As of February 9th 2019, the Colorado Avalanche are 22-22-9 and are two points out of the second wildcard position.
The Western Conference is a mess this year, and as a result the Avalanche are just three points ahead of being the worst team in the west (a coveted position currently held by the 50 point Los Angeles Kings). Following a red-hot start to the season, there was a period of free fall in the standings that the team is still trying to shake off.
The question I’m looking to answer is simple. Two years ago the Avalanche ended the season with a historically bad 48 points. The following year, they made the playoffs. This is a team on unstable footing. A team many struggle to evaluate the threat level of. How legitimate is their current point pace, and what can their numbers tell us about the construction of the team itself? Simply, which version of the Avalanche was the real deal, the season starting spitfire team, or the midseason slumpers?
The Roster: Forwards
No matter how much you want to argue in the favour of older or more well established trios, such as the Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak line, you have to admit the adorably dubbed ‘Rocky Mountain Line’ have their shoes wedged firmly in the door. Before Nikita Kucherov‘s resurgence to claim scoring lead, Rantanen had a nice cushion on the title, but the Avalanche recent slide has pushed him back to fourth in the league for scoring.
After the top line, things get a little bit questionable for the Avalanche. Tyson Jost was recently reassigned to the Colorado Eagles, which will be a kick to Avalanche fans who were hoping to see him take big steps forward this season.
With Jost out of the lineup, the Avalanche still have J.T. Compher. Compher has 20 points in 37 games, three points away from matching last seasons total in 32 fewer games. The issue is that Compher simply isn’t enough depth.
The lack of support behind the top line means the scoring depth of Colorado’s forwards is fairly dire. Things could be worse for the Avalanche, but there still continues to be a lot to be desired. It’s all well and good to have an explosive top line featuring three NHL All Stars, but should they falter, or get burned out from shouldering so much of the scoring burden, it would be reassuring to know that the cavalry is there to lend a helping hand.
Landeskog, the lowest scoring on the Avalanche’s top line has 25 more points than the next highest scoring forward, Carl Soderberg, in case you were wondering what the drop off in scoring actually looks like.
Delving into the defence, they too can be graded with a solid ‘it could be worse’. Tyson Barrie is on pace to beat last year’s point total and set a new career high. It’d be nice to see Erik Johnson with a few more points, but coming off the fractured patella he suffered at the end of the 17-18 regular season, it’s understandable that things are taking a little while to get back up to speed.
Tyson Barrie errs on the side of the offensive defenseman, and is fourth on the team in scoring. His defensive capabilities are… questionable, but ideally there would be a strong defensive player on his other side. Sam Girard is not the player he was after the Avalanche acquired him last season, but he’s young, so there’s no need to hit panic stations over him yet.
Ian Cole was a solid pickup the Colorado that I’ve personally been impressed by, and his possession metrics have been solid over the last two seasons despite the team-shuffling. He’ll never be a big offensive guy, but he’s a solid choice for a defenseman who is steady and reliable in his own end, something the Avalanche will be grateful for given the topic of the next section: the goalies.
Goaltending is what is currently sinking the Avalanche. Semyon Varlamov is currently the best performing ‘regular’ goalie (meaning he’s played more than 10 games), but his save percentage is a painful .905%. The Phillip Grubauer experiment is failing to pay off too, is he’s seen 22 games with just a .890% between the pipes.
Pavel Francouz exists as an option, should the team get frustrated with the poor quality of current goaltending. His AHL numbers are just okay, but in the 2 NHL games he’s faced, he’s put up an impressive .943 save percentage. If the Avalanche choose to be buyers at the deadline, looking into the goaltending market would be of great benefit.
The Underlying Numbers
This team’s PDO has been through the floor since early December. Tanked largely by an abysmal on ice save percentage, it looks as though the savior of the Avalanche will have to come through an extreme uptick in the standard of their goaltending. The top line could carry the team into a wildcard spot, but if the goaltending at the other end isn’t at least possible? That’s a surefire way to fall out of playoff contention.
As far as goal scoring, the Avalanche have fallen below their expected goals for rate but are slowly climbing back up to scoring as many goals as a team with their ability should. If the bottom 6 could spark some offense, that would go a long way towards helping.
To link back to the question at the beginning, the Avalanche are a mix of the team we saw out of the gate and the current slumping team we see now. They aren’t as good as they were in October, but they’re not as bad as their current stumbles suggest. A legitimate playoff run may be too much to expect this season, but the team has a lot to look forward to for the future.
Stats from Hockey-Reference and Sean Tierney
Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals