Continuing a periodic and inter-conference-friendly series, today we check into the New York Islanders' next foe by tossing a few questions at those who know them best: SB Nation's Colorado Avalanche site, Mile High Hockey.
Cheryl Bradley is proof there is reward for suffering fans who stick it out, so we caught up with her in the midst of a promising season for the Avs after dark years under the Sacco. Her answers to my questions follow.
Avalanche (36-16-5, 3rd/Central) @ Islanders (22-29-8, 8th/Metro)
Nassau [gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Memorial Coliseum
7 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
[FIG Picks for tonight]
Legal for recreational purposes: Mile High Hockey
The Avalanche have almost completely new divisional foes, and look headed for the playoffs. How has the adjustment to realignment (foes, time zone, schedule, rivalries) been? Better than the fans expected?
Cheryl: First, thank [Bossy] we didn't end up in the Pacific Division, as was rumored. Yikes, that's a tough group of folks. Second, I'm not sure the realignment has affected the team all that much. The Avalanche still has a lot of travel miles, and this year's schedule is the most unfavorable one the organization has had in years.
The new divisional foes have provided for some entertaining games as Chicago and Dallas play similar, uptempo styles. However, facing the Blues outright sucks because that team always has the Avs' number. It is nice not having to watch the Vancouver Canucks Diving Team as often, though.
The biggest advantage has been one the entire Western Conference has enjoyed: facing off against the Eastern Conference so often. The Avs have a pretty good record against the East, and their fast transition game is difficult for Easterners to match.
First a knee injury, then trade rumors and healthy scratches. What have you done with our P.A. Parenteau? Please handle him with care.
Cheryl: The healthy scratches were really tied to the knee injury. It has been reported that he came back too soon, and the day-on/day-off approach was designed to help him get back into game shape. He continues to be an important part of the offense for the team, but the fact remains that the team needs another top-tier defenseman. To get one via trade, somebody of quality has to go the other direction.
With MacKinnon's ability to shift to the wing, a high-end scoring winger like Parenteau makes the most sense as trade bait. He's loved by the fans, and trading him would make many of them very upset. However, winning the Cup is more important, and that will take another #1/#2 d-man to pair with Johnson. Parenteau might net one in the right deal.
Looks like the talent level has increased (and the coaching), but what else is meaningfully different about this season's Avalanche?
Cheryl: The systems Roy uses with the Avs has changed completely from the Sacco era. Roy employs a man-on-man approach, which has provided the, let's be honest here, mediocre defense some help. It utilizes the defensive strengths of forwards like Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly, while opening up the game for quick transitions at which Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon excel.
A change in style of goaltending for Semyon Varlamov has also helped and is a top reason why he is playing so well this season. Bringing in Francois Allaire as goaltending coach was a brilliant move by the organization, and he's been all the difference in net.
There's also a different attitude within the entire organization, one I discuss in more depth in question #5. The short version is that the players buy into the "Why Not Us?" attitude (read the story here) and operate as a family, one that includes the fans. There's a different mentality surrounding the team that emphasizes the "one game at a time" approach and limits the highs and lows the team feels after wins and losses. As they say often, the players and coaches have a "Stanley Cup winning attitude" towards every game.
On balance, how would you describe the Erik Johnson Experience? Is having him as de facto 1D an issue?
Cheryl: Most fans realized Johnson had not reached his potential and needed more time to develop. Defensemen notoriously don't really reach the peak of their development until their mid-twenties. At 25, Johnson is actually right on schedule.
Add in the fact that he has better coaching and has been given the freedom to play his game (Roy was quoted as saying, "We need Erik to just be Erik") and you see a player finally coming into his own. He's playing fantastically and is what we hoped he would become. He just needs a defensive partner of his caliber (with all due respect to Jan Hejda, he's a second-pairing guy) to be that formidable opponent expected of a number 1 pick.
I must say, Patrick Roy has long struck me as an ass and a sore loser with emotional maturity issues. Can you convince me otherwise, or make a case that he is likeable for reasons beyond being your Cup-winning goalie and not-Sacco coach?
Cheryl: Everything Roy does as a coach is calculated. His behavior on opening night, which some called losing control or (as you put it) lacking in emotional maturity, was actually purposefully designed to create an understanding among his players that he would be there for them and stand behind them. It did just what he wanted.
From early on, every interview with the players included the question, "What's it like with Patrick Roy as your coach?" To a man, the players said they appreciated knowing he has their backs and would stand up for them, referencing that moment as evidence of it. They said that his display of protection for MacKinnon made them feel bonded to him, claiming they would do anything to win for him.
They also say he rarely raises his voice with them; instead, he works with them as partners to improve their play and make the most out of their talents. He regularly sits down with them one-on-one, operating with an open-door policy and inviting candor in regards to individual performances and that of the team. He values their opinions.
On the ice, he takes the time during practice to physically show them what he wants, offering both praise and criticism for their efforts. Roy is specific about the things that a player is or isn't doing which is landing him in the press box. There isn't a doghouse with Roy.
He's incredibly thoughtful and continues to be a student of the game, reaching out to experienced coaches and former teammates (like Joe Sakic, Adam Foote, and Ray Bourque) for insight. In the end, Roy has the final say, but he doesn't operate in a vacuum or push the idea that he is the only one with the answers. All of this has created a winning attitude and tight-knit locker room, both of which are significant reasons the team is so successful this season.
Thanks to Cheryl for making the time with some thoughtful answers. Check out Mile High Hockey to see Avs addicts getting their fix.
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