The Colorado Avalanche have some work to do. Luckily, they have a handy break to focus on these areas of improvement.
The Colorado Avalanche have a weird schedule that saw them play a back-to-back, have four days off, play another back-to-back, then have another four days off.
In those consecutive back-to-backs, the Avalanche recorded only three out of eight points. They squandered the lead four times. (Three times in a game alone — and that’s not counting the five consecutive goals Calgary scored.)
What’s more, the Avs have a tough stretch of five games that sees them playing Connor “McJesus” McDavid as their weakest opponent. So, this current four-game hiatus really isn’t so ill-timed. It might steal some of their momentum but, let’s face it, they don’t really have any right now.
Instead, they need to regroup. Colorado will have at least two, if not three, practices to re-work some areas that have failed them recently.
The Colorado Avalanche started out so strong on defense. They were backchecking. They were controlling rebounds. They were disrupting passing lanes. They were blocking shots.
They were also minimizing errors. When an Avalanche player would make an inevitable defensive mistake, it would be just the one. He’d bounce back and return to the tight play that characterized Colorado’s defense in the first half-dozen games or so.
That level of defense started slipping in the Ottawa Senators game and was completely invisible by the Calgary Flames game. You only have to look at the number of shots allowed in each of the last two games — 37 both times — to know defense has gotten lax.
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Colorado Avalanche goalies have to face a lot of shots. The team can tighten up the defense all they want. However, Colorado has always favored a run-and-gun game, and such a style leaves goalie open to being shelled with shots.
We already see that the Avalanche defense allowed first Semyon Varlamov then Philipp Grubauer get shellacked with 37 shots. On average, they’ve faced just over 33 shots per game this season. Those numbers don’t account for shot attempts. While these don’t force a goalie to make a save, they do force him to be ready — which takes its own toll.
Well, if you’re an Avs goalie, you just have to deal with that situation. Varlamov and Grubauer have done so at times, but there were definitely stretches in the last couple games where they should have been a little stronger.
I mean, Colorado scored a total of 11 goals in the last two games. That should be enough for at least one win.
Ok, it’s gut-check time. Is the current inception of the Colorado Avalanche a team that can make a run at the Stanley Cup — or even a particularly deep playoff run?
The correct answer is no, not yet. The team has the building blocks to be a Cup-contending team, but we shouldn’t be even fantasizing about late-May hockey at this juncture.
What does that have to do with line combinations (and defensive pairings)? We need to see the big picture, which is not a win-now scenario. GM Joe Sakic has been stating for the last couple years that he’s going to let the youth grow up together and become that winning team. He’s provided exactly those building blocks.
The message seems to be getting lost in translation with coach Jared Bednar, though.
What needs to happen is that the coaching staff needs to focus on what the team identity is and work toward it in a big-picture manner. Said staff needs to distinguish the building blocks from the space maintainers.
For example, the first line is set. Even if one of those players eventually drops to the second line to generate scoring, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen are the building blocks of the top-six.
Sheldon Dries is not. Colin Wilson is not. Matt Calvert is not. Marko Dano is not. Not long-term anyway. So, whenever one of the preferred top-six is healthy, he needs to be in the lineup at that role. He needs to be developed into that role.
The same applies to the defensive pairings. We all know Conor Timmins and Cale Makar are expected to make big contributions to the team. However, we can’t control either player’s fate right now.
Among the current defensemen, Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov need to be seen as top-four material. You know who’s going to lead them into those roles? It ain’t Mr. Ian Cole Come Lately. It’s Erik Johnson. I don’t care how many Stanley Cup rings Cole has, he’s not our captain of the blue line. He’s not the alternate captain, Johnson is.
In other words, he has no business on the top pairing with Girard. None. He has no place there. He is not, as Bednar so recklessly declared, the Avalanche’s “best defender.” I’m going to say it outright — saying that is downright stupid. Backing that statement up by starting Cole on the first pairing is criminal.
Sam Girard is in a crucial phase of his development. He spent the entire preseason and first 13 games as cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson‘s partner. The two had their chemistry. Disrupting that is… well, I already said it — stupidly criminal. And it didn’t even work.
(In case you’re wondering, I have the fancy stats to prove my point. Girard and Johnson together are 50.16% CorsiFo. Girard with Cole is 44.19. Big difference.)
Keep your eye on the prize, Jared.
Anyway, the Colorado Avalanche will start practicing today after having returned from Canada yesterday. Time to get some of these bugs worked out.