NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
The goal for the Colorado Avalanche last season was to return to respectability and earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, targets that were achieved under former star goalie and rookie coach Patrick Roy, who guided the team to a 52-22-8 record and won the Jack Adams Award.
The objective this season is to build on that success, even if it doesn't result in another Central Division championship, and to make a deep run in the postseason.
"I know why I was coach of the year, because I have a special group," Roy said. "They're the ones who were the difference last year, the ones who came to camp with a purpose and wanted to be different. As a coach you establish some values that you want to have, and these guys did that perfectly. We certainly have different words that we use -- partnership, trust and respect -- and these guys have bought into that.
"Last year we approached it that we wanted to surprise the world of hockey, and I think if we can go even deeper in the playoffs that would surprise the world of hockey again."
Here are three keys for Colorado to make that happen:
1. Goaltending needs to hold up -- It may not be possible for Semyon Varlamov to play better than he did last season, when he won a franchise-record 41 games and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, but he can't slip to any significant degree. He faced more shots (2,013) than any goalie in the NHL and probably will have to stop plenty of quality scoring chances again while playing behind a defense that frequently leaves him vulnerable.
New backup Reto Berra has to prove that he's capable of giving the Avalanche 15-20 quality starts as a replacement for Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had a 31-21-8 record with four shutouts in three seasons as the No. 2 goalie but announced his retirement this summer. The Avalanche showed a great deal of faith in Berra by signing him to a three-year, $4.35 million contract after trading a second-round draft pick to the Calgary Flames to acquire him.
2. The core group must continue to develop --
Defense - COL
GOALS: 13 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 38
SOG: 101 | +/-: 17
The Avalanche have a slew of young forwards and defensemen who played the best hockey of their relatively brief careers last season. Forwards Matt Duchene
, 23, Gabriel Landeskog
, 21, Calder Trophy winner Nathan MacKinnon
, 19, and Ryan O'Reilly
, 23, were the team's top scorers; all four had between 63 and 70 points. Can they do it again? MacKinnon spent most of the season as a right wing and must make the adjustment back to center to replace Paul Stastny
, who signed with the St. Louis Blues
as a free agent.
Tyson Barrie, 23, didn't play at the level expected of him until he was sent to the minors to regain his confidence; he returned as an efficient puck-moving defenseman with a dangerous shot. Erik Johnson, 26, finally looked like a No. 1 draft pick and Nick Holden, 27, was a huge surprise after spending the previous five seasons in the minors.
3. Get off to another fast start -- The Avalanche won their first six games and 12 of their first 13 last season, but they won't take anyone by surprise this time. The Central Division and Western Conference could be even more difficult, and the Avalanche can't afford to get off to a slow start despite playing five of their first six games on the road.
Colorado was the epitome of consistency last season with identical 26-11-4 records at home and on the road and may have to come close to that again.