10 Avalanche Stats From The First Month of 2021-22 Season

After applying consecutive offensive destructions, the Colorado Avalanche officially marked the end of October, and now head into the second month of the 2021-22 season. The early returns indicate that the Avalanche won’t cruise through the regular season again, and face an uphill battle to reclaim their place atop the NHL’s Western Conference. Now, let’s dig in to a few statistics and storylines which defined Colorado’s first month of play, and discuss which trends may be a minor blip, and which may continue through to the end of the year.

10 Avalanche Statistics From First 12 Games

It was difficult, but I managed to pare down this collection of statistics to a tight 10. I chose the ones which offer the most insight into how the season has gone so far, and predicting how the team may fare as the season progresses. From goalie troubles to underrated contributors, this list has it all.

1. Avalanche Goalies Struggling Early

The recurring theme of Colorado’s early struggles is sub-par goaltending performances. According to Natural Stat Trick, the .897 save percentage (SV%) in all situations belonging to the Avalanche’s net-minding tandem of Darcy Kuemper and Jonas Johansson ranks 26th in NHL. No matter how strong the rest of the team happens to be, poor goaltending sinks one’s fortunes rather quickly.

Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche
Darcy Kuemper, Colorado Avalanche (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Unsurprisingly, Kuemper (47th) and Johansson (68th) both find themselves in the bottom half of the NHL’s goalie contingent in goals saved above expected (GSAx). For an organization which entered the 2021-22 season with Stanley Cup aspirations, that’s just not going to cut it come playoff time. On Colorado’s side is that 12 games is an extremely small sample of appearances, and that their results should normalize with time. Can they afford to cross their fingers and hope?

2. Avalanche’s Ice-Cold Power Play

When a team that boasts a cornucopia of offensive talent in Nathan MacKinnon and his band of merry men, having the 26th ranked power play in the NHL is massively underwhelming. On top of an appalling 15.2 percent conversion rate, the team is only generating 6.25 expected goals per-60-minutes (18th in the NHL) with the man-advantage, meaning they’re not even creating enough chances to suggest that the power play is due for some positive regression. I’ll chalk this up to a frequently incomplete lineup for now, but it’s something to follow heading into November.

3. Byram-Makar Pairing Offers Glimpse Into Avalanche Future

Driven by necessity, head coach Jared Bednar threw together a pairing consisting of two of Colorado’s prized blue line stars in Bowen Byram and Cale Makar, and has seen his gamble pay off handsomely. In over 82 minutes, the pair has posted the seventh-highest share of expected goals (xGF%) at five-on-five among defense pairs who have played a minimum of 75 minutes together. Surprisingly, they’ve been more effective on the defensive end than in attack, conceding the fifth-fewest rate of expected goals among the same group of qualified pairs. The tangible results haven’t shown up in the standings, but the Avalanche can be sure they’re set on the blue line for the next decade.

4. Nazem Kadri’s Premier Playmaking

With Colorado’s top center in MacKinnon only playing eight if the team’s first 12 games, they’ve had to find offensive contributions from elsewhere. Luckily, Nazem Kadri is having a bounce-back season and leads the team with 14 points. Driving his success is his playmaking and vision, as his eight primary assists (A1) in all-situations is tied for third in the entire NHL.

His production isn’t connected to increased playing time either, as Kadri ranks fourth in primary assists per-60-minutes, and 13th in points per-60 among skaters having played at least 100 minutes this season. Now that fellow early-season surprise J.T. Compher is set to join MacKinnon on the injury list, Kadri can expect to be fed heavy minutes in a primary scoring role. Is a career-high in points in his future?

5. Avalanche Facing Significant Injury Troubles

I’ve alluded to it several times now, but the Avalanche have been bitten by the injury bug in the early going. According to NHL Injury Viz, Colorado has suffered the seventh-highest cumulative injuries when adjusted for the cap hit of their missing players. It’s difficult to foster chemistry and cohesion when prominent figures are unavailable, and their collective return could vault the Avalanche back into the NHL’s upper echelon in due course.

