Colorado Avalanche Defense: Shot Blocking is Not the Answer


Colorado Avalanche defense should not depend on shot blocking.

You’ve heard it every game so far this year: the commentators talking about the Avalanche shot blocking numbers, the players saying in interviews it’s a focus for the team this year,  and the audible groan you yourself make as you see superstar Nathan MacKinnon take yet another hard rubber disk to his valuable body.

The Colorado Avalanche defense seems to love being based on shot blocking, and it’s working (in their fairy tale land!) They’re only 7th last in shots allowed per game. However there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to shot blocking, and we’re going to dig underneath the surface to examine why this not an effective crutch for the Avalanche in the defensive zone.


Let’s start with an obvious one — players are going to start getting hurt blocking shots. There’s a reason John Tortorella was run out of New York a couple years ago: all his best players were constantly suffering from broken feet and hands.

It’s only a matter of time if the Avalanche continue blocking 41 shots per game, like they did against the Ducks, before someone gets hurt. And with MacKinnon and Landeskog now playing increased penalty kill time where shot blocking is actually a necessity, it could be a star player going down.

Goalie Affects

One of my favorite lines from an old coach was “What’s a failed shot block attempt? A screen.” This is 100% accurate, especially with the new style for blocking shots in the NHL. In the old days players would slide from the outside of the ice in, leading with their shin pads to block shots. Even if the shot wasn’t blocked the goalie had an obscured line of sight of the puck over the player sliding across the ice.

Nowadays players more often go out at the shooter on one knee, almost playing goalie out at the point. This style is better compared to sliding in that it doesn’t take the player off their feet; so if there is a fake shot the defensive player isn’t sliding out of the play and can adjust.

The problem with this style is that it is a perfect screen if the shooter can get the puck through. The player is going out to block the shot like a goalie, having a good angle in front of the net and making himself as big as possible. This is great at blocking shots, but when they do get through it’s a huge problem for the goalie.

Something tells me Varlamov isn’t seeing this puck well. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Also a liability with this style is the possibility of a shot blocker getting just a piece of the shot and tipping it in on the goalie accidentally. This happens frequently on rushes and poke checks as well. Ideally the goalie is far enough out on the shot to have the angle cut down, but stuff happens.

Commenters Mike Haynes and Peter McNab discussed another problem with the blocked shots for the goalie, and this relates to fatigue for the goalies. Even if a shot is blocked, the goalie is still forced to make a play on the puck in case it gets through.

So Reto Berra on paper only had to make 35 saves for his shut out against the Ducks (did I just use “only” describing 35 shots? Man this is getting sad). But add the 41 blocked shots the Avalanche defense logged that game and Berra had to make a ridiculous 76 SAVE ATTEMPTS. That’s 76 times Berra had to Butterfly and pop up right away, or quickly slide from side to side. I can’t even talk about this number anymore.

Colorado Avalanche Defense and Rebounds

My last beef with the shot blocking as the panacea for porous Avalanche defense is the rebounds it gives up. In a perfect world every Avalanche shot blocked would skip into the neutral zone for an odd man rush.

But in reality just as often the puck bounces into a corner, drops straight down or careens onto an opponent’s stick. When the third case happens, it’s just like Semyon Varlamov giving up a rebound. The extra problem with that is he probably never saw the original shot (seeing as there was someone in the lane that knocked it down), so he has to find the puck. In addition he never felt the rebound, a tool goalies often use to judge their next movement.

For example if Varlamov is screened on a shot but feels it kick off his right pad he knows the rebound is to the right, even before he can see it. On a blocked shot he has nothing.

Just look at the stupid goal Zach Parise scored. Start at the 39 second mark and just watch Varlamov, he’s just sitting in front of the net trying to find the puck even as it squirts out to his left. By the time he has a sight line on the puck, it’s too late.

Varlamov’s Style

Which leads us to my actual last point: a shot block mentality means that players are busy trying to get in lanes rather then pick up opponents in scoring angles.

For example we have Nate Guenin in the video above standing there in the lane while open Wild players stand next to him (which is another dumb Avalanche defnse point: everyone facing the puck). Varlamov is way out of his net trying to cut down the angle, like he should, so when the puck goes to the side he has a ton of ice to cover before he can get into position.

And Varlamov is a very aggressive goalie, meaning he specializes in making the first save, even on difficult shots. However, when he comes out to challenge shooters, he always has a lot of ice for him to cover on rebounds.  What he needs is the Avalanche to cover opposing forwards in case there are rebounds while he’s out of the net challenging the original shooter.

If you disagree, agree, or best of all know how to fix the Avalanche defense leave it in the comments down below!

Next: Avalanche Week 2 Stars

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