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Dater Column: Avalanche, like Sisyphus, Can’t Get Over the Hump

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As Deano sang, “Ain’t that a kick in the head.” For the third year in a row, the Avalanche is out after the second round of the NHL playoffs. So much for all that “learning what it takes to win” and “maturing into a winner.”

I don’t really know what to say about this Avs team right now. I thought this series with Vegas was over after Game 2. All they had to do was win two of the next five. They had won 11 in a row to that point. Instead, it finishes with four straight Ls and another early summer.

It’s just hard to believe right now that a team with Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, Gabe Landeskog, Brandon Saad, Andre Burakovsky, Sam Girard, Devon Toews and Philipp Grubauer couldn’t win two out of the next five.

It’s going to be a long summer for Jared Bednar. The Avs coach, who completed his fifth season, has to ask how a team with as much, and here’s the ‘T’ word I can’t stand – talent – as his could lose four straight after winning 11 in a row, including the first six in the postseason.

To the question of “Will Bednar get a chance for a sixth?” I asked if job security will be something he thinks about, and he said, “I’m confident I can guide this team. I’m dedicated to this team, with my preparation, the relationships with the guys, confident in our coaching staff with the X’s and O’s. We’re always working to try and improve. If people want to point the finger at someone, I hope it’s me.

Now hiring!

“I like the way our team operated this year, our regular season, first round. It’s a real good hockey team, it’s a great hockey team. I’m the leader of the hockey team, as the coach, and if people want to come at somebody, it’s me. I live by a motto of extreme ownership. I’m the one running the team, so I take responsibility.”

Joe Sakic will be the person who decides whether Bednar stays or goes. I’d say the odds are better than 50-50 he stays, but I also know this is the NHL, where shocking things happen all the time with coaches. And, there are some strong veteran names out there, including Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Bruce Boudreau, Mike Babcock, John Tortorella and Rick Tocchet.

Let’s get into some quick-hit thoughts on everything:

  • After such a great season to that point, I have to lay much of the blame for the final two losses at the feet of Grubauer. Five goals on 22 shots in Game 6. That’s a killer. And, while I know terrible turnovers helped lead to three goals in Game 5, Grubauer couldn’t bail his team out on any of them – and they were probably the only three really good scoring chances Vegas got in the final 40 minutes.
  • I’m sure the Avs will make him a nice offer as a potential unrestricted free agent. But his play the final two games didn’t help his leverage much. He’ll still get paid, of course, but Grubauer still hasn’t proven he’s a real “playoff goalie.”
  • The killer goal in Game 6 was the Alex Pietrangelo goal with 18 seconds left in the second period, in a 3-3 game. A couple of turnovers – by Girard and Patrik Nemeth – led to Pietrangelo sneaking down the right side and shooting a puck into the net after it caromed off the back boards. The Avs group on the ice gave a textbook lesson in what NOT to do in your own zone, from positioning to puck-handling.
  • I don’t know what happened to Girard in this series. He finished a -4 in Game 6. In the last four games, he had no points and a -9. A very disappointing finish to what had been his best season as a pro.
  • Tyson Jost was a -3 in Game 6 and he, too, just kind of disappeared in the final four games, with no points and a -5.
  • MacKinnon? Two assists in Game 6 with 10 shots attempted. Eight either missed the net or were blocked, however. Vegas did a good job hounding him, particularly Mark Stone. MacKinnon had no goals and three assists in the final five games.
  • J.T. Compher just didn’t get the job done in place of Nazem Kadri. Won’t shock me if he’s either exposed to Seattle or just traded.
  • Kadri, obviously, did his team no favors with the eight-game suspension. It looked like the Avs might not need him, but his absence became glaring as the Vegas series went along. The same two things I just said about Compher could be the case with Kadri, too.
  • Joe Sakic’s trade-deadline moves won’t go down in glory. One guy (Carl Soderberg) was often a healthy scratch in the playoffs. Another guy (Patrik Nemeth) gave away a lot of pucks and took some bad penalties. The other guy (Devan Dubnyk), well, we never got to see him play much.
  • Obviously, a lot of good things happened with this team this year. It should still be a team on the rise, but there’s no question this loss was/is a setback for the franchise. This was a year in which the Stanley Cup looked very gettable, especially after that Mikko OT goal in Game 2.
  • But some of the same, tired old issues came up again. They, again, seemed to get a bit big-headed, thinking ‘Hey, if we can win playing like we did in Game 2, with our 11th in a row, then maybe we’re pretty good.’ And then they went out and just got plain outworked in Games 3 and 4. By the time they got back to Denver, they played much better, but still seemed a bit rattled overall and found a way to give away the crucial Game 5.
  • The Avs don’t have the excuses they did last year, when seven guys fell off the roster after Game 1 against Dallas in the second round. This was a team that had very good health in the postseason, with the only regular out for any length of time being Kadri. Yeah, losing your No. 2 center for a series hurts.
  • But they had a 2-0 series lead without him and plenty of other good players available. Injuries/missing guys isn’t a good excuse this time.
  • I’ll be honest too: I think the city and state did the Avs no favors at all by clinging to that weird 10,500 capacity rule in Game 5, when the Denver Nuggets had already been given permission to seat a full house for their second-series games. Frankly, I thought it was a bit of a dead atmosphere for much of Game 5. The fans weren’t all that loud in the beginning, the game ops not particularly exciting to watch and it all added up to a less-than-ideal atmosphere from what you’d want in a rubber Game 5 at home. A full house could have made a difference for the Avs, we’ll never know.
  • I tried to ask a question to Nathan MacKinnon essentially saying “Do you think might just say (Bleep) it, maybe we should just go out there and not think so much” in future playoff series, vis a vis maybe the Avs are too much up in their heads when these second rounds occur. I was trying to talk to a guy in a real, plainspoken way in a tough moment for him. But I mangled the question and probably shouldn’t use profanity in post-game Zoom calls. Sorry. I guess I just try to talk like hockey people really talk sometimes, but that one didn’t translate well.
  • It’s been a pleasure writing for you all this year, and I know I speak for Scott MacDonald and Reagan Smith in saying that too. I didn’t want this to end so soon either, believe me. This loss sucks. This year was supposed to be different – a final-four appearance at least. Instead, it just quickly and almost sadistically ended in a four-game wipeout. I was all set to start hitting you up for Tip Jar money to get to Montreal, for what I have no doubt would have been a tremendously fun series. Instead, Vegas gets to go.
  • It sucks, but hockey is a cruel beast. We just have to lick our wounds for a while, then come back ready to try, try again.
  • And, of course, the coverage doesn’t stop just because the season is over. There will still be daily Avs content here until the puck drops for training camp.
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Adrian Dater - Kiss and Larry Bird fan. Writer with @Gambling and @Bookies. Previously Denver Post, SI, Bleacher Report to name just a few.

