether it's good or bad," Landeskog said. "Sometimes people try to pump your tires and try to give you compliments, but you have to set that aside. Sure, it wasn't the start that we wanted, but we feel like we've got our game back to where it should be."

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