After finishing last in the West, and missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season, it’s easy for any semblance of a positive thought to quickly be replaced by anger, frustration or worse, indifference. So I am going to take a different approach and do my best to keep this post as positive as a can. I’ll state the facts with as little judgment as I can bear, and focus my attention on analyzing what we did well this season, and how we can improve upon those things to make the playoffs come May.
Overall Record: 16-25-7
The Bad: The Avs only won eight games against teams that did not make the playoffs. We lost ten games against those same teams as well. It’s no wonder that we finished dead last in the West. (Record against non-playoff teams 8-10-3)
The Good: We won an equal number of games against playoff teams! Granted, we did lose almost twice as many games to those same teams, but it’s a start. We beat the LA Kings and the Vancouver Canucks, in a shortened season where every game counted, two of the strongest teams over the last two years. (Record against playoff teams 8-15-4)
Record by Month:
The Bad: The Avs had a sub .500 record in each month of the season. March was particularly tough with ten losses in regulation, one in OT, and only one win.
The Good: The home opener against the LA Kings in January was a huge win to start the season (more on defining games later in this post). There were key games throughout the season that showed massive potential in the lineup. Games that proved we really aren’t too far off from being a contender, again.
3.12 Goals Against Average 2.38 Goals For Average
Goals For By Period- 1 2 3
30 44 37
Goals Against by Period- 1 2 3
53 58 34
The Bad: The Avs were outshot heavily in first and second periods. It makes it tough to win when your goals-against average is nearly ¾ of a goal per game more than your goals-for average.
The Good: Slow starts were often met with higher scoring second periods. And third periods saw the Avs actually outscore their opponents. Playing better as the game progresses is always a good sign.
56.3% Win% when scoring FIRST
21.9% Win% when scored on first
Ranked 13th in the league in Shots-Per-Game Average
Ranked 9th in the league in face-off wins @ 51.1%
30.4% Win% when outshooting opponent
33.3% Win% when being outshot
The Bad: Colorado ranked among the league’s best in shots per game, but only managed 2.38 goals per game. High number of shots divided by low number of goals scored makes for a poor shots-to-goals ratio. This tells me shots are being taken from low scoring areas on the ice, which they were (more on that in the summary). The Avs struggled to win games in which they were scored on first, and did not have much of an advantage when they happened to light the lamp first. The last stat sticks out to me more than any other on this list. The Avs had a higher win percentage when they were out shot than when they out shot their opponent. Meaning, even when playing well, defense was nowhere to be found.
The Good: Winning face-offs is key to maintaining puck control and getting shots on net. It is even more important in the playoffs. We ranked pretty high in shots per game. As Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” So peppering your opponent’s goaltender with as much rubber as possible is always a positive. If the Avs can move the puck to the middle of the ice and get into high scoring areas, this team could be an offensive powerhouse. To win 1/3 of your games after being out shot shows resilience. If the team can start better by not giving up so many first period goals, never mind first goals, they have a real shot at winning half or more of those games.
Power Play and Penalty Kill:
12.5% PP @ Home
17.6% PP on Road
91.3% PK @ Home
69.2% PK on Road
68 more minutes on the PK than PP all season
The Bad: Well this one jumps right off the page doesn’t it? Penalties taken on the road absolutely killed the Avs this past season. The power play was better on the road than at home: this seems Bass Ackwards. Only scoring 12.5% on the power play at home is kind of embarrassing. And it’s worst in the league. It’s tough to keep pucks out of the net when you combine two things:
- Playing 68 more minutes on the PK than the PP and
- Your PK only works 69% of the time, on the road.
The Good: 17.6% PP on the road is mid pack for the NHL. 91.3% PK at home is tops in the league. Kudos to Sacco on implementing an aggressive penalty kill. Killing off penalties can give a team a major boost of momentum. If the Avs can repeat what they did last year on the PK at home, and mimic that same effort on the road, the wins column ought to grow substantially.
We are young. At least, this is what most of the evidence points to. We play poorly on the road. We give up early goals. We get out shot, but manage to win. We out shoot our opponent yet, we find a way to lose. We are nearly impossible to score on at home on the penalty kill, and we’re a sieve on the PK away from Pepsi Center. We outscore our opponents in the third when the game is already beyond winning. We feed off the crowd when we play well, and we’re flat when the crowd is taken out of the game. We are incredibly inconsistent. We are young.
But being young comes with distinct advantages. Sometimes the naivety that it is entirely possible to beat the reigning Stanley Cup Champions on your first go is more important than X’s and O’s. Maybe being down by a few goals early is what it takes to ignite that fire inside to compete. And it’s possible that showing a playoff juggernaut that you refuse to quit no matter how hard they hit you, is what defines your character.
