After Tuesday night’s 6-3 loss at the hand of the Washington Capitals, the Colorado Avalanche fall to 1-2-0 and extend their frustrating start to the season. Although Nathan MacKinnon made his season debut after being kept out of the first two games by COVID-19 protocol, the team failed to capitalize on the return of their offensive talisman. Although it’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions, several alarming trends have emerged. Now, here are three takeaways and observations from Colorado’s latest disappointing loss.
Slow Start Dooms Avalanche
Colorado stumbled to an uncharacteristically slow start against Washington, as the Capitals outshot the Avalanche 19-5 in the first period. After dominating the expected goals (xGF) battle to the tune of a 91 percent share of chance quality at 5-on-5 (69.7 percent at game’s end), the Metropolitan Division mainstays easily wrestled control of the game from the visitors. Although Colorado managed to keep the attempts even for the rest of the game (22-21), the damage was done through 40 minutes, with the Capitals leading 4-2 heading into the third.
The special teams battle was kind to the Avalanche, tallying a goal on the power play and sneaking one by Ilya Samsonov while shorthanded, but it failed to make up for their lackadaisical approach at even strength. Alexander Ovechkin iced the game with an empty-netter to make it 6-3, and labeling Colorado with their second loss in as many games.
After dominating the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues in the first two periods of their first two games of the season (50-15 scoring chance differential at 5-on-5), the Avalanche hope those performances are a more accurate depiction of the team’s capabilities than the abysmal start in Washington.
Kuemper Continues to Struggle in Net
It is always difficult to replace a Vezina Trophy finalist, and even more so when adjusting to a new team and their unique strategic intricacies. Yet, Darcy Kuemper’s early returns in the Avalanche crease have been anything but promising for the Stanley Cup contenders. In only saving 34 of Washington’s 39 shots on the night, the netminder’s all-situations save percentage (SV%) fell to .889, 35th out of 52 qualified goalies this season. Further, MoneyPuck has Kuemper as the 11th worst goaltender by goals saved above expected, allowing more goals than the quality of chances he’s faced would suggest. As I note later, the defense group had its share of missteps against the Capitals, which gives Kuemper some leash for his performance, but he could not bail them out when needed.
Colorado’s performance in front of him didn’t do Kuemper any favours and while we’re reacting to a limited sample of appearances, he has not lived up to the billing to this point. Although winless on the season, if the ex-Coyote returns to the level of play demonstrated in his tenure in Arizona and the Avalanche quickly revert to their winning ways, then this early blip becomes an afterthought. It’s a long season, but dropped points accumulate quickly, and could make the difference between claiming crucial home-ice advantage through the playoffs, and a daunting visit to a postseason rival when the pressure is on.
Avalanche’s Defensive Issues Persist
For a team that ranked first in every significant defensive metric at 5-on-5 last season, the rise in defensive miscues is an alarming trend. The Capitals’ forwards found themselves clear of the defense on several occasions, leaving Kuemper out to dry and squashing any semblance of a momentum shift. The most egregious of these noticeable lapses was Evgeny Kuznetsov’s first of two goals on the night. The Russian center capitalized on a pseudo-breakaway after he split the Avalanche defense to open the scoring on a befuddled Kuemper.
The return of Devon Toews to the Avalanche blue line likely leads to an improvement in results, rejigging the deployment so that the team’s defensemen occupy more appropriate spots in the lineup. Again, it’s very early in the season and the inconsistent team sheet plays a significant role in the struggles of developing chemistry and regular patterns of communication. It’s unlikely that such an uncharacteristically poor run of form (3.91 goals-per-60 minutes — fifth worst in the NHL) continues much longer. Looking ahead, the Avalanche visit the surging Florida Panthers on Thursday, the most prolific team by goals-per-60 minutes at 5-on-5 through the young 2021-22 season.
Next game – Thursday, Oct. 21 at Florida Panthers (3-0-0; First in Atlantic Division)
Marko is an aspiring sportswriter with a passion for crafting stories while using a combination of the eye-test and (shudder) analytics, which is complemented by an academic background in criminology and political science.
When not covering the Colorado Avalanche and Pittsburgh Penguins for The Hockey Writers, he can also be found pouring countless hours into various sports video games franchises, indulging in science fiction novels, and taking long runs around his neighbourhood.