We aren't even twenty games into the season and the Avalanche are already closing in on their win total from last year. What is the biggest reason for the complete turnaround?
Without a doubt, the difference is coaching. Roy has developed a system that works with the strengths of his players rather than forcing them into something that doesn't fit them. Moreover, he believes strongly in being a member of the team, not the dictator of it, and openly engages in conversations with his players about their performances. He invites their contributions. In the end, he's the one making the decisions, and there's no question who's really in charge. However, the players feel like they have a voice. Even more importantly, they feel like he supports them. That, in turn, makes them want to win for him. Erik Johnson recently said, "When you have a coach you're willing to go through a wall for, it makes a big difference. Everyone has that mentality playing for Patrick."
He's also instilled a sense of humility into the locker room. In the past, the players would get either too high after a win or too low after a loss. Roy's philosophy of one game at a time and each game is a must win has changed the team's entire attitude about game days. Wins make them hungry for more now, and losses make them want to work that much harder for the next W.
Are you surprised by Patrick Roy's seemingly seamless transition to being an NHL bench boss?
Not really. I'm not going to lie. I was very relieved he didn't get the job in 2009. But his work in juniors and then comments over the summer really sold me on him as a coach. When I did research about his philosophies on coaching, I knew that he would be successful. It's not as if he suddenly decided, after retiring, that he wanted to learn about coaching. During his entire career, he was always asking the coaches questions about why they made certain decisions or did different drills. Much of it had nothing to do with goaltending. Roy was just a student of the game at an intense level, one you'd expect from him. That desire to learn and improve is a key ingredient for any successful coach.
Last season the Avalanche had trouble lighting the lamp, this season goals are up by almost one per game. What's behind the offensive increase?
The style of play is the biggest difference. This team is fast, and the speed will burn opponents at the slightest mistake. Roy uses that speed to its maximum potential. The more successful the players are, though, the more confident they get. That's the second reason scoring is up. Any player will tell you that when he's trying too hard-gripping the stick-he's less effective. This team believes in itself, and the goals are coming as a result.
It has been a few years since Colorado made the playoffs, what do they have to keep doing right to avoid missing them again this season?
They just have to keep doing what they're doing. Statistically, they simply need to maintain .500 hockey from here on out to get a spot. This strong start has given them a huge advantage. When the goaltending regresses to the mean a bit (and it will), the losses will come more frequently. But Roy will adjust the systems as needed to keep the ship righted. I don't expect the goals to drop much as Tanguay will return soon, and MacKinnon is on the verge of breaking out. His comfort level with the game is visibly improving with each shift, and Roy has hinted that he's going to put Mack and Duchene on a line together at some point. Few teams, if any, will have an answer for the dynamic they'll create. It's that kind of willingness to adjust, while doing it with thought and not out of desperation, that will keep the team competitive throughout the year.
If the Panthers are going come out of Denver with a win, what is the key to beating the Avalanche in their own barn?
Find a way to stop the Avs' transition game. As I've said before, their speed kills. To beat the Avs, you have to beat their speed. Calgary and Carolina both found ways to slow Colorado down. While a team may not be able to copy exactly what they did (Roy is always adjusting, even showing film during intermissions to do so), slowing the transition is the best chance other teams have at beating the Avs.
LBC would like to thank Cheryl for her insightful answers regarding tonight's opponent. Check back here later this afternoon for the game preview, and join us again for the GameThread, 30 minutes before puck drop.