Top Shelf: Avs still battling through rough start

Philadelphia, PA ( – What a difference a year makes.

Everything seemed to come so easy for Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche
last season, but that has certainly not been the case in 2014-15.

Before you could blink the Avalanche were out to a 14-2-0 start in 2013-14,
effectively quieting the critics who laughed when Colorado hired Roy to lead
the rebuilding franchise.

What followed was a storybook regular season that resulted in the franchise’s
first division title since 2002-03. It seemed the once rebuilding Avalanche
had finally arrived, but what has transpired since is taking the shine off the
club’s memorable 2013-14 campaign.

The first blemish for Roy’s Avalanche came in a first-round exit against
Minnesota in last spring’s playoffs, but Colorado’s reputation has taken an
even bigger hit thanks to a 5-8-5 start to the new season.

It’s probably true the Avs were able to gain some of their success last season
due to the rest of the league underestimating both the rookie head coach and
the club’s talented, young roster. However, what Colorado is going through now
is bigger than simply having a target on its back following the success of
last season.

By this time last season, Colorado already boasted a pair of six-game winning
streaks but the club has yet to win consecutive games in 2014-15. The Avs also
have been shut out three times already this season after getting blanked once
in 2013-14, and not until late March.

The fancy stats brigade warned Colorado was heading for a fall this season
because the club simply doesn’t have the puck enough to sustain the success of
2013-14. Just like last season, the Avs are being routinely outshot by the
opposition and goaltender Semyon Varlamov is not bailing the team out as often
as he did last season.

To his credit, Roy has refrained from any public outbursts regarding his
team’s mediocre play. The passionate Hall of Fame goaltender has instead tried
to lend a guiding hand through the tough times, but one has to think his
easygoing attitude won’t last forever.

“I want to be patient with our guys,” Roy told the Denver Post on Wednesday.
“It’s a process. I know it’s frustrating for everyone who would like to see
the team winning, and right now it isn’t happening. But we have to find a way
out of that slump, and I don’t think it’s by bashing our players or screaming
at our players that we’re going to get out of it.”

Although he’s staying patient on the outside, Roy isn’t averse to making big
changes to his lineup. He benched veteran forward Daniel Briere for seven
games earlier this season before inserting him back in the lineup the other
night, and Roy also recently dropped last season’s Calder Trophy winner,
Nathan MacKinnon, out of the club’s top-six.

MacKinnon, the No. 1 overall pick in the summer of 2013, burst onto the NHL
scene with a 24-goal, 63-point showing in the regular season and added 10
points in Colorado’s seven playoff games. The 19-year-old center has posted
five goals and six assists in 18 tests as a sophomore, but he’s also sporting
a minus-8 rating.

After the Avs were slammed 6-0 by the New York Islanders on Tuesday, MacKinnon
was dropped to the third line with Briere and Jamie McGinn as his wingers
while John Mitchell replaced him between Gabriel Landeskog and Jarome Iginla.

Roy didn’t mention MacKinnon by name, but he did speak of his team having to
“realize that it doesn’t have to be a perfect goal to count,” a line that
could easily be construed as a critique of his young centerman’s reliance on
speed and finesse.

The move worked for one night at least, as Colorado downed the New York
Rangers 4-3 in a shootout, with MacKinnon providing a power-play goal to send
the game to overtime.

“He had a great chance just before on the power play,” Roy said of MacKinnon’s
goal. “Sometimes you put pucks on net, and you get rewarded. It doesn’t always
have to be perfect shots.”

After beating the Rangers, the Avs finally hope to win consecutive games for
the first time this season when they wrap a four-game road trip Saturday in
New Jersey. The way the always confident Roy sees it, Colorado is bound to go
on a hot streak at some point and Thursday’s win in New York may be the one to
finally get his team rolling.