Colorado Avalanche Must Find a Road Identity

WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 16: Samuel Girard
WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 16: Samuel Girard /

The Colorado Avalanche need to find their road identity for the last eight road games of the season.

It may seem a little late for the Colorado Avalanche to be trying to form a road identity. There are, after all, only eight road games and 16 total games left in the regular season.

Colorado could well win even six of their remaining home games — they’ve been dominant at home. They have a 70% win percentage at home, which would put them at 5.6 — we’ll just round up.

I’ve been doing a countdown. When the Avalanche had 20 games left, I prophesied they needed 26 more points to gain a playoff berth. They’ve earned eight thanks to a solid homestand and last night’s loser point. That leaves 18 more points. Let’s say they win those six at home. That still leaves six points they have to earn on the road, bare minimum.

They could get those in loser points or three regulation wins or some combination of overtime losses and wins.

However, the race for the wild card spots in the Western Conference is going to go right to the wire. The truth of the matter is that the team that takes the final wild card berth will be only a point or two above its opponent.

So, though it’s a little late in the season, the Avalanche need to develop a road identity. Taking into account who the Avs actually are, here is what that identity can look like.

Come Out Hot

The Colorado Avalanche came out somewhat flat against the Chicago Blackhawks. They’ve been coming out flat in the first period off and on for a while. I don’t have any stats, but I’m guessing they do so more on the road than at home.

And that could well support why they’re a much better home team. I don’t know if they’re feeling out the unfamiliar arena or what, but they need to stop. They need to come out with their feet moving and their blood hot. If they make a mistake because it’s unfamiliar territory, so be it. Just don’t come out flat.

Keep the New Lines

About halfway through the first period, coach Jared Bednar made an adjustment in the forward lines. He put Alexander Kerfoot with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. Nathan MacKinnon skated with Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher.

At first I wasn’t a fan of breaking up the top line. However, the Avalanche announcers made a good point — putting MacKinnon on a different line from the other top players split the defensive coverage.

Naturally, on the road the Avalanche don’t necessarily get the match ups they want. So, if the top defenders are covering the new MacKinnon line, that leaves numbers two through four for the Avs in scoring (Rantanen, Landeskog, Kerfoot in that order) to face at least a little lesser defense.

Note to readers: In case it wasn’t clear, I’m complimenting something Bednar did.

Replace Barrie with Girard on the First Power Play

Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche /

Colorado Avalanche

Tyson Barrie can score clutch goals. He’s fourth on the team for power play goals with three. But that is literally the only thing he’s good at doing on the power play. He’s horrible at keeping the puck in the zone, and he can’t defend if the power play breaks down and leads to an odd-man rush.

The 19-year-old Samuel Girard only has one power play goal ever. However, he is legions better at keeping the puck in the zone. And he makes good defensive plays. It’s not just that spin-o-rama — he makes legit defensive plays at all times, including the power play. Girard is a better defenseman than Barrie, he just doesn’t have the offensive prowess. Yet.

On the road, try Girard on the first power play unit. You’re going to have the other big guns out there in MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog and Jost. Let one of them score — which they have a better chance of doing if their defenseman keeps the puck in the zone.

Become Checkers

Forechecking and backchecking are important parts of hockey. Sometimes, it seems like the Colorado Avalanche forget that. There were a couple times last night where it seemed like Nail Yakupov was the only one willing to forecheck, which made me sad because he was skating with the Bulldog of the Forecheck, Tyson Jost.

On the road, of course, the Colorado Avalanche have the last change. They’re without their best defenseman, Erik Johnson. So, backchecking simply has to become a team habit.

And if the play should go to overtime? Check, check, check. As Bednar pointed out, the Avs lost their overtime against the Blackhawks because players didn’t check. That’s got to be part of their road identity.

Play Well 5-on-5

As I noted in a previous post, the Colorado Avalanche don’t do well with specialty teams on the road. When it comes to the penalty kill, they’re third in the NHL for allowing goals and #26 in the league for their kill percentage — 75.2%. With the power play, they’re #28 in the league with a 14.7% conversion rate.

So, the Avs aren’t going to win road games with power play goals. And they need to stay out of the box because they’re not great killing penalties either. That means they should focus on perfecting their even-strength game.

Next: Strategies for the Avs Roadie

The Colorado Avalanche are 12-16-5 on the road. That means they’re at about 44% in collecting points on the home. That would mean seven points in the final eight road games. That’s possibly enough.

However, the Avs could do themselves a solid by developing a proper road identity for the last road games.