Having tired of the Denver Post's extremely inconsistent reporting of the Avs thus far, I decided to set an alarm clock and head to the Avs morning skate and check it out for myself. Mostly I wanted to see if Ben Street was actually playing or if Mike Chambers was straight lying to people. Let's start there!
-Ben Street in fact did not participate today. Neither did Tomas Vincour for that matter. There were no pumpkin no-contact jerseys worn today by anybody.
-That means Jamie McGinn and John Mitchell were practicing normally. That said, this practice was a no-contact practice...so the no-contact jersey wasn't really necessary.
-The day started with the team working on special teams, with Roy taking a particular look at the PP. They got into the same personnel groupings they've used consistently this pre-season (top two lines with EJ/Tangs on the point in one unit, Holden/Barrie on the point in the second unit. McGinn was the additional forward being used on the second unit). They worked on working pucks into the higher traffic areas and getting a more physical presence in front. As in, actually having someone physically stand there for a change. They worked with multiple personnel groupings and the PP unit actually managed to score a goal or two. Hooray.
-Next up was the Avs working on breakouts/neutral zone defense. A LOT of time was spent on this particular drill today and Roy did more coaching than the players did playing. He was working mostly with Duchene and O'Reilly on how to slow down opposing breakouts. For this drill, they had Tanguay as the forechecker attacking primary puck carrier Barrie with O'Reilly and Duchene working together to cover the boards and outlet passes. Barrie made a couple nice plays early, causing Roy to stop and Duchene to start asking a lot of questions. Lots of conversation between O'Reilly and Duchene about where to go and what to look for. Immediately after, they ran the drill again and clogged the neutral zone so effectively that Barrie stopped at his own blue line without making a pass. Mission accomplished. Roy stopped everyone, Dutchy wheeled around and said "Yeah like that?" and Roy said "YA HE STOPPED. GOOD." Everyone chuckled. Happy times!
-Further along in the same drill, Landy was forechecking (Barrie still the puck carrier) and MacKinnon was working with Briere on where to go and what to do. This grouping was not nearly as successful as Roy stopped several times to work with MacKinnon, who at one point was lost enough that he straight ran into Nick Holden while trying to cover the same part of the ice. Uh. They ran it back and things went quite a bit better and MacKinnon forced an errant Barrie pass. Victorblies!
-After switching roles for a few runs (the guys attacking were now defending, MacKinnon/Landy/Briere were now attacking with Holden as the puck carrier), Roy called everyone over to the white board on the far side. Before heading that way, Landy pulled Holden aside and were talking about their breakout and Landy specifically said "Stay on my hip". File this away as a tiny detail that I'll be looking to see utilized in upcoming games. Maybe interesting, maybe meaningless.
-McGinn, Mitchell, and Iginla were working together as a line today (someone tweeted at me it was the "Injured Line" lolol well played). They did not participate a whole lot in the breakout drills.
-At this point the session was mostly over and it was naturally then that I saw my first face appear in the press box. Less than a minute later, Chambers tweeted out the day's lineup so I'm assuming it was him. I'm not saying he wasn't there earlier (I saw Moser several times around the facility but never in the press box) but with his recent issues in providing inaccurate information, I found it interesting that I first saw him as the real meat and potatoes of the day were ending. He was only there for a minute before moving down to the glass.
-The Avs broke into their smaller groups like they normally do and some guys left while some stayed to mostly work on smaller drills.
-Among those things that happened that was interesting was MacKinnon approaching McLeod repeatedly for tips on how to properly drop the gloves (they would do it a couple of times), with McLeod also showing MacKinnon how to grip an opponent's jersey and also how to switch hands on a guy without getting pummeled in the face. Certainly interesting to watch and definitely hilarious when they were practicing actual punch throwing...but pulling the punches like a bad kung fu movie.
-Several of the forwards (Briere, Duchene, Talbot, Rendulic, Everberg, O'Reilly, Landy, McLeod, and MacKinnon are the ones I remember) were practicing receiving hard passes on their backhands and taking point blank shots at Varly (Berra was working with the other group on the other side of the ice. I didn't pay any attention to that group) and trying to jam home rebounds. For some reason, Varly took this drill really seriously and was mentally pumping himself up like crazy throughout. He was slapping his stick against the goalposts and getting pissed whenever he got beat. For whatever reason, Varly was all in on this stuff. Loved that competitiveness. This continued as the team transitioned into a playful 3-on-0 session where Varly was left trying to stop pucks without any defensive help. Lol.
-Varly got beat bar down a couple times by Talbot and Landy, who both celebrated wildly every time they scored, cool goal or not. Hilarious. McLeod got shut down on a rebound when Varly made a kick save and then went post to post. The forwards mocked McLeod vociferously while Varly gave himself a "Fuck yeah, bro" fist pump.
-The final "drill" of the day had a coach in the corner firing passes belt high towards guys to have them knock the puck out of the air and try to score on an open net. Each guy got two tries. MacKinnon and Duchene nailed it on their first attempts while nobody else really came close. McLeod cheated and knocked the puck down with his stomach on his second try. That crafty vet. Several attempts at this later finally saw Rendulic and O'Reilly also succeed. Everberg was the sacrificial lamb of the group as his attempts were hilariously terrible, including one desperation wild stick flail. Lol'd.
-One final non-hockey note of the day is that the guys on this team really do seem to enjoy Marc-Andre Cliche. We all realize his limitations on the ice but he spent all day skating around with different guys, laughing it up and generally looking like the team's most beautiful social butterfly. This was a stark contrast to Danny Briere, who appears to still be in the search for friends. McGinn threw him a bone at the end of the day as they chit chatted before he had to go hang out with new linemate John Mitchell.
-On the injury front, I obviously can't give you anything concrete because I'm not allowed to ask the players or coaches questions afterwards but McGinn definitely looked ready to rock to me. I hope we see him Saturday night in Vegas. Mitchell was much more limited than McGinn but that might be more of a result of him being on the injured line and not a big PK/PP guy than anything injury-related. Or it could be injury-related. Regardless, he looked fine skating around and he was enjoying himself at the end with everyone else.
That's all I've got for you from this morning's skate. Hope to see some friendly faces at the Broadmoor tonight and if you're planning to be in Vegas this weekend let me know so we can say hi before or after!