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KLEE: Avalanche's shaky start not on Sacco's shoulders

By: Paul Klee
February 20, 2013
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DENVER — On Wednesday afternoon, prior to the Avalanche’s 1-0 overtime win over the Blues, Joe Sacco lamented a goalie under fire.

“I think he’s faced to close to 90 shots the last two games,” Sacco said of Semyon Varlamov.

Or, roughly as many shots taken at Sacco during Colorado’s tepid start to this season.

“That’s way too many,” he continued.

Agreed, coach. Whether it is due to injury or a lingering holdout or poor construction, this Avalanche roster has more holes than a Roger Goodell voodoo doll in New Orleans.

And I am supposed to believe Sacco should be the one under fire?

But this is less about Sacco and more about a knee-jerk reaction that plagues professional and major-college sports. When results don’t meet expectations — however inflated they usually are — the popular response is a simple one: blame the coach.

Better yet, fire the coach. There’s so much talent on this team! He must be the problem.

The notion grows legs as quickly as you can submit a tweet or comment on Facebook.

The team’s not rolling? One head must roll: the coach’s.

I tend to think ownership dictates the success of a franchise more than the man writing up the lineup card. The Broncos haven’t suffered back-to-back losing seasons under Pat Bowlen’s direction because he is the finest owner Denver has seen, not because of his coaching hires.

Maybe Sacco is not the coach who will lead the Avs back to the playoffs. Maybe Sacco, in his fourth season with the Avs, has lost the attention of his players.

I tend to think it’s the opposite. If anything, the Avs go too hard and can be overly aggressive. In the two games that preceded Wednesday’s, Colorado allowed 94 shots on goal, in part because the Avs took risks when the safe play was the wise play.

“I think the problem is the last couple games we’ve gone away from a grinding-it-out offensive style in the offensive zone where you have to hang onto the puck, where you have to make the opposing team defend more, control more territory,” Sacco said.

In its current state, the Avs roster has the same chance of reaching the NHL playoffs as the Broncos or Nuggets. Sacco is charged with building Longs Peak from Legos.

Gabriel Landeskog practiced again Wednesday, in a don’t-touch-him orange jersey, and said he hopes to make the California swing that opens Saturday at the Kings. The captain suffered a concussion Jan. 26 and has missed 11 games. That’s not on Sacco.

“It’s been tough. It’s been frustrating,” Landeskog said Wednesday. “But that’s part of hockey.”

Steve Downie was lost for the season with a knee injury. Ryan O’Reilly has been lost for the season, so far, with that holdout. Losing his top line from last season isn’t on Sacco. Erik Johnson is out indefinitely with a head injury.

With short breaths and shorter answers, Sacco often gives the impression of a frustrated coach.

But any coach with an ounce of humility running through his blood will tell you: It is more about the players you have (or don’t have, in Colorado's case) on the ice than the coach in the box.

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