February 1, 2013
DENVER — In a sports world where everything is sped up and set in overdrive, Colorado Avalanche forward Paul Stastny was tardy to the ice.
“I started later than most guys,” Stastny confided in me after the team’s practice Friday.
With a pause, Stastny added, “I was probably 4 or 5.”
See what I mean? In an age of sixth-grade recruiting rankings and YouTube videos boasting the next Tiger Woods, we are wired to think tomorrow is way, way too late.
In this NHL season, cut short by the lockout, it might be.
So it stands to reason the Avalanche witnessed the biggest development of its young season Thursday: Stastny broke out with two goals in a 6-3 rout of the Calgary Flames.
It was their first win away from Pepsi Center, where Colorado hosts Edmonton on Saturday. It was the first time this season Stastny has slammed a puck into the net. It showed Colorado’s potential when Stastny plays to his.
"Definitely took a little pressure off," he said.
With only 48 games packed into the schedule, this NHL season is set in overdrive. Teams that don’t kick it into gear early are in danger of being lapped in the playoff hunt.
Promising at home (2-0) and dreadful on the road (1-4), Colorado needed Thursday’s triumph like Stastny needs to borrow a front tooth.
“I think we didn’t force it as much, didn’t have as many turnovers,” Stastny said.
How's this for a change-up: The Avs could benefit if they relaxed a little. It seems like a strange thing to say, at a time when professional athletes more often are criticized for taking plays off. But it seems as though the Avs are pressing instead of playing with patience.
The ongoing holdout of Ryan O'Reilly puts pressure on the players who are here, even if the Avs are too proud or stubborn to admit as much.
There also is the win-now pressure of a shortened season. All 30 teams are operating under the belief every point could determine who reaches the playoffs and who goes fishing. To develop into a playoff team, a fair goal, Colorado doesn’t need to play above its head.
“If you come out of this season .500, I think a lot of (teams) are going to be in that position because of the way it sets up," Stastny said.
And as coach Joe Sacco said, these Avs have a natural tendency to be aggressive to a fault. Colorado has the second-most penalty minutes in the league. That tells the story of a team that operates only in overdrive, even when it could stand to drop it down a gear.
“I would rather have them playing that way — and have to pull them back a little bit — than have the opposite,” Sacco said in the preseason.
Thanks to the lockout, the NHL is taking early reservations for its playoff tournament.
“In a season like this you don’t want to lose many games early because there isn’t time to catch up,” Stastny said. “All those points are going to matter.”
To RSVP their spot in the bracket, the Avs need Stastny to take a deep breath, relax and simply play hockey like he can.