January 22, 2013 Colorado Avalanche vs. Los Angeles Kings, Pepsi Center
Everyone was excited for the season to finally get under way. Gabriel Landeskog wrote a letter to fans that was handed out to all in attendance for the home opener. In it, he thanked the fans in Denver for their continued support and apologized for the lockout, “We do not take lightly the responsibility of ensuring that your experience exceeds the level of passion and enthusiasm that you provide our sport, team and players on a daily basis.” Boy did the crowd respond. I don’t think I’ve heard a stadium any louder than Pepsi Center was that night. It rivaled the Stanley Cup Finals I was lucky enough to attend when Anaheim beat Detroit. The energy from the stands emanated onto the ice and the Avs brought a physical game to the Kings they simply were not ready for. Colorado stayed in their lanes, clogged the neutral zone, and frustrated the reigning the champs. They broke out of the zone with speed on almost every possession and drove hard to the net. It was a team inspired. The Avs eventually broke the dead lock with a 3-1 win and saluted the crowd in victory. It was a passionate performance, fueled by the Pepsi Center fans.
The top two lines played lights out, even without Ryan O’Reilly. There was no checking line; every line was a checking line. Forwards back checked: D men stepped up at the blue line. Varlamov proved that if he can see it, he can stop it. The entire team put on a display that showed their true potential. They flat out played the LA Kings. “It was unbelievable,” said Landeskog. “I think this was the best crowd I’ve played in front of at the Pepsi Center. It just feels great. To be away for so long and to come back and to see so many fans here and how loud they were and how into it, I think it felt like they missed us just as much as we missed them.” The Avs showed they can play with anyone. The goal now is to remain passionate, excited, game in and game out. To play well consistently is something that is learned over time.
February 28, 2013 Colorado Avalanche vs. Calgary Flames, Pepsi Center
I hadn’t even sat down before I heard the horn blowing from the rafters. It’s never a good sign when you hear the horn, but failed to hear the cheers that ought to precede it. The Avs were down 1-0 just like that. I took my seat and within three minutes Cammalleri had made it 2-0 Calgary. Pepsi Center fell silent. Not much happened after that, as both teams played flat. Calgary had control of the game, and our young Avalanche team had seemingly given up. An uninspired effort left our defense in shambles, chasing the puck out of position, and created huge gaps in the slot. Jarome Iginla snuck in and made it 3-0 with only 54 seconds left to play. Nothing stings more than giving up a goal in the final minute of play. As the Avs took for the dressing room the crowd at Pepsi Centered let out a unifying BOO that steadily grew louder until Sacco disappeared into the locker room.
Colorado has underestimated their opponent. They had come out flat. They played disorganized and over-skated the puck on nearly every break out through neutral ice. The crowd seemed in dismay. The energy that had resonated through every person’s chest a little over a month ago was gone. All four referees sprinted onto the ice, accompanied by silence. Fans were so disgusted with their team they didn’t even have it in them to boo the referees, myself included.
Luckily, Landy said something in that locker room and the boys came out flying. O’Byrne scored five minutes in, and Jones scored five minutes after that. The passion was back and the Avs were flying. Pucks were cleared high off the glass to streaking wingers that carried their speed over the blue line for a quick shot on goal. Trailing forwards skated hard to the net until the whistle blew. Once it had, they jawed with Calgary’s defensemen and created havoc in front of Joey MacDonald. The team that played the LA Kings was back.
Calgary added their last goal off the stick off Iginla at the sixteen minute mark, and both teams headed into their locker rooms with the game at 4-2. But it didn’t feel like 4-2. The Iginla goal had little, to no effect, on the crowd and the team played on as if it hadn’t even happened. Intermission had a certain buzz about it. The puck dropped and found its way to Landeskog, who made no mistake, and buried the puck just 23 seconds into the third period. Everyone could feel the possible come back in the making. Things quieted down when the turnovers started happening again. Perhaps, the excitement of being so close was too much to keep pucks from bouncing over sticks. Leave it to Landeskog to keep the train moving. He fired a shot that was saved initially by MacDonald, but the rebound deflected off of Stastny’s skate as he drove hard to the net. The goal stood and Pepsi Center was rockin’ again.
It was loud for the rest of the game. Parenteau sent a pass across to McGinn who fired a hard shot that left a juicy rebound. Duchene was flying to the front of the net and put the rebound past MacDonald at the half way mark of the third period. The comeback was almost complete. All the Avs had to do now was hold on. Thankfully, they decided not to hold on, and instead went for more. The aggressive play showed confidence in a young group of players that finally believed in themselves. They could beat the LA Kings fresh off their Stanley Cup Parade, and they could come back from three goals down to score five goals in a period and a half. This was a team that wasn’t going to sit back and let Calgary back into the game. This was a team that had sniffed out a wounded opponent and was going for the kill.
