Colorado Avalanche: A Guide To Holding Leads


The Colorado Avalanche lost their 3rd game of the year on Wednesday in which they had the lead going into the third period.

That’s the third time they’ve led after 2 periods and lost in regulation. They’re the only team in the league that has done that more then once. And according to NBC ProHockey Talk there are still 16 teams that haven’t surrendered a lead going into the third yet this year.

This is disastrous. If the Avs would even take those three losses into overtime they would be tied with Winnipeg and only one spot out of the wild card. Instead they’re in sole possession of last place in the Central and 8 points back of the wild card. If the Avs hold on when leading in all those games, they’re only two spots out of a playoff spot.

So what gives? Obviously, the Colorado Avalanche have always struggled defensively, but when they have the lead, they take it new levels (of shame). Despite the common sense approach of hunkering down to protect a lead, which is what the Avalanche have been doing, that is not the way to protect the lead. Here’s why.

Colorado Avalanche And Score Effects

Let’s start with the basics: if a team is down a goal or two, they are going to get increasingly aggressive as the game goes on. This means the defense are going to pinch on lower percentage plays, and they may fly a winger out of the zone defensive zone. They’ll either try to carry the puck in, or if they do dump it, will commit more hard forecheckers then normal.

So if a team is protecting a lead (let’s say the Avalanche so I can stop using pronouns),


the Avalanche are going to counter these moves in the following order:

  • They chip pucks out of the zone instead of trying to carry the puck out of the defensive zone with possession.
  • They pull their defense out of the offensive zone quickly to keep players from getting behind them.
  • This leads to giving up odd man rushes.
  • This also leads to giving the other team a bigger gap on zone entries in case of a dump.
  • They’re trying to not get beat at the blue line if the opposing player does make a move.

All sounds logical, right? The problem is it leads to the Avalanche stuck in the defensive zone. They then get possession and chip it out of the zone — giving possession right back — and then taking another rush from the opponents.

This leads to not only the opponent getting sustained zone pressure, but it also prevents the Colorado Avalanche from getting any opportunities by taking advantage of the other team’s risk.

For example, yesterday in the second period the Pittsburgh Penguins started pouring it on as it seemed like they might not be able to solve Reto Berra, and they sensed the Avs going into a shell. The result was that not only did the Penguins get 13 shots in the period, but the Avalanche were limited to just 4.

Next: Thoughts Following Latest Loss

How Colorado Needs To Approach Leads

More from Mile High Sticking

This doesn’t seem logical at first, but it’s widely the way leads are approached now: the Colorado Avalanche need to continue to play as if it’s a tied game. They can still play solid defense, not taking unnecessary risks they wouldn’t normally take in a tied game. But they need to be aggressive enough to take advantage of the high risk plays the other team is engaging in.

They didn’t do that against the Penguins, and though they prevented too many high chance scoring opportunities, stats tell us that if you take enough shots eventually one is going to go in. And that’s exactly what happened as the Pens scored from the goal line on a fluke play.

If the Avalanche want to hold onto games, they can’t be so worried about preserving their lead. Instead they need to go out and play as if it’s still a tied game. It’s the Chinese finger trap of hockey.

I still think the Avalanche are progressing this season, but they’re running out of time. And the proper way to play with leads is something the rest of the league figured out long ago. It’s time the Colorado Avalanche learn to execute it properly.