As I'm typing this, it's almost midnight. Why I'm typing this... I'm not entirely sure. But I do know that I'm a little frustrated with the Avs right now. Not panicked. Not freaking out about a lost season. But certainly disappointed and a tad bit concerned. On a whim, I figured making this rant a post instead of just a comment in the recap thread was worthwhile, so here ya go.
After the whirlwind of last season, the fun, amazing rollercoaster ride that it was, the Avs have come out extremely flat to start this one. While the rest of the world screams "regression!", I'm not sure that's what it is. It just seems like there's something else missing. I'm not sure if it's chemistry or hard work or keeping it simple, but there isn't a sense that the Avs are getting unlucky. They're just not clicking at all yet.
Yes, health has something to do with it. Even though they're bottom 6 guys, John Mitchell and Jesse Winchester would be so helpful right now. Mitchell is the Swiss Army Knife of depth guys - he'll play every position and he'll play it pretty well. He might make a couple decisions a night that make you want to scream in frustration, but for the most part, he's an extremely solid guy who we missed in playoffs and are still missing right now. And Winchester? My gosh, his defense would be such a welcome addition, especially if it might force Cliche out of the lineup (who, let's admit, isn't having a great season so far and is probably the first Nachoville candidate when either of these guys comes back). And Ryan Wilson was just starting to look like himself again. It's truly a shame he's concussed once more.
But that doesn't address the deeper issue of our top players not clicking. The Avs have scored 4 goals in 4 games, a far cry from our nearly 3 goal average last year. But more troubling is that fact that many of our best players just don't look like themselves at the moment.
Up until midway through the Toronto game, Ryan O`Reilly seemed to be sleepwalking, and Gabe Landeskog has had uncharacteristically bad nights. Nathan MacKinnon is speedy as always, but apart from small flashes, he's been largely invisible. Jarome Iginla is a notorious slow starter, but his passes keep ending up in Duchene's feet, and don't even get me started on the rust (or worse) Alex Tanguay is dealing with. Daniel Briere had a great last second goal, but most of the time, he's invisible and seems to still be searching for his place on the team. Jamie McGinn is still getting up to speed after missing all of training camp. Brad Stuart has been a disaster, and Jan Hejda hasn't been much better.
Really, outside of Duchene, Everberg, Barrie, the goalies, and occasionally Holden and EJ, something just seems off.
In a lot of ways, I think it has to do with the preseason. I'm not talking about our record - who cares if we were 1-5-2 or whatever - but it's beginning to look like coaching and management spent too much time evaluating prospects and not enough time establishing chemistry and systems with the players they knew would be on the roster. Yes, finding out what Hishon and Rendulic and Elliott can do is worthwhile, but it's not something that is actively helping the club right now. It prepared the organization for the long term, but short term? It seems to have resulted in an extremely sluggish start where we're struggling to make up ground and still get points.
I suppose it's all a part of the learning process. It's easy to forget that while Sakic and Roy aren't exactly new faces in Denver, they are new to running an NHL team. They're going to make mistakes, and that's okay. They prioritized the prospects because they thought that the chemistry established from last year's team would carry over - which was a reasonable assumption at the time - but now that it's blown up on them, all we can do is hope that everyone learned from it and move on.
Their next step is figuring out how to fix the mess. Maybe the media is right. Maybe it is regression. But if a talented team isn't putting forth the effort, isn't working as a unit, can you really say they're "unlucky"? I would argue they're just underachieving. Maybe regression is part of it, but something else is at play.
Perhaps part of the issue is humility. After many of these players' first taste of NHL success, maybe they thought that it would always come that easily and they didn't have to keep working as hard. Or perhaps it is chemistry - lines looking great on paper but struggling to click on the ice. It could also be the pressure the team feels now that they've "surprised the world of hockey" and have new expectations and scrutinies placed on them, especially from reporters who place weight on advanced stats. Maybe the rest of the league figured out how to break down Roy's system, or maybe the players are just gripping the stick too hard and looking for a fancy play instead of a simple one, for, gosh, who knows what reason. Or perhaps it's just a set of individual slow starts that have all combined into a nightmare for the team.
Whatever the case, they need to get it figured out soon. I'm not too worried about the points right now - we're a solid team, they'll come - but I do miss seeing my Avs playing every night. I miss the passion, the effort, and the commitment to working as a single cohesive unit. I miss the crazy, pull-the-goalie, "never say die" attitude. I miss watching world-class forwards making jaw-dropping plays, nimble defensemen jumping into the rush, and Varlamov being, well, Varlamov. Lucky or not, it was a treat to watch the club every night because the players were having fun. The wins were just a bonus.
Yet with that said, October is halfway over. Especially in the West, one bad month can sink a team. The Avs aren't doing all that badly, but they're not exactly convincing right now either. If this train doesn't get moving here soon, we're going to dig ourselves a hole that will be very hard to overcome even with the playoffs half a year away.
Iggy signed a three year contract in Colorado because he wanted to win a Cup. We're certainly not there yet - and maybe we won't even get there in time - but it does give the team something to work towards. If we're going to make strides this year, the magic of '13-14 needs to return. We've seen flashes - the last minute rush in Boston for one - but this roster needs to figure things out and get everyone on the same page. Roy has to decide where the line between mixing it up too much and too little lies, and unfortunately, it's going to take time and probably a few more flat appearances before everything shifts into gear. And as a fan - or even a coach or player - that's just darn frustrating.
But hey, we got our fairy tale last year. Now it's back to real life. This is a good test for a fairly young team still learning how to win. It might be maddening to watch, but it's all a part of the process. All we can do now is hope that Sakic, Roy, and the roster move past this "learning opportunity" as quickly as possible.
Let's go, guys. It's October! I want Avalanche hockey back! Make it happen.