Avalanche at the Christmas Break: 2018 vs. 2017

Some models predict the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff chances to be around 75 percent through 37 games, others higher than 80. Regardless, it’s safe to say their 2018-19 season thus far has been quite successful.

They undoubtedly have the top line in the National Hockey League in Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, with the latter two sitting one-two in league scoring, and they are third in the NHL in goals with 129. Their power play is also among the league’s best, currently converting at a 27.3 percent clip, which ranks fourth.

Varlamov MacKinnon Rantanen Avalanche
Mikko Rantanen, right, and Nathan MacKinnon, centre, sit one-two in league scoring at the Christmas break (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

But one superb line and a strong power play can only get you so far. What about other measures of team success? It’s time to take a closer look at the Avalanche team stats at the 2018 Christmas break and compare them to their stats at this point last season.

2018-19 Stronger so Far for Avalanche

Let’s start by comparing the basics: the team’s record and goals for/goals against.

W L OTL ROW Points Point % GF GA DIFF
2018-19 19 12 6 19 44 (10th) 0.595 129 (3rd) 114 (23rd) 15 (7th)
2017-18 17 15 3 16 37 (23rd) 0.529 111 (9th) 112 (22nd) -1 (17th)

It’s pretty clear the Avalanche have done a better job in 2018-19 thus far, with more wins, points and goals for. One note of importance is that all of their 19 wins have come in either regulation or overtime (the ROW column), which could favour them should a tie-breaking situation arise.

The one area that was better at this point last season was their goals against, but only by two goals. Plus, they had played two less games by Christmas Eve. That isn’t to say this season’s high number of goals against, in which they rank 23rd, aren’t a concern. It certainly is, but it is nice to know it’s about on-par with last season when they did qualify for the post-season.

The other thing to remember is that they went on a memorable 10-game winning streak last season right after the Christmas break, going undefeated from Dec. 29 to Jan. 22. Without that streak, there would have been no playoff berth. So while they currently have a comfortable five-point cushion on the ninth-place Dallas Stars, it’s important to remember how quickly leads can evaporate.

2018-19 Special Teams the Reverse of 2017-18

2018-19 27.3 (4th) 132 (1st) 78.0 (22nd) 132 (3rd)
2017-18 19.2 (17th) 146 (1st) 82.9 (7th) 129 (8th)

This season, the club’s power play has been one of their strengths while their penalty kill has struggled, particularly at home. Last season it was the opposite when their power play was average through 35 games but their penalty kill was superb, especially considering it was just over 75 per cent the season before, their dreadful 2016-17 season when they won a total of 22 games.

A big reason their power play has been excellent in 2018-19 is unsurprisingly their top line. Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen have a combined 53 power play points thus far, the second-most of any trio in the league behind the Florida Panthers’ Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau and Keith Yandle with 56 between them.

Tyson Barrie has also been his usual self with 10 power play points in 33 games this season. Last season he recorded 30 power play points, third-most of any defenceman despite missing 14 games due to injury.

Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie
Defenseman Tyson Barrie is once again an integral part of the Avalanche power play (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

This also means their second unit hasn’t provided much offence this season. Just 10 of the club’s 36 power play goals have been scored by the second unit, or 27.7 per cent. That, however, is to be expected when your first unit is so lethal.

Advanced Numbers Also Favour 2018-19 Avalanche

There are plenty of team-related advanced metrics that can be used to predict future performance. Let’s take a quick gander at some of the more important ones.

2018-19 49.01 51.37 49.61 8.37 91.93 1.003
2017-18 47.88 47.86 46.85 8.42 92.01 1.004

All three of the shot and scoring chance metrics, Corsi For Percent (shots), Scoring Chances For Percent and High-Danger Scoring Chances For Percent have improved by about two to three per cent from this point last season. That is a positive sign because it means they are controlling more of the play at 5-on-5.

Their team shooting percentage, team save percentage and PDO (puck luck) are all on-par from last season. Because that PDO number is close to 1.00, it essentially means there aren’t any red flags.

If it were significantly above one, it would indicate a high likelihood of upcoming regression due to either an inflated shooting or save percentage, or both. If it were significantly below one, it would indicate the opposite due to a unreasonably low shooting or save percentages (i.e. bad luck). This season and last, that was not the case, which is another good sign.

Given all of the above information — the Avalanche record, goals for/goals against, special teams and advanced stats, it’s safe to say that things are going better than last season at this point. There are things to fix, including the penalty kill and secondary scoring, but without a doubt, the 2018-19 Avalanche are a legitimate playoff team.