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Bryan Phillips

yea, it felt like our year alright, but no one wants an asterisk. enjoy the *covid cup vegas.

Hockey Above All

Bitterness isn’t a good look. I’d hope Avs fans would be better than that. Most are. Step up.

Last edited 4 days ago by Hockey Above All
Mike

Your tears are delightful.

bosser55

Dater – you and the team at CHN did an outstanding job covering this team. I live in TX and am fortunate to get better coverage of my beloved Avalanche than the fans here get of the Stars. Keep up the great work and thank you. As far as the team goes – this really hurt. But how much did it hurt the Caps to lose to Crosby and the Pens year after year? You just have to keep trying, from Sakic all the way to the staff at Ball Arena. It’s a special mix of ability, heart, size, effort… Read more »

troian

AD-Your post-mortem is dead-on accurate. Self-serving of me to say, but in responding to your Vegas series keys articles I singled out Grubauer as the key, and for three years I’ve occasionally groused about Sakic not acquiring Pietrangelo when the Blue were on the verge of a fire sale. I still don’t think Bednar is the issue, but know others may well disagree. I don’t think any of those more acclaimed coaches, including Babcock, would fare any better with this roster. And on that last note, it’s not that those of us who are more critical are ‘fair weather’ –… Read more »

Dwayne Hall

I get the sense that Jared Bednar is going to be that coach that does well to get a team so far but not all the way. He’s not a bad coach, but maybe this team is now to the point in their progression where they need a John Torterella style coach. The biggest issue with this team is letting off the gas to early. Two of these games they held third period leads and blew them. I also think as great as rolling 4 fast lines can be fun to watch, maybe they need a third line that doesn’t… Read more »

ricoflashback

AD – I enjoyed your columns and everyone’s contribution to CHN. Tough loss. A lot of this has to be laid at Joe Sakic’s doorstep. Once again, he didn’t make a move to strengthen the team at the trading deadline. I wonder what a tough and gritty player like Palmieri could have done for the Avs. Instead, Super Joe struck out with two worthless acquisitions that did more harm than good. This roster has to change. Girard needs to be traded or exposed to the expansion draft. When playoff time comes, he gets rag dolled, pushed around and muscled out… Read more »

Last edited 5 days ago by ricoflashback
John Mauss

Glad someone has pointed out that Landy just wasn’t there in this series.

