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Sacco sees Avalanche establishing a new identity

by Dan Rosen
Colorado coach Joe Sacco is doing his best to keep himself and his team level-headed, even-keeled. It's not easy when everybody in the hockey world has jumped on your bandwagon after just six games.

"It sure beats the alternative," Sacco told after putting his team through its first practice at home since completing the only 5-0 road trip in franchise history. "It's a good start, no question it's a good start, but we're trying to keep it in check. It's a long year."

Colorado coach Joe Sacco just saw his team complete its first 5-0 road trip in franchise history. (Photo: Graig Abel/NHLI)
But right now it's good to be Sacco. As much as he wants to defuse the praise, he also wants to soak it in.

It was only six months ago that the Avalanche were finishing off a dreadful second half of the 2010-11 season with only five wins in their final 32 games.

They have five wins in their first six games of the 2011-12 season.

So much has changed in Denver, and Sacco touched on a lot of it in a wide-ranging Q&A with Wednesday afternoon.

Q: Everyone seems surprised with your impressive 5-1 start. Jeremy Roenick wrote in his blog that he's eating his words because he thought you guys would be a bottom-feeder. Are you at all surprised, shocked, befuddled about how the team has played so far?

Sacco: Well, to sit here and say we would be 5-1 after playing Detroit and then going on a five-game road trip, we'd be kidding ourselves. To be above .500, no I wouldn't have been surprised with that. We said going into the season, just like we said going into my first season, that we're not as bad as people think. What happened in the second half of last season was not typical of our team. There was a lot of things we couldn't overcome. I'm not surprised we had a good start this season, but I am surprised we are 5-1 because it was a tremendous road trip.

Q: Watching your game in Toronto the other night, the fifth and final one on your road trip, it looked as if the guys were playing with intensity that normally isn't seen this early in the season. Has it been that way from the start of training camp?

Sacco: It has. I think right from the get-go we knew as a team that we had something to prove. We wanted to make sure we covered all our bases as a coaching staff. We wanted to make sure the players understood how important the start of the year was for us. Even though we lost our home opener to Detroit, which could have set us back a bit, we came out and played a terrific game two days later in Boston in the afternoon. We have been playing with good intensity in our game. Our goaltending has been good and our defense has been very good. You mix those ingredients with playing with our foot on the pedal, and we're getting good results."

Q: How do you keep up with that intensity?

Sacco: It goes back to what I said before. No. 1, you stay even-keeled. There are always going to be hurdles along the way. Every team goes through ups and downs, peaks and valleys, whatever you want to call them. The main thing for us when we do go through a little bit of a tough stretch is to remain even-keeled just like when we do when we have success. Make sure the ship stays straight. I think our guys realize it's good what we've done so far, but we're home and it's time to turn the page. It's about getting the guys to buy into that frame of mind.

Q: Do you think they are?


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Sacco: I do. We got in late Monday night and had yesterday off so today, when you practice, you expect a sluggish day. But what I liked about our practice today is the guys were moving, skating and working. It wasn't the prettiest practice, but the work ethic was there.

Q: You have already mentioned the second half of last season in this interview. Does that, particularly your brutal 5-26-1 post-All-Star break record, ever get brought up in team meetings?

Sacco: No, it's forgotten about. We don't talk about it. I brought it up with you just because of a different situation, but we've moved on past that. We are a proud organization and we have proud players on this team. We have moved on. We have a different team, too. We have new goaltending, some new defensemen and some new forwards. The identity of the team, I don't want to say it has changed, but it is different because we're more abrasive on the back end, rougher around the edges there, which is what we wanted to do in the offseason. We wanted to acquire guys that are hard to play against. Up front, we still feel we have a speed team. We are built to forecheck.

Q: Give me Gabriel Landeskog's early report card.

: Well, I think for an 18-year-old he shows a lot of maturity in his game. He doesn't play like an 18-year-old as far as how he does the little things well. Things you're always working on with players seem to come easier for him. And when you do tell him one time, that's usually all it takes. The report card has been good, but just like every other young player he has moments in a game where he might not be doing the exact thing you're looking for. But his minutes and game situations as far as he's being used speak for itself. He's been very good.

Q: David Jones had 27 goals last season and already has 4 this season. What has interested you most watching his development and improvement?

Sacco: I think it's his play around the net, his ability to get into traffic areas and score some goals. He has a great shot, he gets it off quick and he is an opportunistic guy. He doesn't need five or six chances a game to score. Even if he gets two or three a game he can score. What I like is that I think he is understanding that he has to play that power forward game. When he plays more physical, he is more effective. It's about taking it to the net and putting himself in areas where he can score in front of the net. He can turn himself into a real good power forward in this League.

Q: You hear it said from people like myself, but is it true that when a team has confidence in its goaltending, that confidence then spreads? It's a question that fits your team because clearly it is confident in Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Sacco: There is certainly confidence in the goaltending, and yes I would agree, it does filter through the rest of your team. There is no question. Our guys know we have good goaltending. They are there to make the initial save. If they see the shot they will make the save. There is confidence in our back-end too now to clear out rebounds and traffic in front of goaltending, areas we struggled in last year. We seem to be better in harder areas in front of our net, but we have confidence in the goaltending. If the goaltenders are playing well they're giving you a chance to win and that's all you can ask of your goaltender. It's easier to play, too, when you have that confidence.

Q: All things considered, is your team on a mission to prove itself after last season?

Sacco: Yes, we have something to prove. We have something to prove to our fan base. We have something to prove to each other, which is most important. To say we're on a mission -- we're out to play well. The bottom line is we want to be a good team and we want to be a good team every game. When people say the Avalanche, there has to be an identity. All the best teams, there is an identity to those teams. That's what we're trying to create here.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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