Sharks Avalanche Hockey

San Jose Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc, left, knocks the puck away from Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog last week in Denver.

Coming off a convincing 2-0 week, the Colorado Avalanche once again look to be showing signs of shaking off their early season doldrums.

Back-to-back blowout wins over visiting teams in the bottom half of the Pacific Division – 7-1 against the Vancouver Canucks and 6-2 against the San Jose Sharks, respectively – put the former, popular Stanley Cup favorites’ record to rights for the first time at 6-5-1.

The “Stanley Cup hangover” has been well-documented. During the first 10 games, the Avalanche had something almost like a Presidents’ Trophy hangover. Last season’s regular-season champion, which included one of the league’s stingiest defenses, was making routine costly errors, losing winnable games and couldn’t get a run going.

Emphasis on “last season.”

“We’ve discussed making sure we’re not hanging onto last season because it’s a new year, new team, new players, starting fresh,” coach Jared Bednar said. “But we should be recognizing some things that made us successful last year that we’re not doing that well this year, and we are.

“Every team’s different. Every team around us made moves. We’ve made moves. You’ve got to start fresh every year. That’s our message.”

The roster looks much the same, but has gotten cheaper. The Avalanche couldn’t afford the asking prices for the services of forward Brandon Saad and goaltender Philipp Grubauer. It was an expansion draft summer, so gone too are defenseman Ryan Graves and forward Joonas Donskoi.

It was determined that some of the rookie replacements needed some more time. New starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s numbers through 12 games and 10 starts (2.61, .914) aren’t what Grubauer’s were at the same point last season (1.61, .936) but after last week, the records are almost the same. The similar but different group in front of them plays a large part.

“I think that’s something moving forward that’s going to be really important, that we find our identity as a group in there and make sure we move past last year. And I think we have to a certain degree,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said last week.

“Nothing’s going to be handed to us just because some people picked us to win the Stanley Cup. That’s not how this works. You’re not going to get anything for free so we’re going to have to go out there and earn it and work hard for it.”

Last season’s schedule was shortened by the pandemic and compressed further by shutdowns. Games were at least every other day the second half of the season, which may have been more conducive to continuing to roll once rolling.

The Avalanche have played just four times through the first 16 days of November. They face the Canucks again Wednesday.

“You don’t get into much of a rhythm,” defenseman Erik Johnson said after a four-day break.

“You kind of get into an every-other-day as the season grinds on and as a player, you like that a little bit more.”

Key and timely injuries have been a factor, as they were last season. Emphasis placement to be determined.

“Absolutely we can draw some parallels...but at the same time we’ve got to remember how hard it was last year and how hard we had to work to get to that point and just duplicate that,” Landeskog said. “Sometimes for some reason you think that things are going to be a little easier than they are and that’s not the case in professional sports. You’ve got to work hard every day.”

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