The Colorado Avalanche are insistent that this is not last year’s team. That this year’s team isn’t the same team that finished the season with the worst record in the modern era. That the team that went 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand that sent them spiraling out of control last December is nothing like the one they have now. But losing to the lowly Buffalo Sabres on the final night of their longest stretch at home so far this year gives a feeling all too familiar.
After being one of the NHL’s best teams on home ice in the months of October and November, the Avs have now lost three straight, and four of five at Pepsi Center.
While it is important to note that the Avs were without captain Gabe Landeskog for all but one of those games, that doesn’t excuse the product they rolled out in front of the home crowd. Lethargic play, slow starts, sloppy play in the defensive zone, and a real lack of offense all came to a head when the team lost what seemed like an easy win against the league’s worst team to help get them out of their funk.
“We look like we’re tired, and I don’t believe we are,” head coach Jared Bednar said after his team’s 4-2 loss. “It’s not disastrous, but it’s concerning because we’re not playing, you know, the way we can play.”
The coaching staff was looking for a spark in what felt like a must-win game. They called up Rocco Grimaldi trying to give themselves some depth scoring. However, once again the team’s only offense came off the stick of Nathan MacKinnon, who was brilliant tonight. And while it’s great to see the emergence of MacKinnon playing at an elite level, him carrying the load has become too much of a trend. You don’t win very many games when only one guy shows up.
“Yeah, it’s uh, everybody’s disappointed,” Avalanche forward Mikko Rantanen said. “We knew we had to win the game, it was a big game for us but we couldn’t do that. It’s disappointing”
The team poured shots on net. Unfortunately, they were low percentage shots with very little follow-up. And even though the Avs were near 40 shots on goal when it was all said and done, you never really got the sense that they were on the verge of breaking through. And any time you DID start to feel that the Avs were threatening to take over, they would take a penalty or hand a golden opportunity to the opposition, effectively killing any momentum they might have created.
“We gave them everything, I thought,” a bloodied Nathan Mackinnon said after the game. Three of Buffalo’s goals came off of Colorado turnovers, something that plagued the team during all four of their losses at home.
Sound familiar yet? This team just can’t seem to get anything going right now. What is perhaps more concerning than the final score, is that they don’t seem to be pushing back much. And while the leaders in the locker room stand firm this is a new team, a new year, and with such a young group, there’s no telling if they are capable of bouncing back.
“I don’t really want to think last year that much,” Rantanen said. “It’s a new year and it was a tough homestand, for sure, but can’t hide with that. It’s four losses out of five so it’s not good enough. But we have to reset. There’s a lot of games left so we are going on the road and we have to come up with a lot of points there."
The Avalanche lost what felt like a must-win game in December. They now head east to take on three of the NHL’s best teams. It’s time for the leaders of the team to not only say this isn’t the same team but to go prove it.