Colorado Avalanche: Dissecting a Winning Formula (pt 2)


Is there a formula for success in the NHL in 2015? Do the Avalanche have it?

Welcome back, Colorado Avalanche fans. The regular season of hockey is nearly here and after a busy summer of off-season tinkering and transactions — it’s time to see where the Avalanche are preparing to stand in the NHL crowd. It’s also time to pontificate over what sort of team head coach Patrick Roy and GM Joe Sakic are assembling, and potentially; who they’re building similar to.


During our last post, we took a look at the idea that the Colorado Avalanche could be trying to work out a “formula” for returning to success in 2015-2016. The pieces of those formula went like this:

  • An elitely talented player or two.
  • A better than average goaltender.
  • More than one consistent scoring line.
  • A stingy defense.
  • Above average puck possession stats.
  • A system of hockey that is difficult to play against – especially in the Playoffs.
  • A smattering of vocal veteran players to help guide the team.
  • Smart drafting and positional depth.
  • Special Teams Units that get the job done.

Today, we’re jumping into Part 2.

Must-Have Variable #2: Better than average goaltending

You know, recently, it doesn’t look like the team with the best goalie always wins the big prize at the end of the year. In fact, both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick put up respectable, but hardly earth-shattering numbers in their Stanley Cup playoff performances in the last two seasons.

Crawford wasn’t even in the top five for Vezina Trophy votes this past year and put up a head-nodding .924 Save Percentage and 2.31 GAA over 20 games. Yes, he put up two shut-outs during that span, but the overall performance, especially during the regular season for the Blackhawks was pretty pedestrian (.924 SV%, 2.27GAA, 57GP) compared to the likes of Carey Price (.933 SV%, 1.96GAA) or Devan Dubnyk (9.36 SV%, 1.78GAA).

The same goes for Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning who put up a .916 save percentage and 2.32 GAA during the regular season and a .921 SV%, 2.18 GAA during the post-season. Bishop wasn’t the best goaltender in the league during the Bolts playoff run, but he was good enough to not cost them games. And with that, he was good enough to get them to the Cup finals. What made the difference for Tampa Bay, were the players in front of Bishop.

Since it doesn’t require an elite backstop to help your team win the Stanley Cup, Colorado Avalanche fans should be ecstatic then that Semyon Varlamov is not only better than average – he’s Great. Just two seasons ago, Varly finished second in Vezina Trophy votes (behind Tuukka Rask) as the league’s best goalie and 4th in Hart Trophy voting as the league’s MVP. Now healthy, he’s ready to return to form.

While he put up a less impressive stat line this past season (.921SV%, 2.56GAA, 57GP), the ability to dial up his already strong play in the playoffs is well documented in both Colorado and Washington. Remember, during the 2008-2009 Playoff run for the Capitals, a 20-year old Varlamov put up 2 shutouts against the New York Rangers and helped them win the series in seven games. Without his strong play, the already tight series would have evaded the Capitals that year.

"Strength in the Roster"

Unfortunately, what’s needed to be a champion in the NHL doesn’t stop at the bookends of the roster. It’s much more complex. Again, going back to Sidney Crosby and his recent trips with the Penguins to the post-season, there are a few other tangibles that are an absolute must if you’re looking to get out of the 1st Round.

For the Penguins, the evidence was pretty glaring once they arrived during the last two post-seasons.

Must-Have Variable #3: More than one scoring line

There aren’t too many secrets on the roster of any team in the NHL by virtue of the accessibility of game footage around the league. While I was watching Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers hold Crosby and the Pens’ top line to 5 goals throughout the entire series, Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault was likely watching the lines of the Penguins hop over the bench so he could match his suffocating defense against their scorers.

The Penguins only scored 8 goals throughout the series, so I’d say he did a pretty damn good job.

Behind Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz; there just wasn’t much else that threatened the Rangers. In the era of premiere shut-down defensemen, that’s just not enough scoring. Now, granted, Pittsburgh was also dealing with injuries, but the struggle was real.

The Penguins found it out the hard way and mortgaged some of their future to go grab Phil Kessel this off-season. Was it a good move for the team this year? Yes. Will it damage them in years to come? The jury is still out. What’s evident, however, is that their roster is stacked with talented scorers from top to bottom this year.

Lesson learned, I suppose.

The Avs’ current roster has filled out in similar fashion (albeit less severe). Each defensive pairing got a review by the coaching staff and outsiders were brought in to make it a bit beefier. Francois Beauchemin, Brandon Gormley and Nikita Zadorov can all contribute immediately and make the team that much more well-rounded.

Mikhail Grigorenko adds some octane to the tank in young upcoming talent and Blake Comeau and Carl Soderberg add consistent scoring chances and bring in a combined 75 Points from last season to the Avalanche this year. Regardless of what line they land on out of camp, the uptick in production will serve the team well.

I’d say the Colorado Avalanche are looking pretty good so far. Stay tuned to Mile High Sticking as we continue to dissect Roy and Sakic’s winning formula.

Next time: The Defense

Next: Avs Training Camp: Checking out the D

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