What to Make of the Colorado Avalanche’s First Ten Games


What a difference a year makes. Last season, the Avalanche shocked the world of hockey, winning 9 of their first 10 games. This season, the Avalanche have managed a lousy two wins through an equivalent stretch of games. If you were to summarize the seasons with a pork analogy, last season was crispy bacon, sizzling on the skillet. This year is Spam, cold and full of regret.

Last season, the Avalanche didn’t lose their second game until the 14th game of the season. This season they had two losses through their first two games. Last season, the Avalanche didn’t lose their 8th game until the 28th game of the year, taking us well into December. This season, they already have 8 losses, and we aren’t even out of October yet. To use a candy analogy, last season was an assortment of tantalizing chocolates. This season is rock hard, moth-ball flavored, taffy that has been sitting in your grandmother’s candy bowl for a dozen years.

So, what do we make of the first ten games of the season?

How big of a problem is the defense?

Their defensive scheme looks solid at times, but there are too many instances where defenders turn the puck over, or make a sloppy play that gets the team trapped in the zone. When a bad turnover happens, the man-to-man scheme quickly is exposed, with odd-man situations highly likely to develop in the scoring areas. When the team gets trapped in the defensive end of the ice, the legs start to burn, and it becomes increasingly difficult to make the man-to-man scheme work.

The shame is, I really don’t think this is an effort problem, but a personnel problem instead. The Avalanche blueline is laced with guys with weaknesses that are too easily exposed. Erik Johnson is the closest the Avalanche have to a complete defenseman. Tyson Barrie is a fantastic player, when he isn’t being overwhelmed with a strong forecheck. He is the best Avs’ d-man at skating the puck out of the zone, and creates more in the offensive end than anyone else from the back-end. But he can be targeted by the other team with physical play. Ultimately though, these two guys are cornerstones the Avalanche can build around.

Filling out four defensive positions every night with a conglomerate of fringe NHL players, is a recipe for… well, giving up the third most shots per game in the NHL.

Brad Stuart, Nate Guenin, and Jan Hejda all lack mobility. They all resort to chipping the puck up the boards nine times out of ten when they get the puck. This limits the Avalanche in transition, and creates a lot of puck battles along the boards. In a man-to-man scheme, it is difficult to have the puck support and numbers needed to win those puck battles, without exposing other areas of the ice. Plus, you want your defenders to spring these talented forwards in transition… not turn them into puck retrieval units along the boards all night. The three defenseman mentioned, are all bad fits for the system the Avalanche are trying to play. Objectively, these guys would be long-shots to make a defensive core of a Stanley Cup winning roster, and certainly wouldn’t have a significant role if they did.

Zach Redmond and Nick Holden are guys who have promise, but also need to improve their consistency. Holden was a bit of a golden-boy for the Avs last season, with his knack for scoring timely goals. This year, his responsibility has gone up. Holden is logging about two extra minutes of ice-time per game on average, and also is facing stronger competition. Redmond is a guy who I like a lot. His first game against Vancouver he looked fantastic – great outlet passing, and smooth skating. Against Winnipeg he looked average, and last night against San Jose I don’t think he played his best game. These two guys I think have potential, but are both adjusting to more prominent roles.

Overall, the Avalanche are two real solid d-man short of being able to throw a competent defensive core out there. EJ is a solid top-pairing guy, and Barrie is a great weapon to give a significant chunk of ice time to. After that there is a huge gap… before arriving at a muddled mess of guys who are playing above their heads, guys who are playing a league too high, and guys whose best days were several years ago. Filling out four defensive positions every night with a conglomerate of fringe NHL players, is a recipe for… well, giving up the third most shots per game in the NHL.

When will the goal scoring come?

The top-five goal scorers for the Avs last season in order were: Ryan O’Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny, Nathan MacKinnon, and Matt Duchene. These five players averaged 0.33 goals per game individually, which accounts for 1.65 goals per game as a group. This accounted for roughly 55% of the 2.99 goals per game the Avalanche scored last season.

This year, the top-five goal scorers for the Avalanche are: Alex Tanguay, Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene, Jamie McGinn, and Jarome Iginla. They are averaging 0.32 goals per game, which is very similar to the rate the top-five scorers produced at last season. The problem is, the 1.6 goals per game the top-five are accounting for is roughly 73% of the total offense this season.

The Avalanche aren’t receiving the secondary scoring they did last season, and they aren’t distributing the wealth across each line as well as they did last season. This is why their goals per game are down from 2.99 to 2.2 this year.

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Part of the problem is the struggles of Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon. They have combined for one lonely goal through the first ten games of the season. It isn’t due to a lack of shots though. MacKinnon is second on the team with 28 shots, and O’Reilly is third with 27. You have to figure these two aren’t going to shoot 1.8% for the rest of the season. For reference, O’Reilly shot 13.9% last season and MacKinnon shot 10%.

Ultimately, the Avalanche are going to start scoring more goals. As a team, they scored on over 10% of their shots last season. This season, they are hitting the net 7.3% of the time. The league average is generally around 9% give or take 0.1%. To put it simply, the Avs have some elite goalscorers on this roster. You have to figure, at minimum, they are going to heat things up to the league average shooting percentage at some point.

This team can score goals, and needs to be among the best in the league in goal-scoring to compensate for some of the defensive deficiencies and puck-control issues currently plaguing the team.

Is this a playoff team?

This is a loaded question at this point. In my heart, I say yes. Absolutely. I think there are too many good players on this team, and Varlamov is going to hold games tight all season. Once the goals start to flow, and they get some positive momentum in their favor, the Avalanche figure to win a lot of games.

These first ten games are alarming though. The Avalanche have been outshot 8 out of the 10 times they have taken the ice, and low and behold, they have lost 8 out of 10 games. The Avalanche need to clean up play in their own end before they can play a brand of hockey that reliably can win games on a night-to-night basis.

Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic will have to decide if they believe in the guys they have on this roster, or if it is time to give some of the kids in Lake Erie a shot. Dennis Everberg is the posterboy in that regard, but Joey Hishon, Borna Rendulic, and Duncan Siemens are all guys who could potentially make an impact in my opinion. Perhaps a trade is in order as well.

The saving grace right now is the four pitty points the Avs have picked up on the season, which have given them enough points to stay borderline relevant. No sugarcoating it though, the Avalanche need to start playing better hockey in a hurry, or else at the end of the season they will be on the outside of the playoffs looking in, asking themselves – #WhyNotUs?