Colorado Avalanche Must Solidify Defensive Pairings

Nov 13, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) in the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 13, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie (4) in the first period at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche can’t get adequate defense if the coaching staff keeps changing the defensive pairings.

Recently I wrote about how the Colorado Avalanche lack team chemistry. This could well be a team-wide problem. However, chemistry is absolutely essential for defensemen.

Defensemen in today’s NHL have such a wide-reaching job. It’s no longer enough to simply stop — or at least slow down — the opponent team. Defensemen must also be good puck movers. Being able to jump into the play and score a few goals is an added bonus.

With all of those tasks on their plates, it’s tough being an NHL defensemen — that’s probably why good ones are such an expensive commodity. Likewise, because of all those tasks on their plates, it’s essential that defensemen have stability in their pairings.

When you look at a good defensive pairing, it’s like music. They flow with seeming lack of effort. They support each other and seem to skate in unison.

Important to that scenario is chemistry. Defensive pairings are a partnership even more than forward lines are because there are only the two players.

The Colorado Avalanche have seven defensemen on the roster:

  • Erik Johnson
  • Tyson Barrie
  • Fedor Tyutin
  • Francois Beauchemin
  • Eric Gelinas
  • Nikita Zadorov
  • Patrick Wiercioch

During this season, we’ve seen all manner of pairings on the ice. That’s detrimental to the team. They must solidify the defensive pairings.

Let’s look at how the defensive pairings can work for the Colorado Avalanche.

Top Pairing

Some Colorado Avalanche fans don’t consider Erik Johnson a true #1 defenseman. I disagree, but that’s not important. Like it or not, Johnson is our cornerstone of the blue line.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Johnson has had a merry-go-round of partners with the team. In recent years, it’s mostly been “vets” — or old guys by NHL standards.

This season, Johnson has been paired with Nikita Zadorov off and on. Zadorov is a big, fast skating defenseman with offensive upside. He’s also undisciplined — he simply takes too many stupid penalties.

You know who doesn’t take a lot of stupid penalties? Erik Johnson. At 28, Johnson is in the prime of his career. He can teach Zado about being a big, fast-skating defenseman who doesn’t take a lot of bad penalties.

Together, they make about half a ton of hockey player with legit skill. It’s a defensive pairing worth giving some extra time to develop.

Second Pairing

If Erik Johnson is the cornerstone of the first pairing, Tyson Barrie is the anchor of the second. It’s been that was for the last three seasons.

We all know about Tysin Barrie. He’s a speedy little guy who’s more rover than defenseman. Ie., he’s happiest — and best — when jumping into the play.

Barrie is a pure offensive defenseman, light on the defense. This season he’s been paired with an offensive defenseman, Francois Beauchemin, who’s heavier on the defense. This is good for Barrie.

Though it hasn’t been completely consistent, this pairing makes sense.

Bottom Pairing

The bottom pairing has long been a revolving door. The Colorado Avalanche has never solidified what this should look like.

Right now Patrick Wiercioch is the cornerstone of the bottom pairing, and that’s probably a good place for him. Who his defensive partner is depends on any given night. Recently it’s been Zadorov, but he’s also skated with Fedor Tyutin and Eric Gelinas.

If Zado is back on the top pairing, I’d like to see Gelinas permanently replace Tyutin on the bottom pairing. Tyutin is a good shut-down guy, but Wiercioch also plays a defensively responsible game.

As I remarked in a previous post, Gelinas has more long-term upside that Tyutin because of their ages — 25 vs 33.

Unfortunately, it appears the Colorado Avalanche don’t think so. Not only do they adore anything that came from the Columbus Blue Jackets organization — as Tyutin did — but they placed Gelinas on waivers Thursday. He cleared, but that can’t bode well for his chances with the team.

Next: State of the Avalanche

In the end, whatever the pairings are, they need to become solidified. The Colorado Avalanche aren’t a good defensive team under the best of circumstances — and changing up the d-pairs every game isn’t the best of circumstances.