Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson Playing a New Role

Dec 19, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) and defenseman Erik Johnson (6) celebrate the win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) and defenseman Erik Johnson (6) celebrate the win over the Edmonton Oilers at the Pepsi Center. The Avalanche defeated the Oilers 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson is having a quiet season, but his role has certainly increased in responsibility with his new partner Francois Beauchemin. Be not afraid, his new role is better for the Avalanche.

Normally, I leave all posts concerning Erik Johnson to my editor Nadia Archuleta because she loves EJ, that should be obvious to any consistent MHS readers.

With good reason though. Plus, I love EJ too.

EJ has been under constant question since his arrival to the Avalanche, but only because they gave up Kevin Shattenkirk to get him.

I’m not here to discuss the trade that saw EJ come here, or the worth of the trade. Avalanche fans can find that elsewhere.

I’m here to discuss EJ’s new role on this Avalanche team with Beauchemin’s arrival.

The tag of No. 1 defenseman has finally found it’s mark on Johnson’s chest, and he deserves the accolades. Let’s take a look at why his new role is better for the Avalanche, even though he’s not throwing as many points on the board.

Shot Blocking for the Avalanche

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Erik Johnson is a No. 1 defenseman hands down, no matter how much former writers for MHS may disagree. Respect to Janik Beichler, former MHS editor, but he’s wrong.

Erik Johnson and Francois Beauchemin make one of the best top defensive pairs in the league. Francois Beauchemin leads the league in blocked shots with 177. Erik Johnson is 10th in the league with 121 blocked shots.

Only the Calgary Flames have two players in the top-ten for blocked shots aside from the Colorado Avalanche. The Calgary Flames have 53 points on the season and are currently devoid of a playoff spot, while the Avalanche have 62 points and hold a playoff spot.

Obviously shot blocking is not the main point to determining a successful team; but five out of the top-ten teams in shot-blocking are currently in a playoff spot: Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and the Washington Capitals.

That’s five playoff teams out of 16 total in the top-ten of blocked shots. Six out of the other nine playoff teams are in the top 17 in blocked shots. That means that 11 out of the 16 teams currently in the playoffs are in the top 17 for blocked shots.

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As such, blocking shots is certainly a pivotal part of this contemporary hockey league because offenses are so skilled now, and teams need to limit opportunities anyway they can.

Nonetheless, the Colorado Avalanche lead the league in blocked shots (969) by nearly 100 shots more than the second place team. They also give up the third most shots per game with 32 a night, while only putting up 28.1 a game, which is third worst in the league.

So blocked shots take on a new meaning for the Colorado Avalanche, who also give up the the ninth most goals per game at 2.76, while notching the 13th most per game at 2.67.

Therefore, Johnson’s work blocking shots makes him invaluable to the Colorado Avalanche, especially since he is not normally known for playing that role (he has 125 blocks in 49 games, five shy of his career high of 130 in 80 games).

Erik Johnson also has more blocks than shots (114) this season, which has never happened in his career before.

Our No. 1 Defenseman

Erik Johnson has taken on a new role since joining Beauchemin in top-pair duties this year. He was on pace for a career season last year with the Colorado Avalanche, but was derailed by injury.

He is by no means playing any worse this season, his role has just changed and thus he can’t employ as much offensive liberty. In fact, Beauchemin seems to be poaching points from EJ with 26 points on the season while EJ has 20.

However, EJ has played in nine less games and has the same amount of goals as Beauch. Also, Beauchemin is on pace for a career year with 37 points, and it seems like Roy’s scheme of play has helped him find a new offensive groove.

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Let’s just put it like this: night in and night out, Patrick Roy sends Francois Beauchemin and Erik Johnson on the ice to play the team’s top line with a mix of Avalanche forwards; yet, they consistently mark two spots on the Avs’ defense against any opposing team’s top lines.

That’s a full plate, something most would get part way through and say they can’t eat anymore; yet, Beauch and EJ finish the plate put in front of them because to leave food on the table is unacceptable on all levels of defensive etiquette.

All this information on EJ’s defensive responsibilities is important because he is a two-way defenseman meant to spring points to the board.

Instead, he has taken on the role of playing on the most defensively responsible pair because it is his duty; it is his job to lead the rest of the fold in playing out roles they aren’t accustomed to.

The No. 1 defenseman needs to make sacrifices to service the ultimate goals of the team. Here’s the greatest example of that commitment on EJ’s part:

Yeah, I was at that game, and I was there to witness how that effort directly contributed to the result of the game. The Avalanche came back to win that playoff game in overtime because EJ did not quit on what seemed to be a sure goal.

He also assisted on the game-tying goal late to lead the Avalanche to overtime.

Effort marks a player’s commitment to a team, and Erik Johnson bears the brand of that commitment on defense. All other Colorado Avalanche defensive players shape their mold on EJ because he is the top-paid defenseman, and plays all facets of the game for the cause of winning.

Next: The Colorado Avalanche are Road Warriors

He is the high-water mark of defensemen on this Colorado Avalanche team, and deserves the label of No. 1.

Did I say quiet? I’ll leave you with this:

Erik Johnson may never win a Norris Trophy, but his contributions to the Colorado Avalanche are quiet, yet necessary on all levels. Without his consistent play, the Colorado Avalanche would certainly suffer in an immeasurable way.