Patience. Maturity. Don’t get frustrated. That was the philosophy preached by Erik Johnson after the Avalanche pulled out a gritty Game 1 win over Arizona, on a night when the Coyotes defense and its netminder Darcy Kuemper looked damn-near impossible to beat.
“We just stuck with it. Sometimes it’s not pretty,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s game. “But we showed patience and maturity, and it could’ve been an easy one to get frustrated in, but I think we’re coming together as a team at the right time and hopefully we can continue on here.”
The tone for the series was set in Game 1. It’s going to be a grind-it-out kind of series from here on out, and don’t expect Colorado to dominate it either. Arizona sent a message to the Avalanche in Game 1: Sure, we may have just snuck in this thing, but we’re here now and we’re not going to make this thing easy for you.
Despite the Avs shucking 40 shots Kuemper’s way, it took until the 53rd minute of the game for Colorado’s usually-potent offense to finally poke through. This is nothing new for the Coyotes, who allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season and had the third-best goals-allowed-per-game average. Arizona plays a grinder’s game and their identity is very clearly their stingy team defense.
At times it looked like Arizona’s stout D-core and brickwall of a netminder might just pull out a surprise Game-1 win over the heavily-favorited Avs. But the Avalanche live and die by a new code now, and it earned them a well-fought win. Patience. Maturity. Don’t get frustrated.
During the Avs day off yesterday, Matt Calvert reiterated that very same message Johnson told us after Game 1.
“The biggest thing on our end is patience, maturity and not getting frustrated,” Calvert told Colorado Hockey Now on Thursday. “There was zero frustration, we just kept reiterating between every period that we knew they were going to gameplan like this, we knew they were going to pack it in.”
One thing the Coyotes were able to do so well in Game 1, and throughout the regular season, is limit Grade-A chances. If you watch closely, you’ll notice Arizona stacks the front of the net and it’s almost impossible for opponents to get within 10 feet of their crease. A look at the Avs shot map during Game 1 is proof of that.
“They pursue the puck hard. They’re on the puck. If you look at their D-core, it’s an experienced D-core…they’re going to be tough,” head coach Jared Bednar said of Arizona’s D. “Second thing is, they do a good job, not just against us but against everyone, in protecting the net front and making sure it’s hard to get the rebounds. That’s it.”
“For us, obviously they pack in everything. It’s really tough to get shots through up from the top and I think that’s just something we’re going to need to work on in this series,” Cale Makar echoed. “Especially for our forwards, they make it really tough for them to even get to the net. It’s just going to be how well can we sift pucks and get it down there and break down their defensive structure.”
Sometimes a team’s only hope is to catch the Coyotes on the power play, which is how Nazem Kadri and the Avalanche were finally able to break through with the game’s first goal on Wednesday. The thing is though, those opportunities will be few and far between. Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet and his team run a pretty tight ship. No club took fewer penalties than his during the regular season.
Power play or five aside, either way the Avalanche will need to continue to find a way around Arizona’s limiting defense. They certainly proved their mettle in Game 1. They have an ability to shutdown Nathan MacKinnon. They showed they can make life hard on this Avs team and they will not go quietly into the night.
“You just got to work through it and stay with it. That’s our message to our guys,” Bednar preached.
Patience. Maturity. Don’t get frustrated. That will be the motto for this Avalanche team during round one. Their ability to play to that message must define this team if they hope to make it past Arizona.