Colorado Avalanche Lessons from IIHF Worlds


Seven Colorado Avalanche players participated in the IIHF World Championship in the Czech Republic. Five of those players earned medals, including four Canadian gold medals.

Those four Canadians just happen to comprise a large majority of the Avalanche’s young core — Centers Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly and Nathan MacKinnon as well as defenseman Tyson Barrie. The young Canadians did quite well for themselves in just 10 games:

  • Tyson Barrie: 1 goal, 5 assists
  • Ryan O’Reilly: 2 goals, 9 assists
  • Nathan MacKinnon: 4 goals, 5 assists
  • Matt Duchene: 4 goals, 8 assists

In all, that young core for the Colorado Avalanche earned 38 points in 10 games. As they excelled for Team Canada, the back of my mind kept asking, “Why didn’t they do that during the regular season?”

That’s petty and mean, I fully acknowledge. I am happy for our young players. However, I’m not Canadian, so Team Canada taking gold means nothing to me. Team USA taking bronze was nice, but truthfully, I’m a native Coloradan and longtime Avalanche fan. Those accomplishments are the ones that resound with me.

Why didn’t those core youngsters produce that well for the Colorado Avalanche?

Ok, there are lots of reasons. The talent pool in Team Canada was deep. The team was at least a level above all it opponents. The young Avalanche were playing alongside some of the most celebrated names currently in hockey.

Still, seeing that those youngsters truly are capable of performing reminded me of what we missed this season. So, with that mean and petty thought out of the way, let’s focus on the lessons we can hope the young core of Avs took from their IIHF Worlds experience.

That’s How Your Power Play

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The power play was one of the most frustrating aspects for the Colorado Avalanche last season. At 29th in the NHL, it’s safe to say it was stagnant. The players hesitated. If they didn’t get set up, they got no scoring chances. And time and again the opposing penalty kill disrupted their play.

The Canadians didn’t have to rely a whole lot on the power play. But when they got one, they set up and they played. And if they couldn’t set up, they made plays anyway.

Actually, one of the most impressive power play opportunities came in the Czech vs. Finland game. The Czechs set up in the offensive zone. They cycled the puck with precise passing and shot from angles that offered scoring opportunities. They never let the Finns push them off the puck or even box them out.

I don’t know what power play system the Avalanche employed last year, but I hope they burn the schematics to it. A team some of the best skaters in the NHL should not be standing still in the offensive zone. A group of of gifted shooters should not be passing the puck around like a circle of awkward teenagers at their first boy-girl party. They should fly in, use their stick talent to pass tape-to-tape, and shoot at actual real estate around the goalie.

Shooting is Good — So’s Passing

I spent a lot of the season exhorting the Colorado Avalanche to shoot the puck more — we all did. Indeed, when they got above 25 shots on goal in a game, they typically did well.

Shooting more doesn’t equate to winning, though. The Czechs tried that against both the Canadians and the Americans to no avail.

The Canadians didn’t necessarily shoot a lot. However, their passing was precise. I see it in the Anaheim Ducks now, and I saw it in the LA Kings last year. Champions don’t chip it in all the time, bounce off the boards or unleash wayward passes. Champions aren’t spending the majority of their time chasing the puck. They’re spending their time possessing it.

I’d also like to take a moment to call out Tyler Seguin. I wrote a post last season praising him for his high shooting statistics and remarking that Matt Duchene could learn from him. However, I saw him make some selfish moves during IIHF Worlds, including a play when he and Duchene had a 2-on-1. The defenseman had Seguin covered, leaving Duchene open. Yet Seguin took the shot — a save. Duchene probably would have had the goal.

So, shooting is good, but so is precise passing.

The Neutral Zone is Part of the Ice Surface

I’m not exactly releasing a news flash when I point out the Colorado Avalanche is one of the fastest teams in the NHL. So, maybe it’s understandable why they tend to fly through the neutral zone. They may not even be fully aware that the neutral zone exists — it’s just something they have to get through to get to the offensive zone or to race through when the opponent has the puck.

That’s not how Team Canada treated the neutral zone. In fact, in the game against the offense-minded Czechs, the Canadians switched their game to a more defensive style. The Canadians, a team with defenseman who have skated as forwards (Tyson Barrie, Brent Burns) went on the defensive.

They took possession of the neutral zone. They slowed down the Czechs in that neutral third of ice. They pushed the Czechs off the puck and cycled it into their own offensive zone. The game wasn’t as exciting as it could have been considering the two offensive dynamos, but it was one the Canadians won with ease.

This is not going to be natural for the speedy Avalanche players. However, they have done it in the past — not for long, granted. Those long passes have got to be minimized — the days of cherry pickers are gone. When your average forward is around 6-foot, and your defensemen are well north of that, you’re looking at some long wing spans. Driving through the neutral zone is going to be more effective than long passing.

And for the love of Patrick Roy, get rid of the dump-and-chase once and for all.

The young Colorado Avalanche players did so well at IIHF Worlds. I truly am happy for them. However, I selfishly hope they can take lessons from what they saw at the IIHF World Championship into next season. I hope they can play with that same conviction for the Avs.

Next: 5 Frustrations From the 2014-15 Season

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