Avalanche looking for fast start after missing playoffs
DENVER (AP) The Colorado Avalanche enter the regular season in a goal-scoring funk, one that has them a tad bit concerned.
While the preseason may be a time for coach Patrick Roy to tinker with his line combinations, the Avs aren't just chalking up their slump to that. After all, they had a poor preseason a year ago and it spilled over.
So, yeah, they're wary after failing to score in their final three exhibition contests. With Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, Jarome Iginla, captain Gabriel Landeskog and a cast of others, Colorado believes it possesses too much offensive firepower to allow droughts like that to occur - ever.
''Exhibition or not, we have to change stuff,'' Iginla said. ''We know we have to add that determination and grit to the skill that is here. This is a good wake-up call.''
Colorado went 12-13-8 through mid-December a season ago and never recovered as the team sat out the Stanley Cup playoffs. This on the heels of tying a franchise-record for wins (52) in Roy's first season.
That's why the team has preached a fast start all training camp.
''It's not enough (scoring) and we know that,'' said Roy, whose team had six goals in the preseason, with only Arizona (four) scoring fewer. ''Is it a concern? Yes, it is. But I'm confident. I'd rather see it in preseason than the season. We all know we have to do better.''
Until the offense finds its rhythm, Colorado has plenty of top-notch defensemen to keep games tight. Erik Johnson recently signed a seven-year, $42 million extension that will keep him in Denver until 2022-23. He was playing at an All-Star level a year ago before being sidelined by a knee injury. His partner on the blue line will be Francois Beauchemin, who was brought in to provide leadership and a physical presence.
And there's always Semyon Varlamov, one of the top goalies in the league.
''Everyone knows we're for real and we're a good team,'' Johnson said. ''We have to have a good start to the year and not go through any stretches where we're playing consecutively losing hockey and I think we'll be OK. We have a really talented group.''
Here are some other things to know as the Avalanche begin their 20th season in the Mile High City:
OUTDOOR FUN: Roy will return to goal for the Avalanche this winter in an outdoor game at Coors Field. Don't worry, though, Varlamov's job isn't in any sort of jeopardy. This is just an alumni game against Detroit on Feb. 26. Roy will be back on the bench the next day when his team plays the Red Wings in the first NHL outdoor game in Denver. ''It's something that I'm aware of. I'm also aware that I'm going to have to work out,'' Roy cracked. ''We're all excited about it, but it's not a priority right now.''
FOOT AGONY: MacKinnon wasn't around down the stretch after breaking his foot. He's fully healed and even added a few pounds in the offseason. The speedy forward had 63 points when he won rookie of the year in 2013-14, but slipped to 38 last season before he was shut down. ''He had a great summer and I'm sure he'll have a great year,'' Roy said.
THE ROOKIE: First-round pick Mikko Rantanen's idols growing up in Finland were Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf. Rantanen, the 10th overall pick over the summer, has certainly impressed Roy throughout preseason.
BIG ADDITIONS: Colorado picked up forward Carl Soderberg from Boston in the offseason for a draft pick, and defenseman Nikita Zadorov as part of the deal that sent Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo. The Avs also signed forward Blake Comeau to a three-year deal. On Tuesday, they agreed to a one-year contract with veteran forward Jack Skille, who earned a spot through a professional tryout.
ENCORE, ENCORE: Iginla scored 29 times a season ago to become the oldest player in franchise history to lead the Avs in goals. Now 38, Iginla shows no signs of slowing down. ''I feel good,'' Iginla said. ''I still love playing.''
Follow Pat Graham at www.Twitter.com/pgraham34