Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has been searching for consistency from his underachieving team all season long. He coddled, screamed and encouraged his young team to get it going. It has been frustrating for him this season.
Roy is probably screaming “Eureka” with the way the Avs are heading to the All-Star break. After a 3-2 shootout victory over the Bruins last night at the Pepsi Center, they have gone 5-2-2 in their last nine games, and they are two points back of the Kings for the last wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
That is encouraging to Roy. He feels if the players can figure it out, the Avs are good enough to make the playoffs. He knows there is talent on his team to get there. That’s why he hasn’t gone off the deep end on his team this season. He knows it’s counterproductive.
All things considered, the Avs are not in a bad spot. It could be worse. They could be the Oilers or Coyotes when it comes to playing out the season and playing for the right to draft Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
Not that the Avs are in an enviable position, either. They will have to make the playoffs the hard way, which is competing with many teams that are in a logjam for the last two wild-card spots. They are competing with the Flames, Kings, Wild and Stars.
It’s hard to think they will finish in the top three in the Central Division. The Predators, Blues, Blackhawks and Jets are too good to blow a lead in the standings. They have been consistent all season.
Making the playoffs as a wild-card team is not going to be easy, but that won’t deter Roy. He likes his team’s chances as one would expect out of a competitor.
Here’s why Roy is optimistic: He has two goaltenders that can win a game on their own on a given night. He can throw Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard in the net.
In last night’s win, Varlamov made saves after saves, especially in the third period to keep his team in the game. It could have been the Bruins taking a 4-1 lead in that period considering they outplayed the home team. His play set the stage for Ryan O’Reilly tying the game with 1:45 left in regulation.
O’Reilly’s goal gave the Avalanche new life. Varlamov kept it up by making saves in overtime and in the shootout by throwing a shutout. It was over when Nathan MacKinnon scored the two goals in shootout.
Varlamov has been inconsistent this year. That’s been one of the problems the Avs dealt with. Now, he can’t afford to be. If he struggles, he will lose his starting job to Pickard, who has been excellent in his callup this season by going 6-6-3 with a 2.18 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. The Avs starting goaltender knows that, too.
Roy feels competition for a job can make each other better, especially in the vital position of this sport. Most importantly, he knows it would make Varlamov play with a sense of urgency. So far, so good for the Avs starter, and that’s why he started his 12th game in the last 13 games last night.
If Varlamov struggles at any time, he can always go to Pickard. The Avs head coach will not hesitate to change goaltenders in the playoffs if he does not like what he is seeing from a starting goaltender. This is a head coach that does not coach scared.
The competition for the starting goaltender job could be the tonic that gets the Avs going. That’s why the Avs have played well lately. It will be interesting if this correlates to team’s success the rest of the way.
The Avs have been inconsistent in scoring this season for whatever reason. One of the big problems is MacKinnon has had a sophomore slump. He hasn’t made the plays he did in the postseason last year.
Still, it’s hard to count out these guys. Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, O’Reilly and MacKinnon have good resume in the back of their hockey card. Eventually, they have to snap out of their funk. Roy believes in them since he knows what he can do.
Roy knows there are 34 games left. Plenty of time to make ground, which is why he feels the Avs are in a good place by being three games out of a playoff spot.
Every regular season remaining game will be a playoff game starting Tuesday night against the Central Division leaders at Nashville.
The Avs have no room for error after not starting off well.
Despite all the hurdles the Avs have to go through this season, Roy likes his team’s chances to make the playoffs.
Bet against Roy at your own risk.
Roy is at his best when people count him out at anything. That has what made him successful in hockey.
That’s why no one should count the Avs out.
Follow or Contact Leslie Monteiro: @LightRodWriter