It’s Dan Mount and I hope everyone had a good Columbus Day or Canadian Thanksgiving. This column will talk about the great start of the Colorado Avalanche. If you have a cool hockey gif or video for my Friday “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” segment, please hit me up on Twitter @DanMountSports or leave comments below. Also, I’ll be having a mailbag segment if you want to ask me a question. I love hearing from the readers.
An Avalanche of a good start
There are three unbeaten Western Conference teams. (There could only be one or two after Tuesday’s games of San Jose vs. St. Louis and Dallas against Colorado.) The Blues and the Sharks were playoff teams last season, so some success was expected. However, the biggest surprise is that the Colorado Avalanche are among the unbeaten.
The Avs have struggled over the last few seasons and missed the playoffs for the last three years. The Avalanche did a massive overhaul and hired Patrick Roy as their head coach. Some people were questioning the hire as his only head coaching experience was with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Quebec City Remparts. (There’s also the old adage about how goalies are the best candidates to be head coaches. Glenn Hanlon was the only other goalie to be an NHL coach when he was the bench boss for the Washington Capitals in 2007.) Roy did have plenty of success with the Remparts and developed a lot of young players that played a fast, exciting brand of hockey.
The team was filled with questions marks of a very young team and questionable goaltending and defense. (I picked Colorado to finish last in the Central Division.) I thought the kids would struggle and eventually hit a wall and the holes in the defense would be exposed. Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastian Giguere had struggled between the pipes and guys like Erik Johnson had not lived up to the hype. The Avalanche weren’t predicted to really do much this season. (The Hockey News had them sixth in the Central, while I saw other places have the Avs as high as fourth and in the basement as I predicted.)
However, some predictions tend to go wrong and the Avs are making me and a lot of experts look silly. Colorado is 5-0-0 in this young NHL season. Sure, the Blues and Sharks also deserve praise for their starts, but this is truly a shocking start. As of now, Colorado is the top team in the NHL record-wise.
So what’s the secret of their success? The first thing is goaltending. Varlamov has really picked up his play from the last couple of seasons. He was the starter in Washington before losing the job to Braden Holtby and being traded in July 2011. (One of the wins this season was Varlamov getting his revenge on his old team as he made 40 saves in a 5-1 win.) JS Giguere has also played very well in his starts as the team has only given up four goals through Oct. 14.
One of the other main reasons for the team’s hot start is due to Nathan MacKinnon and the other younger players. The number one overall pick has lived up to the hype as he’s got a goal and five assists in his first five games. MacKinnon hasn’t had that rough period of adjustment that most people coming from juniors usually experience. Matt Duchene has been scoring tasty goals like this for the Avalanche. They’ve also been getting goals from guys like Alex Tanguay and the perennially underrated P.A. Parenteau. The team is fourth in scoring with 18 goals.
The team is also playing with a new-found fire thanks to Roy. The Hall of Fame goalie has always worn his emotions on his sleeve and been real with the media and the players. Roy has already made quite the impression on the league as he did in his first regular season NHL game which was a 6-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks.
Which reminds me of this awesome Seinfeld reference.
Roy is still fired up as he would be if he were starting in between the pipes. He is going to remind me of a John Tortorella-type of coach that will stick up for his players and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. (He did do this sort of stuff in Quebec and was fined $10,000 for his outburst. Don Cherry enjoyed it.) A few experts were not surprised that Roy has gotten off to a good start of his tenure.
The beginning has surprised fans (even most in Denver), but the main question is “Can the Avs keep it up?” They’re still giving up a ton of shots on goal as they are near the bottom of the league in that category. A lot of shots on goal do wear down a goalie and the defense. The team is also taking just a hair under 13 penalty minutes a game. That’s fine against teams that struggle on the power play, but they can’t be doing against teams in the Central Division like Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis that have solid extra-man units.
However, the speed up front has given this team hope and so has the youth. This team could be in the playoff mix for this and many more years to come.
Dan Mount is an NHL and college football writer for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, N.Y.