LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Every locker room has a certain vibe when you walk into it immediately following a game. After losses, you can expect to hear the ripping of velcro as the definitive noise in the room.
But last night, after the Colorado Avalanche dispatched the Los Angeles Kings with relative ease, there was just the occasional small talk…about breakfast food?
As Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog argued about whether or not pancakes were a “superfood” (they most definitely are), the crux of the issue seemed to come down to the inclusion of syrup or not.
That kind of postgame conversation goes to show how casually the Avalanche had just taken care of the team currently inhabiting last place in the league. The 7-3 beatdown in Los Angeles came just days after the Avalanche had come back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks in overtime, a game in which the score was deceiving relative to the dominance the Avalanche displayed on the ice.
Wednesday night at Staples Center, there was nothing deceiving about the score. These are two franchises headed in vastly different directions as the Kings, who have already fired their head coach, look to find an identity amidst their unexpected struggles.
Colorado, on the other hand, is a team with legitimate aspirations for the first time in years. They were a surprise playoff team last season and that success raised the bar on what this year’s team should be able to accomplish. A strong start was betrayed by a five-game losing streak and it looked like Colorado was on the verge of sinking back to the depths of being a pretender.
And then instead of allowing the hole to get deeper, this Avalanche group climbed out. They responded to their skid by winning four of five, their only loss coming in overtime against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals (albeit one missing three key players).
The Avalanche welcomed in a Boston Bruins team that regularly gets talked about as a team with the best top line alongside Colorado’s. The big guns for the Avalanche didn’t say anything leading up to the game but walked the walk come game night. They dropped six points on the Bruins as they came back from a two-goal deficit and blew them away in a dominant third period, winning 6-3.
Comebacks have been a theme of this team’s success since ending their losing streak. Their only wire-to-wire victories were against Edmonton and Los Angeles, both road victories against weaker teams but in venues the Avalanche have badly struggled in recent years.
And that’s part of what makes this stretch as impressive as it has been. The Avalanche have won three consecutive road games and have seven already this year. Consider they had 15 road wins all of last year and they’ve played just eight of 21 games in the Pepsi Center and you see a team that’s beginning to grow up right in front of us.
Last year was considered purely a development year where results didn’t matter much and the maturation of young players was all anyone was concerned with. Because that scrappy forced their way into the postseason with a beatdown of the St. Louis Blues in game 82, there was a temptation to try to fast track this group and go spend money on external improvements.
Instead, the Avalanche stayed the course. They played the patient card and said they wanted to see another year of what they had in the young guys. So far, the response has been very positive.
Alexander Kerfoot is on pace for a 66-point season. Sam Girard has been elevated to playing on Colorado’s top pairing and has responded by putting up a 35-point pace while quarterbacking arguably the league’s most prolific second power-play unit. Tyson Jost had a slow start but has five points in the six games since he returned from injury. J.T. Compher had four points in five games before suffering a concussion that it looks like he’s finally ready to return from. Even Vladislav Kamenev has found his way to five points despite averaging under 10 minutes of ice time.
All of this is to say Colorado’s youth movement is still working. It wasn’t just about last year’s team but the continued growth and maturation of the key young pieces on this team. This road trip has already been successful but a win tomorrow night in Arizona against a similarly upstart Coyotes team would be huge for an Avalanche squad that is still finding their way through the ups and downs of confidence swings.
In recent years, tasting a little success left the Avalanche self-satisfied, leading to complacency and the predictable losing that followed. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure as they found success, got on their high horse, got knocked back down, found their hunger, and repeated the cycle.
But this year’s group feels different. It all comes back to the vibe you feel when you walk into a locker room. Instead of carrying on as they’d just won something big, Colorado’s biggest stars were talking about breakfast choices.
It’s like that moment we all experience in life when we find ourselves in the store eschewing the pull of the marshmallow gun in favor of the deal on kitchen trash bags. Maybe you end up with both, but you’re definitely walking out of there with the trash bags. Maturity gets to most of us eventually.
It looks like that moment might finally be here for the Colorado Avalanche.