Sorry I didn’t post yesterday-I’m sick and my cat has an ear infection, and so we spent yesterday sleeping and moaning together.
There wasn’t a lot of information to come out of Avs practice today. The team did say that they think Gabriel Landeskog will be able to start skating again soon. Hopefully they’re right, and his return, while not imminent, is forthcoming.
Everyone after last game has been freaking out about the lack of offense from the defensive core. The Avs are the only NHL team who possess a goal-less blueline this season. It’s a curious situation, absolutely. Last season, the Avs went out and tried to find a large group of “defensive defensemen”. They expected the production to diminish a little, and the goals against average to decrease a lot. And yet, the core as a whole produced really well last year. This year, they have a total of seven assists from only four of the eight players. Erik Johnson, Ryan Wilson, Matt Hunwick, and Tyson Barrie are the players with the most offensive potential, but both Hunwick and Barrie are pointless thus far. Ryan Wilson is obviously still out (and still being listed as out “indefinitely”), but his three assists are tops for the team’s core. Jan Hejda was a pleasant surprise last year with five goals and 19 points, as was Shane O’Brien with three goals and 20 points. Hejda only has two points thus far, and O’Brien has zero in the three games he’s played. Here’s what I think needs to happen with each player, if they want to up their offensive ante:
Erik Johnson-When drafted, scouts said that EJ would be capable of putting up 40-50 points in an NHL season. His highest thus far was a 39 point campaign in St. Louis. Last year he had 26. Brian Engblom, an analyst for both Altitude and the NBC Sports Network, said that he’s talked with the coaching staff and that they’re really trying to get EJ to work on his back end play first and foremost. Obviously, that tune has changed a little bit, as the front lines have been racked with injuries and disputes. EJ has been playing fantastically in his own end, but now we need some more offensively.
- Get him a new defensive partner. I noticed this when Johnson first came over to the team, he doesn’t do well with a partner who is strictly offensive or a partner who is strictly defensive. He needs someone who’s solid at both ends of the ice, who is willing to take the puck forward into the other team’s zone, but is also capable of really holding back. Ryan Wilson is the defenseman on the team who best fits this description. Shane O’Brien was also a good pairing with Johnson. Hejda and Johnson together was a total disaster, as they were both -16 in the first 30 games. Still, I think it might be time to try that pairing again. Until Wilson is back, pair him with O’Brien or Hejda.
- Tell him to take as many freaking slapshots as he can. He’s got a bomb from the point (he broke Joel Ward’s shinguard once, he broke Eric Belanger’s foot last week…) Everyone needs to work on setting him up on the point on the power play. Let him bomb as many shots in as possible. His shot is pretty accurate, so it’s usually going to get through. If the goalie makes the initial save, players in front can plop the rebound in the net.
- Encourage him to carry the puck into the zone on his own more. When he first joined the team, he had several good rushes a game, and created some good things.
Shane O’Brien- He needs to get his confidence back a little, because he’s obviously been shaken by his bizarre turn in Sacco’s doghouse. Pair him with either Tyson Barrie or Erik Johnson, because he’ll create more rushes of his own this way, and he’s always fast to return to the point once the puck starts cycling. By pairing him with an offensive force, I think he’ll feel more relied upon, and I think that will help boost his confidence.
Tyson Barrie-Let the kid play. Last year he didn’t earn any points in his first 10 NHL games, and he still doesn’t have any in this year’s three. Let him play with a partner who talks a lot, so that he feels really supported and knows what is going on in the other’s head. By partnering him with either O’Brien or maybe O’Byrne (someone he’s very comfortable with, as they’re both from Victoria and work together during the summer), he’ll feel more secure, and hopefully take some offensive risks.
Jan Hejda- He has a very underrated shot, so I’d tell him to take more shots. If the boys feed him more passes that he can take one-timers on, he’ll be able to take more shots, and they have a better chance of getting through if they happen more quickly.
Matt Hunwick- Hunwick is always going to make some defensive mistakes. He’s not as horrible as a lot of people try and paint him to be, but he needs a solid partner with a good first pass. I think Hejda might be the best fit here.
Ryan O’Byrne- O’Byrne has 33 points in 276 NHL games. I think it would be foolish to start demanding he earn at least 10 this season, so I think the best thing to do is to tell him to get his shit together in the defensive zone. (He’s looked poor the last few games in that area.) If he can play up to his capabilities defensively, he could help someone like Tyson Barrie, or Hunwick take more risks.
Greg Zanon- The Avs have let in 26 goals this season. I can think of at least 10 where a large portion of the blame belonged to Zanon. He might have 22 shotblocks, but both Erik Johnson and Jan Hejda have more. I think it’s time to scratch Zanon for a game or two. He doesn’t have a hard shot, and while he has one point, I don’t really see him piling on to that number. If he must stay in the lineup in Sacco’s delusional head, then tell him to stay within five feet of the blue line in the offensive zone at all times, and only take a shot if he has a lane. (I’m serious though-he’s no help when he tries to wander in offensively. He needs to feel chained to that blueline.
Not that that will help him keep the puck in at the point.)
As for the forwards…I’d give Sgarbossa a top six chance (he’s a top six player, and he’s not going to do anything playing fourth line center) and move Mitchell back to center. He’s an excellent player, and I get wanting to reward him, but his best play has come when he’s playing his natural center position.
As such, my lines would look like: