One of my wonderful pictures from this season. It probably makes sense now why I typically use other people's pictures, right?
2.43 goals per game. 0.93 goals scored five on five. Both of these numbers are much lower than expected for the Colorado Avalanche. There are some talented goal scorers on the roster, and yet this was a bit of an off year. Fewer goals from Matt Duchene, Milan Hejduk, and David Jones probably contributed to these numbers. Duchene went from 27 goals last season to 14 this year. Hejduk went from 22 to 14. And Jones went from 27 to 20. However, each of these players is capable of having bounce back seasons. Overall, I am not too concerned for the Avs goal scoring. My biggest concern is over the tendency to overpass. Forwards on the Avalanche often seem to get into a phase where they keep trying to pass and make “pretty” plays. If a few players could take a bit more initiative and just take the shot themselves, I think the problem would resolve itself. (Also it should be noted that the Avalanche must have attempted more drop passes this season than every other team in the league combined. A drop pass is a useful tool when used SPARINGLY, but it becomes painfully obvious when a team is continually attempting it.) I think it would be a good idea to try and pick up a sniper during free agency in order to help the team out. Zach Parise is probably the biggest name expected to hit the free agent market. While I find it difficult to believe that he wants to leave the New Jersey Devils (the team he currently holds the captaincy for), Colorado might be a good fit if he chooses to leave. Parise has played with both Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Stastny was his center for many of the games, and the two have a strong chemistry. As free agency draws nearer, we should have a better picture of who all is going to be available, and potential players for the Avalanche to sign.
2.66 goals against per game. This number was much lower than last year’s average. However, it is a bit concerning that it is higher than the goals for per game average. Once again, I don’t think there is reason to panic. Semyon Varlamov did go through a very rough stretch this year, however, it is likely he will continue to mature and improve. Varlamov was able to bounce back from his rough patch, and I believe he has learned a lot more about how to be a number one goaltender in the National Hockey League. I think the most important thing to focus on improving is allowing goals late in the game (or period). There were MANY games wherein the Avalanche allowed a goal during the final minute of play, which tied the game up and sent it into overtime. (Also there were a lot of goals scored late during a penalty kill.) This comes from an immaturity and lack of focus for the team. As the players mature, their focus should improve, and they should be able to play until time expires, realizing that even one second can make a difference.
18.4% and 83.0% were the power play and penalty kill percentages this season, good enough for 9th and 12th in the league respectively. The power play was much stronger on the road than at home, which was frustrating. (It should also be noted that the Avalanche only had 362:04 minutes on the power play, the lowest number in the league. The closest team still had 38:27 minutes more, and Philadelphia, number one in power play time, had 186:46 minutes more. Quite frankly, this is absolutely ridiculous, and major fuel for conspiracy theorists.) Mainly, the power play needs to improve on keeping the puck in zone. Too many times, the puck would be cleared out of the zone, and the team would have to reset themselves. Also, when the puck did leave the offensive zone, the Avs had one of the slowest rushes I have ever seen as they attempted to re-enter the zone. If they can add a sense of urgency to the power play, I think they will be able to capitalize more frequently. (This is another place where either a sniper, or the return of Peter Mueller to form could really improve the team.)
As for the penalty kill, it went from 30th in the league to 12th. It was much easier to watch this season, as the team was much more successful at clearing the zone and creating shorthanded opportunities. My biggest complaint is that most of the power play goals against seemed to come when there were 30 or fewer seconds left to kill off (and some goals scored right after the penalty was killed). If the penalty killing units can keep their focus for the entirety of the kill, I think the numbers will improve firther. (Also, a stronger emphasis on blocked shots.) Colorado was ninth in time spent on the penalty kill, and had the most severe differential between power play and penalty kill time (-114.00).
