The Avalanche is just six games into its 2013-14 season, so there’s obviously much more to this story that’s yet to be written.
But, man, it’s been a pretty good first chapter or so, hasn’t it?
Colorado’s 3-2, grind-it-out win against Dallas on Tuesday night moved its record on the year to a pristine 6-0. That’s the second-best start to a season in franchise history—it’s the very best since the franchise relocated to Denver—and the Detroit Red Wings come into Denver on Thursday, standing in the way of an all-time franchise record-tying 7-0 start.
There are myriad storylines surrounding this club right now, and they are all worthy of delving deeper, but perhaps the primary focus at this early point in the season should be on first-year coach Patrick Roy.
Many others have aided in the Avalanche’s impressive start out of the gate, and Roy would be the first to tell you it’s not he but the players who deserve all the credit for this. And that’s mostly true.
Matt Duchene scored twice Tuesday, for example, and is off to a great start in his fifth NHL season (seven points); goalies Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere have been nothing short of phenomenal in the early going; and 2013 first-overall NHL draft pick Nathan MacKinnon has been as advertised after adding another point Tuesday (assist) to his season total and is tied with Duchene for the team scoring lead.
But the foundation for this “Talk of the NHL” start for the Avalanche began back in May, when Roy returned to the Avalanche organization after a 10-years-to-the-day hiatus from the NHL.
In his short time back in Colorado, all Roy has done is tie the NHL record for consecutive wins to start a head-coaching career (Mario Tremblay, 1995-96), and re-ignite a Denver hockey frenzy that figures to reach an even bigger blaze Thursday when the Red Wings come calling.
When asked about all this Tuesday night at Pepsi Center, however, Roy attacked the question with the sort of swiftness he displayed as a goaltender in his Hall of Fame career. He said he’s not interested in looking back or even focusing on the now. He’s all about the big picture.
“[The potential 7-0 start is] not something that I’m looking at, to be honest with you,” Roy said. “I certainly appreciate more the way our guys played [tonight] then appreciate me breaking a record or something like this. I’m not really excited about that record, to be honest with you. I’m excited about looking at the way the team has been playing, how hard the team has been working.
“I don’t care about the 7-0. That’s what I said to the guys before the game. We have to take care of things that we control, and what we control is how we’re going to play the game. Most importantly, the commitment that we’re making to focus and also to hard work is probably what puts us where we are right now.”
Many of Roy’s preseason news conferences last month turned into a discussion of what kind of coaching approach he was going to bring to the Avalanche, and he took every chance he could get to say he was going to instill a “Stanley Cup attitude” throughout all levels of the Avs organization.
His four career Stanley Cups paired with a legendary status in hockey circles gave no one reason to not believe his statements, but it seemed at the time like he was laying the groundwork for a project that would be a couple years in the making, at least.
Again, we’re just six games into this 2013-14 story—seven percent of the season is all—but if the last two weeks are any indication, Roy and the Avalanche already have the attitude he often spoke of.
At some point this “start” of the season won’t be looked at like that anymore. At some point it’s going to be considered the first block in a season-long build. And however the season plays out, Roy is glad to have these 12 points already in the bag, including from Tuesday night’s win, which wasn’t a masterpiece but still resulted in a victory.
“That’s what we’ve been doing since the start of the year, finding a way to win,” Roy said. “There’s night where we’ve played better … tonight was not our best game.
“You can say whatever you want, but at the end, those points, nobody can take them away from us, and we won’t have to chase them at the end. Let’s take advantage of the situation. Right now we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Matt Duchene scored twice Tuesday night, both on impressive wrist shots, and eclipsed the 200-career point plateau.
“It feels good,” Duchene said. “It’s nice. Hopefully [there are] many more to come, though. I kind of forgot, actually—a couple guys were asking me if I wanted the puck—but it’s a nice milestone to have. I’m pretty grateful for the opportunity to get 200 points in the NHL.”
Duchene’s first goal came at 8:17 in the first period, from just inside the left faceoff circle. The Stars had just tried a crossing pass in their own zone, but Duchene got a stick on it and rifled it past Dallas goalie Dan Ellis.