GWood

Couldn’t agree more. Landy does some great things, but the bad outweighs the good at this point IMO. The mental breakdowns are inexcusable and can’t happen. Girard was in a fog, wtf was up with him? Grubi picks the worst day to have a shitty game. I am still so angry at Burky with that lazy give away, that to me, was the beginning of the end for this season. And Kadri, thanks for nothing man. As for Mikko, he always seems slightly off in big games. He missed so many opps that he would normally bury, I can’t explain… Read more »

Karl Keen

Agree a 100% on Palmieri . I have to disagree on Landy though. He has mistake prone at times and played his role I think on their first or second goal last night when he didn’t shuffle the puck to the left to a wide open Makar BUT he is possibly our ONLY physical forward. I felt his effort was there this series. He tried to make big hits and bring life. His mistakes though have overshadowed these moments. Wouldn’t you agree that his game in Game 1 against the Blues helped create the momentum for that whole series?

ricoflashback

I’ve always liked Landeskog. And you’re right about him and his physicality. But he was virtually absent in the Vegas series – for whatever reason. You can’t have that in the playoffs. You have to find ways to contribute. Outside of the bad pass in Game 5 – – he was invisible.

Gurn Blanston

The Avs lack of size and depth on defense was the big issue to me. Timmins never looked ready for the moment and the game was too big for Girard and too fast for Nemeth. I don’t think Byram would have made a difference this year either. If Johnson was healthy and Big Z still on the roster it might have made a difference (although I still like the Saad trade).

[…] As Deano sang, “Ain’t that a kick in the head.” For the third year in a row, the Avalanche is out after the second round of the NHL playoffs. So much for all that “learning what it takes to win” and “maturing into a winner.” (Colorado Hockey Now) […]

Hoppyhacker

Thanks for the season, AD – excellent work! I appreciate your coverage as well as the color pieces! This series was tough to watch – we were probably the best breakout/outlet passing team in the league, and were completely dominated in this area. And the old adage of D not pinching much in the playoffs rang true (should have been controlled more by certain less capable team members). We were so predictable in so many ways, and we didn’t adjust enough. I’d like to see this team without Nemeth and Compher, and a coach that can adjust quicker, or adjust… Read more »

dp10

Las Vegas is a good team, but they are also a team without superstars of the MacKinnon or even Makar caliber. So when you then lose the playoff series because you get outworked in 3 straight games, when you lose 4 games because you just can’t raise your game enough. The post mortem of this will be interesting, but a couple of things stand out without much of a doubt 1) talent alone doesn’t win you anything… look at what the 3 MVP nominees accomplished in the playoffs: McDavid, MacKinnon and Matthews 2) Size and grit – third year in… Read more »

hockeyhacker5

They might not get the credit or be as flashy, but Stone/Pietrangelo are more proven than MacKinnon/Makar and I think that in the playoffs, most hockey people would still take the former until the M/M boys prove they can get out of round 2.

> the only regular out for any length of time being Kadri

I beg to differ with Adrian on an otherwise fine article. Losing Calvert was a huge loss for physicality and heart, the things we lacked in this series.

dp10

Pietrangelo has a cup, Stone has not made it to final either.

Kadri really detailed his career this season.. no doubt. And well Calvert.. he’s a gritty guy, but injury prone players are kind a useless as well! I don’t expect Calvert or EJ to be back in an Avs sweater.

ricoflashback

Stone is a stud, pure and simple. A real leader. A solid two way player that is great in the locker room as well. I was pissed when Sakic couldn’t acquire him from Ottawa. Toews was a great deal but Joe never wants to part with a number one draft choice. Like I said – – do you think Palmieri could have helped the Avs this year? I’ve always loved Calvert’s game. But I’d rather see him healthy for his family. Lots of other options for him in the game after his career is over. EJ? If the Avs can… Read more »

Aaron Hinton

Rico Suave…what’s politically incorrect about calling Le Tornade a midget? That’s exactly what he is!

dp10

I can’t really disagree with you man, but I must hesitate singling out individual players. After all hockey is the ultimate team sport. And honestly if you are going to blame individual players, you have to start at the top

It’s also worth taking a bigger picture approach. Look at how long the Capitals struggled to get a cup, look at how the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that is built quite similar to the Avs struggled to get the cup.

