DENVER — Jared Bednar coached the Colorado Avalanche at their low point: a salary cap era-worst 48-point season in 2016-17. That made his assessment of Colorado’s play in Saturday’s third period even more damning.
“That was the worst period of hockey I’ve ever seen from our club,” he said after an 8-2 trouncing at the hands of the St. Louis Blues. “It’s just guys quitting and not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, feeling sorry for themselves.”
The Avalanche — among the preseason Stanley Cup favorites — looked like a team with no identity. The division rival Blues, who entered the game with one power-play goal all season, scored twice with the man advantage, as well as twice when short-handed. Two St. Louis players, Brayden Schenn and Pavel Buchnevich, left Denver with hat tricks. A few St. Louis hats fell on the ice, and “Let’s go, Blues!” chants emerged in the third period as Colorado fans got a head start walking to the exits.
“You have no choice in this game but to continue to play and play as hard as you can possibly play,” Bednar said. “As soon as you don’t play as hard as you can possibly play, another team is going to make you look bad. It starts there.”
“That was an embarrassing game in pretty much every way in which you look at it,” forward Logan O’Connor added. “Everyone has to be better, honestly. Every facet, every person.”
Colorado is 8-5-0 and in second place in the Central, so it’s not panic time yet. But there are concerning trends developing for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. A power play led by superstars Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen is struggling to put pucks in the net. New second-line center Ryan Johansen hasn’t contributed much offense at five-on-five, and both Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin have yet to score a goal. Perhaps most concerningly, goalie Alexandar Georgiev is in the midst of his worst stretch as Colorado’s starter. He has an .842 save percentage in his past seven games.
Chemistry, execution and turnovers are all plaguing the Avalanche, who have given up seven goals twice in their past four games.
“The odd-man rushes we’re giving up, the time and space in the D-zone we’re giving up, the lack of traffic in front of the other net, all those small things are accumulating in this disaster of a game,” O’Connor said. “I think we don’t even deserve to have eight wins, to be honest.”
Added Bednar: “Goaltender is getting outplayed by their goaltender, forwards are getting outplayed by their forwards, the D are getting outplayed by their D. Not for the whole game, but for big enough stretches. That’s why the score gets run up.”
Defenseman Josh Manson said the team needs to tighten its play in the defensive zone and build from there.
“If you just rely on your offense, it’s not a good winning formula,” Manson said.
How did the Avalanche — in recent years a good defensive team — fall into the habit of over-relying on offense?
“I don’t know,” Manson said. “If I knew I’d break it.”
Asked if the leadership core is doing enough to talk their teammates through these issues, Bednar answered with a definitive “No.” He also said he didn’t see signs of something like Saturday’s performance coming. It caught him by surprise.
The coach liked the team’s start to the game. Jordan Binnington made big saves early, and Makar and Ross Colton both hit posts. Bednar understood why his players were frustrated after that, but he found what followed “unexplainable,” especially when the game reached the third period, in which the Avalanche allowed four consecutive goals before a Jack Johnson goal in the final minute.
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“I just don’t get the overall frustration, the fragmentation of the group, the quitting on the work ethic,” he said. “I don’t understand not just laying it on the line and at least doing what you can do to play with some pride.”
The coach expressed specific frustration at the style with which Colorado was trying to play.
“Piss-poor execution, guys giving up all over the ice,” he said. “You’re (down) 5-1, and we’re still tic-tac-toe pass in a phone booth in the blue line to hope to maybe get a scoring chance. Why not just kick it in below the goal line and go to work?”
“We’re beating ourselves in pretty much every way you can,” O’Connor said. “The message this whole time has been ‘stop beating ourselves,’ and at some point within the locker room, we have to take accountability. Bedsy has given the message, but ultimately it’s on us to get our standard right.”
To do that, O’Connor said, the players have to “start small.” They have to progressively get more detailed in their game.
They’ll have their first chance to start making those changes at a Sunday practice that will likely not be a fun one.
“If you’re not going to work in the game,” Bednar said, “you’re going to work in practice.”
(Photo: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)