As all of us as interested Avalanche observers know, and have known for a while about Jared Bednar: the man isn’t afraid to try something new.
But even for Bednar, his new line combinations can be termed as being close to radical. These will be the lines Bednar will go with for Thursday’s home game with the St. Louis Blues:
Mikko Rantanen on the third line – wowza. Hey look, we all know Mikko Rantanen isn’t going to stay a third-liner for too long probably, no matter what. If Rantanen plays well as a third-liner, he’ll be promoted to the top six. If he and the team play poorly, Bednar’s solution ironically will probably be to reunite him with MacKinnon and Landeskog and just go with his best and live/die with it.
As you might have expected him to say, Bednar said he just wants to keep shaking things up until something positive happens. Is he going a little overboard with this kind of thing though? We’ll see. But for now, these are the line combinations and Bednar isn’t apologizing to anyone about it.
“Trying to see if some of our workers can help some of our skill guys, and seeing if our skill (guys) can help our workers,” Bednar said.
What Bednar wants, more than anything right now, is for his players to get more into a mindset of defense-first, a fundamentals-away-from-the-puck mentality that makes them better able, perhaps, to cope with these games that get tight in the third period and/or beforehand. When the Avs got desperate for wins toward the end of last season, Bednar essentially ordered everyone to forget about the offensive side of the game and focus on winning 1-0 or 2-1. And, it worked, as the Avs went on a late tear to make the playoffs.
Bednar can’t stand when his players get too fancy and/or think things will come easy, just because it has for a certain little time period, because he knows opposing coaches are just too smart and the talent level around the league just too close for him to believe that anything but a grinding, in-the-trenches mindset is the ultimate winning solution.
When his players lose games like they’ve been doing lately – with careless turnovers and lax defensive zone attention to detail – this is the penalty. Everybody gets thrown into a blender until Bednar tastes something he likes.
“I’ve been trying to get us into that (1-0, 2-1) mindset all year, to be honest with you,” Bednar said. “Here’s the way I view (this): If we defend the right way and limit the other team’s chances, I have a lot of faith in our team, based on what I’ve seen over the last three years. They’re going to produce enough scoring chances for us to win the hockey game. We have to be willing to win a 1-0 game, to check to make it a 1-0 game. If that score ends up like that, so be it. Our defending mentality, there has to be more urgency to it. A little more desperation, too. You watch our team – we are a hungry team on the offensive side of things on a lot of nights. And there’s no reason why we can’t be equally as hungry on the defensive side of things. I think we have some buy-in there, that guys understand it…and when we went on (winning streaks) earlier this year, the attention to detail was there. We’ve got to get back to that now.”
What Bednar is doing makes sense in many ways, I think. Hey, if the top guys are going to think things will come easy, that their job is to just score goals and let others worry about the defense, they now see that they had another thing coming. The danger: maybe the top guys don’t buy in, think this whole thing is junior hockey stuff and become disillusioned. I don’t think that will be the case, as Bednar has earned respect in this, his fourth year at the helm.
But you wonder how many times Bednar can go back to the “let’s drop the top guys down to the bottom and see how they like it” playbook before it starts to become ineffective?
We’ll perhaps start to get an answer to that Thursday night.