When the security guard stopped and interrogated Joe Sakic and let me breeze right on by, it was clearly a sign that things just weren't going well for the Avalanche.
As part of Game Time's expanded coverage of the NHL this season, we're offering some in person scouting and analysis of each of the 30 teams as they play on the road. My first task of the season was to cover the Colorado Avalanche, and I did so on their visit to Washington on October 18th. The evening started inauspiciously for me, as I made a wrong turn immediately upon entering the Verizon center and ended up spending about 45 minutes aimlessly searching for an elevator that went all the way upstairs. Along the way, I discovered many locked gates and the Washington Bullets offices, where a kindly intern looked at me like I was an absolute lunatic and did everything up to holding my hand to guide me to where I needed to be.
The Avalanche, however, came in under somewhat different circumstances. Having won their two previous regular season games and sweeping the preseason, Avs head coach Jared Bednar came in with a personal 17 game winning streak, dating back to his job as the head coach of the then-Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters last season. The Avalanche fought to an overtime win the night before in Pittsburgh, and it would become clear in a hurry that the challenges of life on the road were catching up to them even at that early date.
Colorado largely returned the same team this year that they ended with last year. Forwards Rene and Gabriel Bourque(no relation) were added on professional tryouts in camp and both made the team. While they do offer some depth, they primarily offer the opportunity for me to suggest that they should be flanking Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, thus creating the Swedish Chef Line. Bourque, Bourque, and a Swede. Bork bork bork! Anybody? No?
One player that does provide some excitement for Avalanche fans is defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Originally a first round pick of Buffalo in 2013, Zadorov came to Colorado in the trade that sent out one time Calgary Flames paperwork disaster Ryan O'Reilly. Zadorov is a large, large man who can move the puck effectively and has every tool to suggest he'll become a long time lineup mainstay.
Early in the game, he delivered a hard hit to Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen that looked like it would be a great way to inject some energy into a game where it was clear the Avalanche may have heavy legs. As the game wore on, however, Zadorov found himself consistently out of position and chasing big plays rather than letting the action come to him.
He took an irresponsible penalty in the first that led to some great chances for the Capitals, and never managed to affect the game in the same way his Russian counterpart Dmitry Orlov did. Orlov laid a hip check on Matt Duchene that caused the other to do a full 360 flip, and I swear I've never seen an NHL player come as close to sticking the landing as Duchene did on that collision.
Old friend Erik Johnson is still around for the Avalanche, and it's clear that his game has begun to develop and mature. He was much more involved in jumping up in the play than I've seen him in years past, and Colorado's most effective breakout seemed to involve him simply skating the puck out of trouble. While he may never develop into the player who was advertised, even now, ten and a half years after he was drafted, it's easy to see what made scouts' eyes light up. Later in the game, however, he was caught chasing the puck carrier while Other Old Friend TJ Oshie was left alone in the slot. The puck ended up on his tape. He did not miss.
(Fun fact - every NHL first overall pick between 2004 and 2009 played in the World Cup of Hockey this summer. Four of those players (Ovechkin, Crosby, Stamkos, Tavares) are the captain of the team which drafted them. A fifth (Kane) has three Stanley Cups. And then there's Maude!)
The Avalanche were outshot 20-5 in the first period, and the game did not get better from there. The breakout was consistently sloppy. They had to kill three penalties in the first 31:30 of the game, and with tired legs on a back to back, that's not a recipe for success. Jarome Iginla tried to offer a spark by throwing down in fisticuffs with Tom Wilson in a largely uneventful tussle. Tom Wilson was two years old when Jarome Iginla played his first NHL game. Jarome Iglina is really, really old.
While they offered some physicality and chippiness as the game wore on, ultimately the Avs couldn't keep up with the well-rested Capitals. The Capitals won 3-0 behind two goals from Oshie and one from Alex Ovechkin, who will always, always score on the power play when left unattended at his preferred dot.
As for Joe Sakic, it's clear that fame is fleeting. Even one of the greatest players in the history of the league will be stopped and harangued if he's not clearly displaying his credentials. Clearly, he should take notes from somebody who belongs, and somebody who was trying really hard to act cool while washing his hands at the sink next to him in the men's room.