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Mile High Sports

Offense an integral part of Avalanche upswing

A game of speed. That’s what freshman head coach Patrick Roy wanted out of the Colorado Avalanche during his first season managing the bench in Denver. Just like in the days of past glory, Roy wanted to see the team use speed as a weapon. Overload opposing defense, create chances through a swift transition game, and put the puck in the net each and every night.

That was the objective long before the campaign ever started.

When opening night finally arrived, the 6-1 drubbing of the Anaheim Ducks, a team still in the quest for the Stanley Cup, signaled what would be quite a season of production for the Avs. Not only would the perennial loser surprise all by taking the Central Division title, but the up and down offense would also come together, driving a system of success for the burgundy and blue.

Through a full 82-game season, the Colorado Avalanche was held off the scoresheet just one time, a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins on March 21st. In fact, the Avalanche had one goal—or less—just 15 times all year long, speaking to the incredible knack for burying the puck on a consistent basis.

Looking for players like Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog to rise to the challenge as leaders on the team, the rejuvenated squad went above and beyond expectations.

Duchene debuted as an elite player in the entire NHL, putting away 23 goals and 47 assists in just 71 games. His speed and strength made him lethal every night and, if he was getting shutdown, that meant someone else was open to pick up the slack.

Landeskog finished second on the club in points with 26 goals and 39 assists, proving that his role as captain was a smart decision. If he couldn’t talk the team into believing in itself—the boys didn’t need much convincing—then he would show them what needed to be done out on the ice. Whether it was a huge hit, a smart play, or simply finding the scoresheet, Landeskog was instrumental in Colorado’s lasting triumph.

Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, both players up for contract renewal, proved more than integral to Roy’s game plan. O’Reilly transitioned to playing wing and still managed to display his aptitude for the sport by potting a team-high 28 goals for 64 points while also taking just one penalty all season.

Depth a factor in Colorado Avalanche dismissal

Stastny saw a resurgence of his own (25g, 35a), despite playing a heavily defensive game, and easily made a case for remaining in an Avalanche sweater moving forward.

Throw in the astonishing premier of Calder Trophy frontrunner Nathan MacKinnon, and you had the first team in the league to have five players with 20 or more goals this campaign. MacKinnon’s ability to adapt to a bigger, faster, professional game speaks to the high ceiling of his development.

One of only two players to play all 82 games for Colorado, MacKinnon was a torrent of offense and velocity, collecting points by the handful while playing alongside Stastny and Landeskog. When the deluge of 24 goals and 39 assists finally ceased, MacKinnon sat fourth on the team in points, tied for second with five game-winning goals, and second behind Landeskog with a plus-20 rating.

Sprinkle in double digital goal support from guys like Jamie McGinn, Tyson Barrie, PA Parenteau, John Mitchell, and Nick Holden and the Avalanche was in a good place entering the first playoff berth in years.

When the Quarterfinal round against the Minnesota Wild began, the Avs seemed ready overcome all of the injuries and other disparity just like they had all campaign. The concoction of youngsters and veterans had accomplished a record-setting season while nobody was looking, so a series against the Wild seemed business as usual despite the absence of Duchene and Mitchell.

Two quick victories set a tone of elation and supreme confidence for the Avs heading into Minnesota for Games 3 and 4, yet the club tried to remain even-keeled as Roy had preached all year long. There was no time for celebrations or grieving periods for bygone contests until the season was done, one way or another.

The struggles first came on the road, in a building where the Wild had thrived all season. It was there that the offense began to bend and shift, not able to overcome like so many other times in the season.

The absence of Duchene and Mitchell was suddenly very apparent and the loss of Tyson Barrie changed the dynamic of Colorado’s primary threat.

Even with nine different players having goals, the Avalanche was unable to string together enough potency to put Minnesota away early. While the series was a fight, the ultimate decision came down to the coin toss that is overtime in a Game 7 scenario. Either team could go on and, after a close chance one way, the game ended at the other side.

The Avs carried the scoring, the speed, and the transition game into the postseason but the club wasn’t able to overcome stout defense and a physical aspect that leveled the playing field. Even with MacKinnon and Stastny finishing with 10 points apiece—Stastny had five goals—the Avalanche fell in the first round.

In all, the offensive unit had a spectacular season and gives Colorado firm ground for building upon next season. There will be more goals and there will be more excitement, just like Roy promised long before the 2013-14 season began.

The output of the Colorado Avalanche made hockey enjoyable again and fans in Denver have finally returned. Without the revival of an offense first club, the Avs wouldn’t have made it nearly as far.

Ryan Boulding is a staff writer for Mile High Sports. He can be reached via email at ryan@milehighsports.com or on Twitter @RBoulding.

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