At 14-3-0, the Colorado Avalanche continue to be the surprise of the season, finding success with a mix of speed and aggression that was absent in previous seasons.
One of the biggest benefactors from this change — defenseman Erik Johnson — says his new head coach is the guy to thank.
“A lot of it has to do with Patrick [Roy],” Johnson told the Denver Post. “You know, I’m a player that can make plays. You go out there and make a mistake and go back to the bench and he’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it. That’s a great try. Go out and do it again next shift.’
“In the past, we played a lot of D-to-D, chip-it-up-the-wall kind of hockey. Now, there’s a lot of flow to our game, where we come out of the zone with speed. We’re really utilizing our best asset, which is our speed.”
If this change in philosophy/strategy sounds familiar, it should. The Minnesota Wild — who have won eight of 10 — loosened the reigns from their conservative approach this season and have achieved great success.
“We weren’t going to take the next step, become a serious contender, unless we changed the way we played offensively,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “I have bit my lip a couple of times on the bench … but we’re going to live with the risk to get more reward.”
The big difference in Minnesota, though, is that the change in attack didn’t require a coaching change. Yeo acknowledged that if the Wild were going anywhere, it would have to be with a more aggressive mentality.
To achieve a similar new mindset, the Avs had to part ways with Joe Sacco, who repeatedly preached a conservative approach during his four years on the job, driving a wedge between him and his players.
“There were very few people in this (dressing) room who were happy. Our style of play, it wasn’t right for this team. We knew it would fail,” Matt Duchene told the Denver Post in late October. “That was the hard part. We knew (any) success was going to be short-lived. It was hard to really be excited about it.”
Johnson agreed. From the Post:
Under coach Joe Sacco, Johnson said, he would have been told, “What are you doing, not chipping it in?”
“Patrick has just given me that leash, and I just have a belief in my game right now. When the coach has belief in you, it makes a big difference.”