Avalanche coach Joe Sacco was interviewed via an NHL conference call today. I wasn't on the call, but do have access to the transcript, which I'm providing here. Skipper Joe discusses Peter Mueller (doesn't sound promising), the Avs' playoff chances (normal coach speak) and the reasons Matt Duchene should win the Calder Trophy (obviously)
And for those who love this kind of thing, Avalanche GM Greg Sherman is on NHL Radio tonight, 4pm mountain, 6pm eastern.
Q. Is there a status update on Peter Mueller?
JOE SACCO: Peter Mueller is still out indefinitely with a concussion.
Q. Is he expected to be ready for the playoffs?
JOE SACCO: Like I said, he's out indefinitely right now. There's no timetable on his return.
Q. What was the secret to the Avalanche's success this season?
JOE SACCO: Well, I don't think it's been any secret. I think the things that we've tried to focus on this year was one. Obviously trying to get the organization, the team back to the top as quick as possible. We felt from day one, starting in training camp, we needed to recreate the identity that was here. I think that started, like I said, the first day of training camp, moving into the first day of the regular season, talking about the type of team that we wanted to be and the type of team, how we needed to play.
I used the phrase a lot of 'playing on our toes,' being a team that sets the tone, not reacting to the tone. Those messages, along with a real good, solid core of youth injected into our lineup along with some experienced players, solid goaltending all season long has really helped.
Q. What are your concerns heading into the playoffs?
JOE SACCO: Well, we don't have any concerns. Obviously expectations for us were fairly low to start the year. So we put ourselves in a position, we've earned the right to be a playoff team, but I don't think we have any concerns heading into the playoffs. We should look at it now that we've accomplished the first goal that we set out to, and that's to make the playoffs. Now it's time for us to try to make some noise in the playoffs. Obviously we're a team that we're not favored probably, not one of the favorites to come out of the Western Conference in the playoffs. But I always feel once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.
Q. How do you guard against a young team being satisfied with overachieving expectations during the regular season and just getting into the playoffs?
JOE SACCO: Well, I think one is hopefully they don't know any better (laughter). That was kind of what happened at the start of the season. I think, you know, we got off to such a good start. We had a long road trip. We had a seven? or eight?game road trip after our first two home games. We had a lot of success on the road in large part due to the fact that I don't think our young guys knew it was supposed to be hard, it was supposed to be difficult. We just went out and we just played. We had success.
I'm hoping that we kind of regain that same kind of focus, that same feeling that we had at the start of the season moving into the playoffs. Just go out and play our game, really not try to think too much, just kind of let things happen.
Q. I imagine you're following the top of the Western Conference standings, Chicago and San Jose kind of battle it off. Can you break down the challenges of facing either one of those teams?
JOE SACCO: Yeah, like you just said, there's challenges facing both teams. Two of the top teams not only in the conference, in a very strong conference, but in the National Hockey League as well.
I think with San Jose, the challenge with that team is obviously the size and strength of the Thornton, Heatley, Marleau line. We all know their skills, but I think the problem they present is their size and their ability to really control the play down low in the offensive zone. Very hard to contain. They also have some pretty good depth.
I think to me they're more of a team that relies on two and a half, three lines really. Their top four D, they weigh heavily on those guys. That presents a challenge in itself with the Sharks.
I think if you look at the Blackhawks, their overall team speed, their depth up front. Same thing on the back end. When I look at the Blackhawks, I look at depth and I look at, you know, how much speed they have, how much team speed they have.
Each team, obviously every team at this time of the year, presents different challenges. But at the end of the day really I think most of us try to worry about our own team, obviously try to key in on the strengths of our opposition.
Q. So you're not going to tell me which one you'd rather face in the first round?
JOE SACCO: I'm not going to tell you that. I think it's going to be a great challenge for us no matter who we face.
We've matched up pretty well against both teams during the regular season. Having said that, obviously the playoffs are a totally different animal. I believe we were 2?2 against the Sharks this year. I think our record right now is .500 against the Hawks with one more game to play.
Like I said, the regular season, it's important, there's no question, but the playoffs present a whole different animal.
I think that, you know, if we do face one of those two teams, I think we match up pretty well.
Q. Down the stretch with this team, having finally clinched the playoff spot, did you see anything kind of click with the players as far as maybe finding a second gear or killer instinct in these last couple weeks?
JOE SACCO: It's funny. We were in pretty good position after the Olympic break. Then when the break ended, we started up again, we hit our adversity at that point of the year. I think it's fair to say if you look back throughout the course of the season, every team in the league, it doesn't matter what team you look at, had a sequence like that during the season at some point. We happened to hit ours after the break there.
With a young team, I think the challenge was for us to stay even?keeled. It's been what we've tried to focus on during the year. Not get too high, not get too low. Fortunately for us, we didn't have lots of highs and lows, especially lows. I think the longest losing streak we had before that break was maybe three games.
It was a different challenge for our players, especially our young players, to stay focused and stay calm and stay even?keeled during that stretch. That's all we tried to preach with the players, is we earned the right to be where we were at that time. It wasn't luck; it was because we did good things during the season.
I just kept going back to playing to our identity, playing our game, playing a team that uses its speed, playing a team that pursues the puck aggressively, not sitting back, playing on our toes. I think the big turning point was obviously the San Jose game. We played very well. We got a big overtime point there.
Q. There seems to be a lot of debate this year about the Calder Trophy. If you had to make a case for Matt Duchene to win Rookie of the Year, what would it be?
JOE SACCO: I think with Matty, if you look at the situations that he's been thrown in for an 18-year-old kid this year, he's played on our first power play unit all year long. He's played on one of our top two lines all year long. He's used in just about every situation that we have as a team from an individual standpoint. He started the year, at some point he was a minus 13 or 14, and he's a plus player now. He's obviously learned to play the whole 200 feet of the ice much better, which I think says a lot.
To me, one of the hardest positions, along with defense, is centermen, especially in our system. To play center in the NHL, you have a lot of responsibility in your own end. It's not easy for a young player coming out of juniors to handle those responsibilities. Not only offensively has he ignited our team, which is the strength of him, but defensively he's really turned his game around.
To me the biggest thing is the type of player he is. This player wants to make a difference. Matty wants to be the difference maker, and he is going to be a difference maker in this league.