When you’re a face of a franchise coming off its most embarrassing season in recent memory and the captain of a fractured locker room, there isn’t anywhere to hide and nobody to step in front of the blame train constantly bearing down on you. For Gabriel Landeskog, this season’s hot start has been a refreshing change of pace.
In a game the Colorado Avalanche never would have found themselves in last season, it was their captain who led the way on the ice to a domination of the visiting Anaheim Ducks. Landeskog’s power-play goal at 11:58 of the first saw him take a feed down low and immediately take advantage of Anaheim’s leaky defense and jam it home past goaltender John Gibson to give Colorado the 1-0 advantage. The Avs finished the first hanging on to their lead but also outshooting Anaheim 19-4, thanks certainly to the five power plays Colorado received in the game’s opening frame.
“Especially in the first, I think we had 18 shots, and obviously we had a lot of power plays,” Landeskog said. “Either way, it’s a hockey club that we’re playing well against. I do feel like we get a one-goal lead and all of a sudden we’re….I still think we’re playing well at times but we don’t really have those killer instincts around the net.”
Despite the huge advantage in shots, Colorado allowed the Ducks to continue hanging around and it finally burned the Avs when Brandon Montour beat Jonathan Bernier at 2:14 of the third period to tie the game while shorthanded. Instead of collapsing into themselves like a dying star like last year’s team did at the first sign of adversity, the Avalanche came back at Anaheim with an anger missing from last year’s emotionally bankrupt squad. They eventually regained the lead for good on a Tyson Barrie slapshot at 14:21 of the third and a late empty-net goal sealed two points they certainly earned in the form of a 3-1 win.
“In the third we kind of relaxed a little bit and let them hang around a little too long,” Landeskog admitted. “But we knew we were playing so well we weren’t going to let this slip away.”
Colorado’s assault on the Anaheim net never really slowed as they racked up a 39-18 advantage and the team handled adversity throughout the contest better than they did at any point last season. The team could have folded after they lost Nathan MacKinnon to an apparent stick to the eye in the first period (MacKinnon is expected to play against Dallas tomorrow). Or when Blake Comeau was called for goaltender interference and wiped out a Matt Nieto goal. Or when Alexander Kerfoot was called for the same infraction, wiping out a J.T. Compher goal in the third. But the Avalanche didn’t fold. They simply kept outworking a lethargic Ducks squad and eventually it paid off in the end with a victory that pushed Colorado to the top of the Central Division standings.
“Everybody is really working for one another as a team,” Landeskog explained. “We talked about it before, we’re a different team this year. We just want to create our own identity and that’s by working really hard and I think that’s where we were successful tonight.”
So, what’s different from last year?
“It’s hard to explain,” Landeskog allowed after a lengthy pause. “Just in this dressing room, there’s a different feeling and a different mindset and a different attitude towards anything. Just coming together as a group real fast; we’ve got a lot of new faces but I feel like we’ve done a good job of getting guys together.”
Instead of the joy the team had when it finally found its way to victory last season, the locker room after this workman’s dominance was even-keeled and already looking ahead to tomorrow night’s contest in Dallas against the Stars. Great starts are fun for everyone but you don’t make the playoffs in October.
“We know it’s just the start and we’ve got to keep working and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” Landeskog stated. “But no doubt we’re having fun and we’re enjoying each other and we’re all working towards the same goal and that’s to help this hockey team win games.”
Through the season’s first five games, win games is what the Avalanche have done on four of those nights. At that pace, even the DU Pioneers won’t be able to catch the Avs in wins this year. A new season, indeed.