Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche were near identical in almost every aspect. They both had a top three pick at the 2013 NHL draft, Colorado selecting Nathan MacKinnon from the Halifax Mooseheads number one overall and Tampa Bay taking Jonathan Droiun (MacKinnon’s line mate) also from the Halifax Mooseheads.
Both teams went out and made a trade to obtain their current starting goaltenders, Colorado traded for Semyon Varlamov from the Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay at the 2012-13 trade deadline tagged Ben Bishop in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Both teams have a star young center in Steven Stamkos and Matt Duchene, while both teams acquired (Colorado via trade, Tampa Bay the 2009 NHL Draft) a high drafted defenseman who both seemed to start a little slow in their NHL careers.
Yet both teams seemed to excel with other players stepping up all season. Tampa Bay had 9 players with 30+ points, while Colorado had 10. Varlamov finished the season with a 41-14-6 record with a .927 save percentage and a 2.41 goals against average. Bishop finished his 2013-14 season with a 37-14-7 record a .924 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average. Both goaltenders were runners up for the Vezna Trophy won by Boston Bruin goalie Tuukka Rask.
How can these nearly identical teams be on such separate pages this 2014-15 season?
Tampa is 13-4-2 including their win 11/17/14 over the New York Rangers. Colorado sits 6-8-5 including their last win 11/15/14 over the New Jersey Devils.
One key reason could be the loss of Paul Stastny to the St. Louis Blues this off-season and the ability for Tampa Bay to keep a key leader in Ryan Callahan over the off season. The Avalanche organization nor fans believed the loss of Stastny would be as large of an issue as it seems to have been. Paul’s leadership, learned by that of the one and only Joe Sakic, on and off the ice seems to be a void in the Avalanche locker room this season. Stastny was a key faceoff man for Colorado throughout the past few seasons, his defense on the ice during both penalty kills and even strength is being missed. Nathan MacKinnon has been in a sophomore slump and does not seem to do well at center on the Avalanche top two lines. While on the Tampa Bay side Ryan Callahan has found his groove in Florida, scoring 8 goals 7 assists and sits a +8.
Tampa Bay’s ability to keep together the same team with some alterations plays a key role in why they have jumped out to the same pace they played last season. Colorado’s inability to keep Paul Stastny has burn a hole in the organization. Losing a top 6 forward has led to new lines nearly every other game, no chemistry, lack of leadership (although they got Iginla, he doesn’t know this team the same way Paul did.) and last of defensive help from their top offensive line at even strength.
In order for the Colorado Avalanche to get back into their winning ways, they must build trust in their new guys and build on chemistry that seems to start and then fall apart. Their goaltender Semyon Varlamov has played solid in all but one game this season and their backup Reto Berra seems to be fairly reliable, however, he has only started 5 games, finished 4 (due to injury against Ottawa) and he is 2-1-1 so far. Their defense needs to be the defense they were last year, although they allowed a ton of shots, they didn’t allow a lot of scoring chances, they need to get back to not allowing those chances. Last, they need to build on their first winning streak of the season and gain that confidence they had last season. Take each game one at a time, every game they need to go into it as thought their record is 0-0-0.
Tampa Bay, in order to keep winning games, needs to continue their smart offensive play. Tampa is number two in goals per game average with 3.61 per game. http://espn.go.com/nhl/statistics/team/_/stat/scoring/year/2015/seasontype/2 Tampa is 17th in the league in goals against with 2.56 goals against per game and 21st in the league with shots against at 28.7 shots against per game. They aren’t all amazing on defense, but their offensive production is allowing them to win, their winning is keeping them confident, that mixture goes a long way on any hockey team.
Will these once mirror images become one again this season? Can the Avalanche get back to square one? Will Tampa continue at the same pace? These are questions that only time will tell, but for one team, time is running out.