NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy:
After looking like an average hockey team and having the record to prove it through the first two months of the season, the Colorado Avalanche have played well enough in the past two months to come out of the NHL All-Star break as a legitimate contender for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth.
The Avalanche, who open their post-break schedule against the Chicago Blackhawks at Pepsi Center on Tuesday, have won five of their past six games, a small snapshot of a successful two month run.
They are 18-8-2 since Dec. 1. They were 9-14-1 in the first two months of the season.
Colorado is in the first wild-card spot for the playoffs in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Nashville Predators and two ahead of the Minnesota Wild.
The Avalanche have played 52 games compared to 50 for the Predators and 49 for the Wild, but they have four more regulation/overtime victories than the Predators and three more than the Wild.
The Avalanche have found a level of consistency despite being last in the NHL in SAT percentage (44.10), 27th in shots against per game (31.3), 27th in shots for per game (28.3) and 22nd in penalty kill (79.8 percent).
None of those stats scream consistency, or sustainability, but Avalanche coach Patrick Roy has other views on that and reasons why his team's record has improved in the past month. He talked about them in the following Q&A.
Here are Five Questions with…Patrick Roy:
Your team has found a consistency level that wasn't there earlier in the season and it's allowed you to get into a playoff position. What has allowed you to do that? What has changed from earlier in the season, when it was far more inconsistent?
"The big change is the way we've been playing defensively. Lately we've found a way to win those 2-1 games, something that we had a hard time to do earlier in the season. Obviously our goaltending has been outstanding in that period of time as well, but I really feel we have played well defensively. Yes, there are some nights when we've given up a lot of shots, but it's like this for a lot of teams. I mean, if you play the night before against the Blues at home and you're going into Dallas, you know you're going to give up lots of shots. That's a normal thing. But it's the quality that you want to limit and it's how you want to make sure that you defend. I really feel defensively we've been much better in our own zone. We're never going to win the puck possession title, that's for sure, because we're a team that loves the transition game. We don't necessarily, offensively, try to possess the puck a lot. We try to bring the puck to the net quickly. That's our offense. But we're starting to get guys that are capable of holding the puck more, like [Carl] Soderberg, [Gabriel] Landeskog, [Blake] Comeau, and I think we've started to change a little bit. And I feel we've been defending much better."
The puck possession numbers are low compared to the rest of the League. Do you feel like your team generates enough quality and quantity scoring chances, or do you need more puck possession?
"Honestly, I'd like to see us generate more chances and more shots from our offensive zone play. There's no doubt about it. Most of our scoring chances are coming from transition plays, and that's the type of team we are. The type of neutral zone forecheck we do is because we like to transition quickly or take advantage of a bad entry and then boom, we're gone. But these are quick plays. You're in the zone for, what, three or four seconds? And then boom, you're out. The thing that we've been focusing a lot on is trying to hold onto the puck more and trying to be more patient with it, not try to go to the net as quickly. But it's hard to change that, to be honest with you."
But you mentioned Soderberg, who has been a tremendous addition for the Avalanche. Can you trace his impact to the fact that he does have patience, that he plays that type of game?
"First of all, he's clicking very well with Blake Comeau. These two guys have been an outstanding addition to our team. That's A. B is that he played in Boston, which is more of a possession kind of team. You can tell that when he goes into a corner he doesn't try to get rid of the puck, he tries to hold onto the puck a little longer. It's been an easier adaptation for him. And, plus, he's defending really well. He's got a great stick and he's in good position. He's been a pleasant addition for us, no doubt about it. The line with Soderberg, Landeskog on the left and Comeau on the right, I've been playing them together for a bit now and they've been playing really well. I think the three of them really click well in some ways. They could make some rush plays, but I think they're more efficient when they start to put the puck deep, get their forecheck and start to generate chances that way compared to [Nathan] MacKinnon and [Matt] Duchene, it's all skills and they bring the puck to the net quick. Plus, we have that line with [John] Mitchell, [Cody] McLeod and [Jack] Skille. They have speed, size, they defend well and they're capable of generate a bit of offense. If they play against top lines it's no big deal because they're capable of doing it. And on that night it gives more open ice for guys like MacKinnon and Duchene because they're not always playing against the top line and top pairing."
You mentioned that you have improved defensively. Have there been any changes of note, or is it more attention to detail?
"I think we've been better in the details. One of the problems we had is we were a little slow going at their guy and we give them a little bit too much time and space. We've been working hard at it, trying to be quicker on the puck carrier, putting more pressure. Also the details of having a good stick in the lanes, sometimes we'll seal the boards and sometimes we'll leave it open, depending on who we're playing. We're adapting to the details that believe we're not quite there at the start of the year. But the main one is stick on puck and being quicker at the puck carrier. Those are the things we're doing much better and I think it's been helping. Yeah, I'd like to see us possess the puck more because that's the perfect world, but this is the type of team we have."
Has MacKinnon looked like a different player this season in what he's doing, or is he just playing better than last year because he's more comfortable and more experienced?
"I think he's getting more and more comfortable. He's starting to mature more. I think he's getting more confident in his 'D' zone. Last year, at times he might have been a little bit lost, but this year I feel he's more confident in what he's doing and I think it's part of the process."