Colorado Avalanche: Possession Improvement a Silver Lining


The Colorado Avalanche are the absolute worst team in the league, but have they actually shown improvement in one area: possession.

For Colorado Avalanche fans, this season has been beyond disappointing. The team has gone from scratching on the door of the playoffs, to winning the Dumpster Fire of the Year Award. And yet, through the fumes of flaming garbage, you might just be able to glimpse hope.

Believe it or not, the Avs have better possession stats than they did last year, and it’s by a considerable margin.

In fact, their current CF% (in all situations) is 48.3%, which is higher than any year where Patrick Roy was the coach. That means the team is not only generating more shot attempts, but doing a better job of suppressing the other team’s offense. So why are they still awful?

The Avs can’t hit the net

Have you watched Blake Comeau this year? What about Carl Soderberg? If you haven’t, I’ll give you the cliff notes: neither of them can hit the net. Evidence can be found in this clip, courtesy of Nathan Rudolph, where Comeau absolutely biffs a slap-shot, falls down, and slides into the boards.

Does this count as a shot attempt? Yes, but Comeau looks like a beer league player taking his first slapshot here.

It seems that much of our bottom-six lacks the shooting skills necessary to be successful in the NHL, which has led to the Avalanche having the lowest shooting percentage in the league at 7.10%. Yikes.

With J.T. Compher’s call up, we’re seeing a glimpse of a future where the Avs have third-line players with good decision making, speed, and the ability to hit the net. If I were a betting man, my money would be on Sakic selling off veteran depth to the lowest bidder this off-season.

Inconsistent Goaltending

Another reason for the team sucking has come as a bit of a surprise to all of us: shoddy goaltending. Calvin Pickard is one of my favorite players on the team, and I don’t want to throw him under the bus, but the Avs currently have the worst save percentage in the league between all of their goalies at a dismal 89.37%.

Even on a good team, having a save percentage that low is going to make earning a playoff spot difficult. Between Varly’s wonky groin, Pickard’s inconsistency, and Jeremy Smith’s AHL caliber, the Avs haven’t seen the same help between the pipes they’ve had in years past.

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That said, Pickard seems to be getting more consistent the more he plays. In several recent games, his play has kept the team in the game, and he can be credited pretty heavily as one of the reasons the team beat St. Louis. Hopefully the team sees it’s goaltending situation return to form next year.

Breaking Out

First, the positives: the Avs have done a much better job of suppressing shots and keeping the puck out of their zone this year. If they can continue this, while hitting the net more and getting better goaltending next year, there should be a significant improvement in their results.

However, the team still has a weakness that needs to be remedied: a poor breakout.

The failed breakout seems to be a holdover from last season, though in a different, more embarrassing way. In Patrick Roy’s system, the breakout focused on long stretch passes from the defensive zone to try and generate offense on the rush. These long passes were low-percentage passes that were often either intercepted or missed by the recipient, leading to a turnover, or icing.

Jared Bednar’s breakout focuses on short passes from the defense to forwards, and working the puck out of the zone progressively. When it works, it can be a thing of beauty, like in J.T. Compher’s power play goal against St. Louis.

On this goal, Tyson Barrie starts to move the puck towards the edge of the defensive zone, before making a simple, short pass to Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon is able to use his speed to break into the zone and crank off a shot while Compher crashes in on the wing and cleans up the rebound.

This type of breakout should be easy to execute, but there are countless examples where these short passes are mishandled, leading to turnovers or at least allowing the opponent time to press the forecheck. This has mostly been by our veteran defensemen and bottom-six forwards, but there have been mistakes from core players as well.

Hope for the Future

If there’s anything positive to take from this season, it’ the exceptional play of our young guns and a better possession system.

Next: Four Ways for the Team to Have a Good Offseason

Bringing up more speedy players, shedding dead weight, and bolstering the team’s defense in the offseason should make the Avs a more competitive team going forward.