Key contributors in Valeri Nichushkin (nine games), Devon Toews (nine games), and MacKinnon (four games) have all missed more than two games through the first month of play. Colorado’s been left significantly understaffed, needing to juggle a rotating cast of replacements who have enjoyed varying levels of success. If the Avalanche can stave off the detrimental impact of mounting injury troubles, they can pick up steam as they head into the playoffs. That’s a big if.

6. Trade-Bait Girard Ignoring Rumours

Samuel Girard has become a regular presence in trade rumours as Colorado’s scoring troubles suggest they may need reinforcements. Mix in Byram’s emergence as a top-four defenseman and Girard has quickly been made expendable. If he’s unnerved by the rumours, he isn’t showing it.

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The miniature blueliner has scored eight even-strength points (third in the NHL), and is producing the second-most points-per-60 (PTS/60) among all defensemen. He’s also managed to rescue his on-ice results from unfamiliar depths, now treading above 50% in shot- and chance-share at 5v5. It makes him easier to trade, but is this one deal that the Avalanche could come to regret?

7. Logan O’Connor Producing Under the Radar

For all of the consternation surrounding Colorado’s supposedly reduced forward depth, they’ve elevated several underrated bottom-six contributors. Logan O’Connor represents the latest of those players, and has thrived in a more expansive role for the Avalanche this season. His six points in 12 games ranks 10th on the team, and he’s been a short-handed threat as well, tallying two points on the penalty kill.

His rate stats point to a breakout star in the making, and one who deserves a greater offensive leash. He ranks sixth in 5v5 shots per-hour (SH/60), 24th in his rebound creation rate, and 15th in his high-danger shot production. There’s always some apprehension with rate stats exaggerating results in a small sample, but O’Connor is continuing his efficient output from last season. Put him down as one to watch.

8. Avalanche Penalty Killers Are Regular Scoring Threats

Very few teams have embodied the modern shift to a more proactive approach to the penalty kill than the Avalanche. Rather than sit back and remain content with sending recovered pucks down the ice, Colorado has implemented a strategy which emphasizes threatening unsuspecting power-play units. The team’s three short-handed goals are tied for first with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, and offer the Avalanche another reliable avenue of attack. Compher, O’Connor, and Darren Helm have each tallied a goal while down a man, contributing to Colorado’s 83.9% kill-rate which ranks 11th in the NHL at the moment.

9. Tyson Jost, the Penalty-Drawing Machine

In being selected 10th overall by the Avalanche in the 2016 Entry Draft, Tyson Jost‘s NHL future role was thought to be a top-six center who slides in behind MacKinnon on the depth chart. After only 91 points in 274 career games, that is no longer the case for Jost, but he’s adapted well to become a crucial utility man further down the lineup.

Jost leverages his shiftiness and chippy play to aggravate opponents, and he sits second in the NHL in 5v5 penalties drawn per-60-minutes for his efforts. He doesn’t just give his team’s right back either, as his plus-5 penalty differential (six drawn, one taken) is tied for third among all skaters this season. His ability is a valuable asset in putting the team’s offensive stars on the power play, an unheralded skill that is almost as important as actually scoring the goals.

10. Colorado’s Underlying Numbers Remain Strong Despite Record

Even with a reduced cavalry and a middling record of 6-5-1, the Avalanche have retained their identity as a strong possession team at five-on-five. They’ve maintained a 53.7 xGF%, account for 55.2% of scoring chances (SCF%), and 55.9% of high-danger chances (HDCF%), all top-half rates. The actual goals haven’t matched their underlying numbers (only 49%), but the process is sound. If they don’t abandon their tactical game plan, they should reap the rewards before too long.

The Avalanche have won four out of their last six games, and are slowly returning to their Presidents’ Trophy form of last season. The statistics that I’ve listed suggest that Colorado has been the victim of bad luck, both health-wise and in terms of on-ice results. My money is on Jared Bednar’s men to continue climbing up the standings, and hit top gear as the playoffs approach. However, as has already been proven beyond a doubt, it’s foolish to assume anything about the NHL this season.

Data courtesy of Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference, MoneyPuck, and Natural Stat Trick. Statistics accurate as of November 15th.

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