Welcome to Year Four of the rebuild.
Parts of our team are coming together, and the first period of Saturday night's game was evidence of that. The identity that Sacco has been stressing was on full display: we were fast, physical, and puck-possessing. Nothing could get by us. All four lines were motoring, and even though the top two didn't generate or finish on as many chances as they should have, we still thoroughly dominated the Wild. During that frame, this team demonstrated that it has talent and the ability to win.
So why didn't we?
Early in the second, David Jones iced the puck because he dumped it prematurely before a hit. That lead to tired legs, to a penalty, and then to a goal. That goal lead to another goal. Then EJ got hurt. Then Downie took a stupid penalty. Then O'Byrne did too, and they scored again. Everything came crashing down around us, and it took until intermission to get our heads screwed back on straight. By that time, we were down 3-1 and wondering what the heck just happened.
That period was a textbook example of a young team getting completely clobbered by a momentum shift. These shifts happen in hockey - that's just the way it is - but the way a team deals with them is what separates the playoff ones from those in lottery land. When things stopped going our way, we panicked. The injury to EJ and the perhaps questionable personnel on the 5-on-3 didn't help, but we still committed stupid mistake after stupid mistake in a landslide of lack of concentration. We completely stopped playing our game and let our frustration get the better of us. Our inability to maintain a level head through the momentum shift is what lost us this game.
Even though much of our team is in their 4th or 5th season, we are still clearly a "young team" because we haven't mastered the veteran ability to play through adversity. Yes, every team no matter how experienced will get completely victimized from time to time, but the Avs made it infinitely worse on themselves by turning should have been a bad 3 minute stretch into a disastrous full period. Add in the three missed wide open nets because they were going for a fancy shot and the complete inability of our power play to net a goal, and it was the perfect recipe for a defeat.
There is hope, however. We were able to get back on our feet in the third period. While it was a far cry from the confident play of the first, we were able to stop the bleeding and generate some scoring chances. This is actually a fairly new development for the organization, a feat that we were completely and totally unable to accomplish only two seasons ago. The ability to refocus shows that we're maturing as a team. Now, we just need to find a way to pull it off without needing an 18 minute breather to do so.
While 48 games is a short season, we still have plenty of time to work on this. Saturday was the first game back after a shortened training camp and an off-season so long that a pregnancy could have completely come to term between Avalanche hockey games. There is still rust to shake off, but I would expect that discipline will be one of the focuses of the team this year. Luckily, mental-based issues are much easier to correct than talent-based ones, so there is a good chance that we can drastically minimize this problem by playoff time. Besides, we've already proved that we can play our game and regain control after stretches of misfortune - all we need to work on now is shortening the time in between.