Colorado Avalanche, Zadorov Injury Is A Microcosm Of Defense

Jan 14, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) controls the puck in the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 14, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) controls the puck in the second period against the New Jersey Devils at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov was recently concussed by a huge hit from Tom Wilson. But the position Zadorov put himself in is a perfect example of the Avs defensive failures.

First, I want to state the obvious: we never like to see anyone get hurt, let alone a promising Colorado Avalanche prospect. Add in the fact that the injury is a continually-climbing-the-scary-scale concussion and it’s awful that Zadorov was so obviously injured on the play. But checking is part of hockey, and unfortunately that means injuries will happen, especially if players put themselves in vulnerable situations.

Regardless, the hit is below if you haven’t seen it yet. As a person who watches and coaches a lot of young hockey with dangerous hits, I can tell you this one was ugly.


Anyways I don’t plan on getting into the legality of the hit, or whether that should or should not be considered a legal hit. Because the unpleasant fact is Zadorov essentially lined himself up for this hit.

First of all let’s talk about his position on the ice. The most basic forechecks in the world of hockey tend to be premised off this exact play: have one player steering the puck carrier behind his own net, preventing a reverse or D to D, and then use the net as a screen so the second forechecker can check the puck carrier right off the inside post.

It’s a great system because the net keeps the D from making any decent passes, and by the time he gets around the post to actually be able to make a play, he’s going to get hammered if he still has the puck. It’s a forecheck I run with my 13 and 14 year olds, and occasionally down into the non-checking ages. And among all the variations of forechecks in the world, it’s one of the most common setups in hockey: hit the defenseman right as he turns the corner.

The reason we don’t see hits like this every game, if ever at all, is because defensemen have been seeing this forecheck for about 10 years by the time they reach the NHL, if not much longer. That’s why defensemen, even at the age I coach, know to ring that puck around the boards if they feel pressure from both sides behind the net — otherwise it’s a death wish and a turnover.

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Yet not only does Zadorov not utilize any options to beat the forecheck, such as a reversal or a drop pass for Carl Soderberg, he doesn’t even have the awareness to protect himself by ringing the puck around. In fact, Zadorov actually makes himself more vulnerable by lowering his head to reach for an escaping puck.

And it sucks for Zadorov as it is, I’m not trying to kick him while he’s down or imply he’s a terrible defenseman. But I think the play is pretty indicative of the entire Colorado Avalanche D smarts after the top pairing. This lack of awareness, such basic awareness that I can’t comprehend it, from a professional defenseman is mind boggling. But it’s something that’s become common place for the bottom 4 D, no matter who they are on any given night.

And it’s not just Nate Guenin and Nick Holden and Zach Redmond. Even Tyson Barrie makes passes to nobody in the defensive zone frequently. And the game-winning goal from the outdoor game is still burnt into my mind as Barrie threw a blind pass up the middle of the ice in the D zone (which you learn not to do pretty much the first day you ever put on skates). The entire defense has a lack of awareness with and without the puck that is truly incredible.

We’ve known it all along to an extent, all the times an opposing player has stood wide open on the backdoor as Holden stands in front covering nobody has been well covered by myself on this site. Or when multiple defensemen cover the same forward on the back check… the Colorado Avalanche defense has continued to be laughable this year (and, no, blocking shots doesn’t count as defense).

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But usually we (or at least I) tend to think of Barrie, even Holden and Redmond, as decent puck-moving defensemen. This season has changed my perception dramatically. Barrie has an unbelievable amount of unforced turnovers, Redmond has failed to clear the zone on multiple occasions, and now we have Zadorov who has somehow made it into the NHL without acquiring awareness as to the most dangerous place to be carrying a puck in the D zone.

The skill of the Avalanche defense is something we talk about a lot, but this year really opened up my eyes to something that I had never previously noticed: there’s not a lot of smarts back there either.