Jared Moss

Oh lord AD absolute bomb shell on your presser question.. maybe take a couple minutes and think it through, I’m sure if you asked that in person he would have slapped you on the face (love his response.. which was next question lol) I cant even complain or be mad cause the better team moved on, the Avs just didnt show up… at all. All the stars were no shows. And defense was horrible. Nemo girard timmins all played horrible and thats half the D. Blame bednar? I’m not, this one goes down to the players and the GM joe… Read more »

Jared Moss

You tried to ask one of the most competitive players in the league if he should not give a fuck about playing hockey. Right after he commented about being pissed off about not winning in 9 years! Lol

dp10

I thought it was a perfectly reasonable, albeit anything but eloquent question. A team that plays pretty in the playoffs is a team that is not willing to make the necessary sacrifices. I have been watching the pressers by the Avs and yeah, you know they always say the right things. Especially MacKinnon comes across as this aloof alpha type competitor who cares for nothing but winning..and then instead of leading by example and maybe, Idk, score a f’n Hattrick in the third, he produces complete dog shit!

Karl Keen

Dater, you know I can be critical of you at times, but I am writing to defend your question. To me, it is how most of us felt and quite honestly I don’t feel sorry for sulky MacKinnon up there looking like a spoiled brat. I know he doesn’t like to lose and I love that about him (I proudly wear his jersey), but as one of the leaders of a very talented team who just choked away a 2-0 lead in remarkable fashion and somewhat disappeared again himself as the series progressed, he isn’t 21 anymore. He has been… Read more »

DC

You my friend have made the Yahoo news articles…
(btw I enjoyed your articles and the site)

https://www.yahoo.com/sports/nathan-mac-kinnon-baffled-by-reporters-bizarre-question-155011386.html

Hockey Above All

Vegas isn’t a better team, but they have a better coach. DeBoer made very effective adjustments and Bednar wasn’t at the same level.

anavsfan86

Love your coverage and questions! Keep ‘er up! Much love Dater!

Steve Sinclair

Oh man, do you think Nate woke up today wondering what happened yesterday? I know I did. Hours later, im still wondering what the fuck that question was.

Last edited 4 days ago by Steve Sinclair
Karl Keen

First, I am going to give credit to Vegas. They are a great team and built exactly (minus having that one superstar) how I think all of actually wish the Avs were built. Big, fast, and enough skill to be a pleasure to watch. They do not play boring, they play to win and they love doing it with each other. The difference in their cohesiveness with one another compared to us seemed evident to me as the series progressed. They have more playoff experience than the Avs the last four years and they showed it. Regardless of how ridiculous… Read more »

Joel Stefaniak

WHY the F WON’T we get a proven winning coach behind our bench? This team is ready to win and was outcoached and outplayed by Vegas. The only time we’ve had a high-caliber guy was coach Q and the team was in a downward spiral then. This team needs tough love. This team needs it’s ass kicked. It’s time for a change at the helm.

Richard Trujillo

Is the new coach going to add a few inches and 25 pounds of muscle to every player?

Is the new coach going to lose in the playoffs because even if he added those things to every player they would still be the smallest team every playoff series?

Aaron Hinton

Champs or Chumps? Still can’t get past the second round and haven’t since ‘02. Chumps. Terrible deadline acquisitions this year, absolutely nothing to show for that. Gotta say adios, Muchacho to Bednar (who obviously had a say in those worthless deadline deadline deals) and couldn’t inspire a high school jv girls team, Le Tornade, Kadri (selfish), Burakovsky (Houdini), and say hello to some big, mean, physical 3rd/4th line players who can contribute in a physical playoff series (Simmonds, Granlund, Coleman, someone in that mold).

Catatafish

I agree the trade deadline players were a big mistake. They would need another big name out there on offense. A center. Maybe the whole ”we expect to win the cup” and ”this is as deep as we’re going to be” talk was too much too. In the end we have a great first line and some great d-men. But the other forwards were picked up from bottom six on other teams and the Avs relied on their development. That went well overall but obviously wasn’t enough when things got tough. I was baffled at Sams play in the Vegas… Read more »

Nunya Bidness

Don’t over-think this…
Step 1.) Get Tortorella on the phone, pay him his ask, get him on a plane to start looking for a place in Denver. Thank Bednar and hand him his gold watch on his way out the door *this afternoon*.
Step 2.) Start combing the league for available defense with a weight over 225 and an IQ over room temp.
Step 3.) Win Cup.

Licoln

Pretty but not gritty. Sums it up. Get to work on next season and leave the political ads alone. Concentrate on hockey.

Richard Trujillo

Avalanche are still stuck in the 2005/2006 mentality of having smaller players that skate well. The rest of the NHL has moved on to having big, physical guys who can skate. Why Sakic hasn’t fixed this after getting beat the exact same way four years in a row now is a complete mystery to me.

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