Goaltending was much improved this year, after last year’s meltdown in net. Semyon Varlamov was especially impressive, as his save percentage dipped below .900 several times, but he worked it back up to .913%. Giguere had a very successful year after having groin hernia surgeries, and he had a save percentage of .919%. Both goaltenders had records that were over .500, which is a strong indicator of good goaltending. Varlamov is only going to get better, and Giguere’s health has improved so that he should have another couple of solid seasons.
Faceoffs was one of the best parts of the Avalanche’s game this season. They were tied with Toronto for fourth in the league at 51.6%. Matt Duchene was over 50%, but he did struggle on faceoffs later during the year (and he spent a lot of time at left wing this season). If he has a more consistent season next year (which I am expecting), I think the Avalanche could improve to top three in the league.
Hits, Blocked Shots, Takeaways
Last summer, management made a commitment to be much more physical in the defensive zone. This season, the Avalanche were 13th in hits (with a whopping 1889 total). There were still instances I thought hits should have been made and they were not, but overall I think the team is very strong when it comes to this sort of physicality. Ryan Wilson and Gabriel Landeskog are both the best pure hitters on the team, and Ryan O’Byrne, Shane O’Brien, and Cody McLeod are all very solid when it comes to this part of the game.
1111 shots were blocked by the Avs this season, good enough for 18th in the league. I would like to see a stronger emphasis on blocking shots, particularly during even strength play (though the penalty kill should block more as well). Blocking shots is not a fun job, but it is something that needs to happen. Too many times I saw players “flamingo” as they attempted to block shots (sort of make themselves thinner) and/or screen Varlamov or Giguere without preventing the puck from getting to them. If the Avalanche can block more shots (and follow the examples of O’Byrne and O’Brien, both shot blocking extraordinaires) I think they will be a better defensive team.
Colorado was third in the league when it came to takeaways (704). They were led by Ryan O’Reilly (101), who had the most takeaways in the league. (And yet O’Reilly will likely not be nominated for the Selke trophy. More fodder for those who wear tinfoil hats.) When looking at takeaways, it is also important to look at the differential between takeaways and giveaways. Colorado came in third in this category at +166. They were surpassed only by Chicago (+187) and Columbus (+173). As players like Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Johnson have fewer giveaways, that differential should only go up.
Luckily for Avalanche fans, the Avalanche were tied for first in the league when it came to games that went past regulation. Both the Avs and the Devils went 16 and 6. Colorado was 7-4 in overtime, and 9-2 in shoot outs. It should be noted that the only two shootouts lost came with Jean-Sebastian Giguere in net. Giguere is an older goaltender, and thus has had to adapt to the addition of shootouts. Varlamov, on the other hand, was stellar in shoot outs. While it was disapointing that the Avalanche had one of the highest numbers when it came to straight out losses, it is good that when they went into extra time, they were mostly successful.
I do not typically blame the coach, and I am not one of the fans who shout for a coach’s head. With that being said, I am concerned about the return of Coach Joe Sacco. I feel that he would be better suited to an assistant coaching role. By all accounts from the players, he is good at coaching systems and effective during practice. However, there were too many games where I felt he made incorrect decisions reguarding time outs, goaltending changes, and switching lines up. I am worried about his ability to successfully motivate the team, and keep this young team from straying when they are losing or becoming complacent when they are winning. It is expected that he will be resigned to at least another year. Personally, if the team is wavering in November, I think management will need to make a coaching change. I truly believe that this team could be similar to St. Louis (though more offensively minded). The Blues underachieved for the first few weeks of the season, but the coaching change to Ken Hitchcock saw them turn into the power house they are right now. This group of players for the Avalanche has just as much talent.
Management (I think) had a successful season. There has been plenty of doubt surrounding the abilities of General Manager Greg Sherman, but I believe the trades he made benefited the team greatly this season.
This team has the ability to improve, and I think they are a good team that will become a great team next year. If management shows faith and resigns the majority of the players who have expiring contracts, I think they will be rewarded. This is not only a solid group of players, but it is also a group that really gets along well and enjoys spending time together. That type of chemistry and closeness cannot be manufactored, and is an often underrated part of a team’s composition.