His second score came about midway through the second period after a delayed penalty was called on Dallas, allowing the Avalanche to pull Varlamov from goal and put six attackers on the ice.
Duchene and the rest of the Colorado players displayed great patience in the sequence, and Duchene capped off the eventual game winner with a stick-bending wrister from the left side, just over Ellis’ shoulder.
“’Dutchy’ is a very important player on this team, and I love the consistency that he has put on since the start of the year,” Roy said. “He’s been dominant every night, and that’s what we need. He’s forming a great line … and I’m sure he’ll give a lot of credit to Ryan [O’Reilly] and Stevie (Steve Downie) for what’s going on right now for him.”
Semyon Varlamov started in goal Tuesday for Colorado for the fifth time in six games this year, and, statistically speaking, he had one of his worst performances of the season.
He still earned the game’s First Star, though.
Varlamov, who paired with Giguere on Monday in earning the NHL’s Second Star of the Week honor, made 39 saves against Dallas, but the two that got by him ended a pretty impressive streak. He had allowed just one goal in each of his first four starts this season and was the first goaltender in franchise history to allow one goal or less in his first four starts of a season.
Similarly, Colorado came into Tuesday’s game as the first team in NHL history to begin a season with five straight wins while allowing no more than one goal in each game.
Both streaks ended Tuesday, which, in hindsight wasn’t a surprise to Roy.
“We have [had] great goaltending since the start of the year,” Roy said. “[Varlamov and Giguere] both played really well for us, but we’re going to have to be better in front of them. We need to manager our game better. That’s what we need to work on.”
- In conjunction with the NHL’s league-wide initiative during October the Avalanche hosted its Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night on Tuesday. The Avs joined the NHL and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) to honor those in the hockey community who have struggled or continue to struggle with the disease.
“Cancer is probably one of the biggest evils in the world, and anything we can do to fight that is huge,” Avalanche forward Matt Duchene said before the game. “I lost a great-aunt, who was way too young, to breast cancer a few years back, so I’ve been directly affected by it, seeing the hard time my family went through with that. It’s nice to be able to do something toward that and raise awareness.
- With two goals Tuesday, Duchene broke onto the 200-career point list. He’s the third active player on the Avalanche roster with at least 200 career points, joining Alex Tanguay (767) and Paul Stastny (400).
- Duchene extended his goal streak to three games and his point streak to four games, both season highs for an Avalanche player. He leads Colorado with five goals this season.
- Colorado’s now six-game winning streak is the club’s longest since it won six games between Dec. 10 and 19, 2010.
- The Stars’ Cody Eakin scored 10:58 into the second period Tuesday and ended at five games Colorado’s franchise-best streak of consecutive contests to start a season and not allow a power-play goal.
That was the first time in franchise history that the Avalanche/Nordiques franchise had gone five games into a season without allowing a power-play goal. The previous best franchise mark was three games without a power-play goal, set in 1984 by Quebec and matched in 2006 and 2011 by the Avalanche.
Colorado killed off Dallas’ first man advantage Tuesday to run its consecutive power-play kills mark this season to 13 before Eakin found the net. The Avs were the last team in the NHL to not allow a PK goal to that point.
- Varlamov made 40 saves for the second straight game, improving to 5-0-0 on the season. His five straight wins matches his single-season career high, accomplished twice before.
- Tuesday’s game was the first of five regular-season meetings in 2013-14 between Dallas and Colorado, now Central Division rivals. The Avalanche is now 52-43-12-7 all-time against the Stars, including totals from the Quebec Nordiques and Minnesota North Stars. Colorado is 29-25-8-7 against Dallas since relocating to Denver in 1995.
2013-14 AVALANCHE-STARS REGULAR-SEASON SCHEDULE
Tuesday, Oct. 15 in Denver – W, 3-2
Friday, Nov. 1 in Dallas
Monday, Dec. 16 – in Denver
Tuesday, Dec. 17 – in Dallas
Monday, Jan. 27 – in Dallas
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