February 15, 2011
After discussing the 35 minutes and 10 seconds of Peter Forsberg's(notes) comeback on Monday, Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny(notes) was asked what his team had to do to pull out of a seven-game tailspin that saw the Avs plummet to 14th in the West.
"I think sometimes we're kinda pressing," he said. "We have to try to play loose. It's easier said than done when you're not winning."
That night, the Avalanche would lose their eighth in a row: a 9-1 humiliation at the hands of the Calgary Flames, the first time in Avs team history they've surrendered nine goals.
"We're not looking down the road. Every time we do that, we lose a couple more. We came close last game; today was embarrassing," Stastny said.
Scoreboard watching in the Western Conference is unavoidable. There are 25 games left and the Avalanche are now 10 points out a playoff spot. The offense has produced one goal or less in four of the last six games. The defense has now given up 26 goals in six games this month.
Last night has been universally labeled the team's "rock bottom" moment, as the season slips away. Tack on an injury to star center Matt Duchene(notes), being evaluated today after being hit with a shot on his left wrist last night, and the Avs have drilled below rock bottom into some new ignominious layer.
It's an "nowhere to go but up" moment; the question now is whether dumping Joe Sacco would lighten the load for that ascension.
As for the game, the Flames started off quick, scoring eighteen seconds in, and just kept rolling. Everything was atrocious tonight for the Avs. Luck played a part but the team is just incapable of playing defense. Goaltending was bad. Budaj tried but caught some bad breaks and had a poor game. Anderson doesn't even seem to care anymore. The Flames weren't even trying after the first and still managed to score four more. Sacco doesn't seem to have any answers, pulling Budaj twice and Anderson once. He also called a timeout after Calgary went up 3-0, which accomplished nothing. Winnik scored the lone goal when Porter's pass bounced off him.
Sacco "running out of answers" was a theme revisited by Tapeleg over on Jerseys and Hockey Love:
Joe Sacco looks like he's run out of answers. It's the expression on his face, even though I can't say it looks much different than usual. Perhaps it's his demeanor, but everything about him seems to reflect what is happening on the ice. And while scratching Chris Stewart(notes) (who doesn't even look like the same person as the one before the injury) and benching Liles for the first period of the previous game could have sent a message, there is little accountability that he commands. When the team loses (again) without the benched or scratched player, it's hard to say that the move sent a message other than "We need you."
Meanwhile, Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, who called Valentine's Day 2011 the "darkest day in Avalanche history," was ahead of the curve on Sacco with this piece on Sunday:
I don't have any players whispering into my ear that they have tuned out the coach, or that they can't stand him or anything like that. Not yet anyway. But I do sense a team that is a bit confused, a bit scared to do anything wrong, a team that is walking on proverbial eggshells around anyone with the Avalanche who wears a suit.
I alluded to this earlier in the season, about sensing a team that somehow didn't quite have that kind of indefinable but you-know-it-when-it's-there chemistry. And I'm not saying that it's a BAD chemistry in the Avs' room. I'm just saying that all year long it's seemed to me that this Avs team just wasn't always on the same page somehow, probably exacerbated by too many injuries and too many guys shuttling in and out of Lake Erie all the time.
But this team is one that has just seemed a little too uptight to me. Is it because Sacco's drill-sergeant, tough-love ways have created that kind of atmosphere? To that, all I can do is ask the rhetorical question and leave it at that.
The injuries play a huge role. So does the goaltending, in which last season's given (Craig Anderson(notes)) has been this season wild card (for whatever reason). So does the Western Conference, in which a prolonged losing streak rockets a team down the standings; you can hear it in Stastny's voice when he talks about the team pressing.
Would another voice, or simply removing Sacco's, behind the bench loosen the mood? Would it be worth firing a guy with another year on his deal (and a Jack Adams nomination last season) to salvage a season that might be slipping away anyhow?
We'd keep him. There are forces beyond his control that have created these dire times; and while one expects the coach to be able to right the ship through injury and adversity, there are bigger questions about the direction and philosophy of this franchise that need to be answered before the question of his fate is determined.