Colorado Avalanche: Victims of the Minnesota Wild Trap


The Colorado Avalanche fell again to the Minnesota Wild Saturday night while being outshot 43-20.

Even worse, many of those 20 shots for the Avalanche were low percentage shots that never had a real chance of going in. The reason the Avalanche got outshot so terribly boils down to a lack of sustained pressure and a lack of chances of the rush.

There are two main reasons the Avalanche have been unable to generate any sustained pressure. First, they’re getting outplayed in their D zone, leaving the Avs’ players gassed and just dumping for a change whenever they finally get the puck out. Secondly, the Wild are trapping the Avalanche in the neutral zone, and the Avs just can’t figure it out.

The Colorado Avalanche Defensive Zone

The Colorado Avalanche have been playing better defense lately by sending only one man to the puck, trusting their D to win the one-on-one battles. This has helped immensely in cutting down on good scoring chances for the opposition as it leaves the center and the other defenseman to guard the middle of the ice.

However, the Wild are an aggressive team in their offensive zone. They almost always have two guys on the puck forechecking hard, which causes a lot of turnovers down low and puts them in a good position to cycle. In the highlights below go to the 46 second mark. Tyson Barrie is down behind the net with the puck, while Francois Beauchemin is in front, and Nathan MacKinnon is in the high slot. Take a look at the result.

So yes, it’s good the Avalanche are doing a better job at guarding high scoring areas. However, there’s no one to be guarded in this play out front, let alone having two guys standing in front of the net while Tyson Barrie tries to fight off two fore checkers down low. Someone needs to get down low to help Barrie out, and you’ll see at the very end of that clip the same thing happens in the corner, except Gabriel Landeskog leaves his position at the point to come help.

I understand what Roy is trying to do here, and it’s been successful at cutting down scoring chances. But if the Wild are going to send two guys on the puck the Avalanche absolutely have to have two guys on the puck as well. Letting one defensman try to take on two forwards is not only going to result in tons of turnovers, but it means one Avalanche player isn’t guarding anyone.

And that has led to Colorado spending tons of time in the D zone, getting tired out so they just chip into the neutral zone instead of getting possession. Then the gassed players change — as do the Wild — and the show starts all over again.

Colorado Avalanche’s Terrible Zone Entries

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Now getting to the offensive failings. The few times the Avalanche do get possession and break out, the Wild’s D are very good at pulling out of zone and not giving up odd man rushes. They also usually have a high forward who is pulled back to prevent odd man rushes — then they run a New Jersey-like trap.

Here’s how it goes time and time again: An Avalanche player approaches the Wild blue line. Their forward pressures them wide where their D step up at the blue line. At this point the Avalanche either cough the puck up, dump it in — but after already having their lane closed off preventing a two man forecheck — or they circle back.

The Colorado Avalanche have been much better at puck possession lately . Before the Wild game they had outshot their opponent in their previous 4 games. This was largely because they weren’t forcing pucks in and were circling back to regroup and find a better lane.

However, the Wild would then take this opportunity to get all their players involved and clog up the zone, taking away passing and skating lanes. This leads to the Avalanche having to dump it in, but with the players having no speed to go forecheck.

This is a great system, and it’s very similar to the one New Jersey has run for years. However New Jersey — even with the great trap — doesn’t have the speed to close all the lanes. The Wild do. So the Avalanche end up dumping the puck in deep, but the forwards have already circled back and don’t have any speed to go apply pressure to the puck immediately. This leads to easy breakouts for the Wild and no sustained zone pressure.

How The Colorado Avalanche Can Outsmart The System

This may seem hopeless, and heaven knows the Trap is one of the most awful styles even as it’s most awfully effective. However, there is hope.

In the D zone it’s pretty simple — always have as many players on the puck as the opponents do. It just doesn’t make sense not to. If there are two Wild players in the corner and only one Colorado Avalanche player there it means there’s an Avs player out in space covering no one.

A lot of coaches will even go more aggressive saying you should always have one more player than the opponent on the puck. So in the case of the video above MacKinnon and Beauchemin would both go down low to help Tyson Barrie out, while bringing the weak side winger down to the front of the net.

As for the neutral zone there’s two ways to beat the trap, depending on whether the Avs want to play risky and try to control the puck or if they want to play safer and dump it in.

Next: Why Can't the Avs Beat Minnesota

If they want to maintain possession, the way to beat the trap is with cross ice area passes. The Wild are committing two guys to the puck carrier — that means the Avalanche have numbers somewhere else on the ice. If the Wild forwards aren’t back in the play yet, throwing it across the ice should lead to 2 on 1’s or at least 1 on 1’s.

If the pass is cut off, they can circle back to their D as they have been, but the D need to move with it immediately. If they take their time as they have been, it gives the Wild time to adjust and reset the trap, leaving the Avs where they started.

If the Avalanche want to play safer and try and dump and chase, they have to dump the puck in much sooner. When they dumped it in Saturday it was once all their options were exhausted and the forwards were forced to give up their speed to not be offsides.

If the Avalanche want to beat the trap they need to dump it in while they still have their speed to forecheck and before their lanes are closed off. Once they circle back, the Wild have accomplished their goal of slowing the transition down and can set up as they please.

Either way the Colorado Avalanche need to make adjustments for the Wild. The Avs have been getting beat by the same systems going back to the playoffs two years ago where they woefully outshot and out possessed. At this point if the Avalanche keep trying the same things while expecting different results, they are nothing short of insane.