Remember when the Colorado Avalanche went 6-0 in the preseason last year? Everyone got excited about what Jared Bednar brought to the table and we thought the team would be competitive in the toughest division in the league.
Three months later, the team was in a tailspin and players started mailing it in. The Avs turned in the worst season in franchise history and the worst season of any team in the salary cap era. The preseason was nothing but a distant memory of nothingness.
That’s why Tuesday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights is meaningless. Sure, it's no fun losing. People are going to talk about the "losing culture” from last season and how it hasn’t changed based on Tuesday’s effort. Others will mention that Vegas is an expansion team and the Avs should be embarrassed at losing to them.
Once again. It doesn’t matter. The Avs dressed four NHL players against Vegas. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Matt Nieto, and Erik Johnson. Duncan Siemens and Alex Kerfoot may make the big club this year, but they have little or no actual NHL experience. And Carl Soderberg isn’t an NHL caliber player at this point.
Winning on Tuesday wasn’t going to change the “losing culture” thing that doesn’t actually exist, but is a talking point amongst those who need some kind of narrative to bang on about.
Here are the things that matter in preseason: staying healthy, your starting goalie looking halfway decent, and rookies battling.
Staying healthy is the most important thing. The Avs can’t afford to lose Johnson or MacKinnon or Gabriel Landeskog for regular season games during the preseason. On a team with limited depth, losing one of their few top end players could sink the season before it starts. And based on last season, the team is already treading water.
Semyon Varlamov didn’t play on Tuesday. Spencer Martin did. Martin will be the AHL starter, and while he didn’t look good, his performance isn’t an indication of how the team will be this year. Varlamov is scheduled to start on Thursday. Given that it’s his first competitive game since mid-January, I don’t expect him to look like the Vezina Finalist from 2013-14. But he needs to look relatively sharp. Maybe he gives up a couple of goals, but as long as he’s moving well and making some big saves, that’s all we can ask.
Finally, it’s good to see rookies fighting for a roster spot in preseason. We know the guys who will make the team without an issue. But I want to see guys like Kerfoot, Siemens, Sergei Boikov, AJ Greer, Rocco Grimaldi, etc… pushing some of those veterans in the bottom six who muddled up the team last year. That’s why, despite the loss, I saw some good things from the Avs on Tuesday. Specifically Kerfoot, who could definitely push Blake Comeau or Soderberg to the press box.
Wins and losses don’t matter in the preseason. There’s no award for winning the preseason. No names are etched on a trophy if you go undefeated in exhibition games. Staying healthy and specific individual play is what matters in the preseason.
Don’t freak out over Tuesday’s loss. And don’t get too high if the Avs win on Thursday. Just pray that the team makes it to Oct. 5 healthy and ready to compete.