April 5, 2013 Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings, Pepsi Center
The Avalanche came into the game in last place overall, losing 11 of their last 13 games. The Red Wings were looking to extend a 21 consecutive year playoff berth. Everyone expected Detroit to show up and lay it on the limping Avalanche to extend their season. No one expected one of the best games of the season for Colorado. Datsyuk started off the scoring in the first, a quintessential slow start for the Avalanche that allowed Detroit to put one on the board early. The game was controlled by the Red Wings and their puck possession type play. Colorado had spurts here and there with speed up the boards, but too often it resulted in a bad angle shot that Jimmy Howard deflected to the corner.
Colorado caused a turnover, a pass from David Van der Gulik connected with a sprinting Mark Olver up the middle. No one could catch him as he came in one on one with Howard and buried it. The game was tied up at one, and the atmosphere in Pepsi Center immediately changed to a feeling a hope and encouragement. “Go Avs, Go!” was the chant as the referee dropped the puck at center ice. Colorado took possession of the puck only to turn it over in their end. Gustav Nyquist picked up the loose puck and slipped past JS Giguere a mere thirteen seconds after Olver’s goal. The score remained 2-1 Detroit until the start of the third period.
Colorado came out flying in the third. At one point the Avs held an 11-1 shot advantage, and ended the period 16-6 in shots. The tying goal came on the stick of PA Parenteau off a beautiful pass cross ice pass from Jamie McGinn at 6:29 of the third. Things started to get a little chippy as the game progressed into the final minutes. With 3 seconds left, McGinn took a head man pass off the right wall and gained center, Niklas Kronwall had been lining him up since his break out turn and leveled McGinn with a questionable hit that sent both men to the ice. Time expired, and the horn sounded. The Colorado bench was furious that no penalty was called after they were forced to kill a borderline Tyson Barrie penalty late in the game. It seems that the Wings always get those chances late in games.
Overtime started the same way as the third. The Avs came out skating hard and finishing their checks. They seemed unfazed by the Kronwall hit. Detroit wasn’t going without a fight either, as they desperately needed the extra point for their playoff hopes. The clocked slowly ticked down as the crowd seemed to hold their breath for the entirety of the overtime period. Twenty seconds left and the face-off was in the defensive zone. Colorado wins the draw and the puck goes behind the net. Zetterberg races after it and beats Barrie to the puck. As he hit the top of the circle he threw the puck to the net with Datsyuk in the area. Datsyuk missed the pass, but in the confusion Giguere was unable to cover the puck. Datsyuk poked the rebound home to give Detroit the win was only 15.4 seconds remaining in the game.
The Avalanche are able to play with the best of them when they want to. Youthful exuberance and the belief that you are good enough to beat anybody goes a long way. Beating LA in the home opener is a prime example. It’s easy to stare down at the other end to see Jonathan Quick and think “how am I gonna beat that guy?” as we saw all throughout the 2011-2012 playoffs. The league’s top scores started missing high and wide trying to place the puck in too perfect a spot. Colorado brought speed and toughness into the game and it proved highly effective. They drove wide with speed to stretch the ice and threw every puck to the net they could muster. They created rebounds and sent them to the back of the net.
They fell behind early against Calgary, but never gave up. Landeskog lead the charge with speed, hitting, and shots on net: a very deserving captain for this team. His energy seems to resonate through the bench and he elevates his teammate’s play. The Avs came back to score five goals to win the game and proved their scoring ability by doing it all in a period and a half.
Detroit proved to be a tougher task. They were no doubt the better team going into the game. But, tell that to the Av’s players. After coming off a horrible stretch of games that saw them lose 11 of 13, Colorado gave it all they had. They punished Detroit at times, showing that this rivalry is still very much alive. No one backed down from the fight. Even after Jamie McGinn was trucked by Nik Kronwall at the end of the third, no one backed down. The Avs responded by not retaliating, instead they kept it clean and finished their checks like they had all game. That level of maturity seemed to be lacking previously in the season.
All of these traits leave me with a positive feeling for the Avs going into the 2013-2014 season. We did a lot of things well, and more importantly proved that the pieces are in place to compete. While there are still questions on defense (MacKinnon vs Jones. Evaluating Sakic’s Decision), I think they can be overcome with the current roster. This is a team whose best defense is a good offense. And with the addition to Nathan MacKinnon on the third line, we have depth up front. If Varlamov can be more consistent in net, the Avs have a realistic chance of making the playoffs this season. He’ll have to stand on his head at times, but the best goalies in the league steal games for their teams when they have to.
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