Much has been made about the Avalanche’s record start this season and for good reason. At 12-1-0 heading into tonight’s game against Nashville (7:30 p.m. MT), Colorado has equaled its best start through 13 games in franchise history.
A win tonight would match the Avs with the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators as the only teams in the history of the NHL to win 13 or their first 14 games.
The NHL is 95 years old.
That’s pretty heady talk for an Avalanche club most national prognosticators picked to miss this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy and his players aren’t buying into the hype, though. Sure, they’re excited with how they’re playing, and they don’t plan on giving back or apologizing for any of their victories, but the NHL season is a long one.
Following today's morning skate there was a prevailing theme of “staying focused,” with Roy and others utilizing an oft-used sports cliché: “We’re taking it one day at time.”
“We cannot control what people think, and we cannot control where we’re going to be three months from now or four months from now,” Roy said. “What we control is what we’re going to do tonight, and I think we need to stay in the present world. We need to prepare ourselves for tonight, make sure we focus when we get to the rink, make sure we play a strong game, especially a strong start.”
Standing in the way of win No. 13 is the Predators (7-5-2), whom the Avalanche defeated 3-1 on Oct. 4 for its second victory this season. The score in that game was 2-1 until late in the third period before Colorado’s PA Parenteau scored his second goal of the night after Nashville had pulled goalie Pekka Rinne.
Rinne, who had 33 saves in the teams’ earlier matchup, won’t be in net tonight for Nashville after going on the Injured Reserve list following hip surgery. In his place will be Carter Hutton, making his eighth NHL appearance.
“We expect them to play a strong game tonight,” Roy said. “I expect them to see their [defense] join their rush and be involved. This is a good [defense]. The big difference obviously is Rinne is out, and it will be Hutton. It will be important for us to test him early. Hopefully we can get a couple past him in the start of the game.”
With each game and with each victory this year it seems a new milestone comes into reach for the Avalanche, but it’s pretty apparent that no one in the Colorado dressing room is focused on that history.
The Avs just want to take care of business and move to 5-0 this season against Central Division opponents.
“When you look at it divisional games are the biggest games to win,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “Playing other [divisions] the points maybe aren’t as big, but for us it’s just that one-game-at-a-time mentality. Right now I don’t think it matters who we’re playing. Our coach has done a great job preparing us. It’s just committing to our system, staying strong within it and being disciplined.
Jamie McGinn, who’s set to play for the first time tonight since Oct. 25 after suffering a knee injury, echoed those statements.
“[The Predators] have a lot of skill on their team,” he said. They have some great [defense] over there with heavy shots and a great goaltender. We’re going to have our best tonight, just like we do every night. We have a system put in place, and we’re going to have to follow that and not deviate away from it and continue to play a full 60 minutes.”
While Roy and the Avalanche players are doing their best to focus on the next game, the most obvious by-product of the team’s remarkable early-season run is the confidence it has created among the players.
It might be a chicken-or-the-egg kind of discussion, but that level of faith in each other and the process has created a light and focused atmosphere within the club. And that just breeds more and more confidence in the mission.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old—confidence is everything,” Roy said. “If you’re a confident group you can accomplish big things, and right now we’re playing with that confidence. It was the same thing for us in my eight years here (as a player). We believed in ourselves; we were a confident group. I think confidence [plays] a major role in any sport, and right now we seem to be very confident.
“That’s what makes our team right now interesting. We have been finding ways to win all kinds of hockey games.”
McGinn suffered a knee injury prior to the Avalanche’s game against Carolina last month (Oct. 25) and has sat out Colorado’s past three games.
Roy said McGinn was healthy enough to play Saturday night against Montreal (a 4-1 Avs win), but Roy decided to not push it after McGinn had missed much of the previous week’s practices.
McGinn was a full practice participant Monday and Tuesday at Family Sports Center in Centennial, Colo., and will skate tonight, looking to get into the scoring column for the first time since Oct. 12, when he scored a third-period goal in a 5-1 win against the Capitals.
“It feels like the first game of the year again,” McGinn said. “I’m real excited to get going. I want to bring a lot of energy and keep the train rolling. The guys did a great job while I was out.”
Roy said Wednesday morning that McGinn will play on his third forward line tonight, with Max Talbot, a centerman, on the right side and John Mitchell in the center.
“It shows that we’ve got quite a big depth here,” O’Reilly said, “and I think with our system, it’s pretty well played out that anyone can jump into any role. Our coaches have done a great job of knowing everyone’s position and [making] sure we’re all aware and know what every guy is doing on the ice. Having that preparation and being involved that way makes those adjustments that much easier for us.”
Moving MacKinnon will help the Avalanche fill the void left by Alex Tanguay, who suffered a knee injury Saturday against Montreal and could be out until late November. Roy pointed out Monday and Tuesday how fickle and serious knee injuries can be and that the team isn’t going to rush back the veteran Tanguay.
“We’re going to miss Tanguay,” Roy said, “but Nathan has an opportunity to play there, and I’m sure he will take advantage of it.”
- On Monday Roy laid out his goalie rotation for Colorado's next three games, which will all come at home. Semyon Varlamov (8-1) will start tonight against Nashville and Sunday night against Washington, his former team. Jean-Sebastien Giguere (4-0 this season) will be in net Friday against Calgary.
- The Avalanche, which enters the game on its second six-game winning streak of the season, will play Nashville four times overall this season. Tonight’s game is the second in the series, with both of the next two coming in Tennessee.
- Colorado is 24-22-5-5 against Nashville and 15-10-2-2 at home.
- Roy tonight will attempt to become the first head coach in NHL history win 13 of his first 14 career games. Roy has guided the Avalanche to a 12-1-0 record, joining Marc Crawford (1994-95 Quebec) as the only coaches in NHL history to win 12 of their first 13 contests.
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