In the National Hockey League, a year can make a big difference in a team’s progress and ability to turn its culture around.

For the Colorado Avalanche, things are still in the rebuilding phase — but the progress is steadily increasing at a solid pace. The internal youth movement and additions of young players such as Alexander Kerfoot, and Samuel Girard, have allowed the Avs to generate a culture of self-belief and a new winning mentality.

Exactly a year ago, the Avalanche were in the midst of their second losing streak of four games or more — losing to the Minnesota Wild by the final score of 2-0. They would end the year with seven losing streaks of the sort.

With another loss to their name, the Avalanche would drop to a record of 11-19-1, for a lackluster total of 23 points at nearly the midway point of last season.

However, this year is vastly different, as the Avalanche are keeping pace for a wildcard playoff spot with a few other teams in the Western Conference.

“Its good [to bounce back from last years record at this time in December]. We are younger, and we obviously are a lot better than we were at the end of last season. We’re excited, and we have the confidence to make the playoffs this season,” Avs leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon said.

After defeating the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins by the final score of 4-2 on Monday night, the Avalanche completed the season sweep — as well as improving their record to 16-15-2 on the season, keeping pace with the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, Calgary Flames, and the Anaheim Ducks for the final wildcard spot.

“Well, it’s a long season. We are grinding, and obviously, we have a little under 50 games left,” MacKinnon said. “We are going to have to push to be able to keep up with the other teams. We have a few road games here before we hit the winter break, and then we go on a long homestand that we are looking forward to.”

Although the Avalanche are fighting to reach .500 on the road, they have been fairly good at Pepsi Center this season, holding a home record of 10-6-1 on the season.

The Avs have a majority of their upcoming games at home but have a quick, yet pivotal, road trip in continuing their progress and recent success before the Christmas break.

First, Colorado travels to take on the LA Kings who are another example of how a team in the NHL can flip the script in just one year’s time, as they missed the playoffs last season — but are now fighting for a top spot in the Pacific division.

They will then move on to face the Arizona Coyotes — a team who has struggled in the win column but have a lot of youth and speed to match that of the Avalanche.

“Playing out on the road, and it will be a challenge,” Coach Jared Bednar said in his post-practice media scrum Wednesday. “Two different teams, we will be playing a big, heavy team in LA that is firing on all cylinders, and more of a speedy group in Arizona that can get up and down the ice. So there will be a little bit of different preparation for both of those games, but it will be a good challenge for us going on the road here and try to get some points.”

The Avalanche are a young team with a chip on their shoulder looking to prove that times are indeed changing in Colorado. While they have already proved that the organization is headed in the right direction, the players themselves are looking to prove more. The confidence within the dressing room has the players believing they can come a full 180 degrees in just one year, making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

After completing the season sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins the self-belief from the Avalanche is at an all-time high. The Avalanche can head into the winter break with a couple of important wins under their belt, keeping them afloat in the ultra-competitive Central Division standings and furthering the momentum they have ridden as of late.