Colorado Avalanche Defense Cooking Up Plenty of Turnovers

Last season the Colorado Avalanche protected the puck extremely well. Over the course of the season they only gave the puck away 535 times, an average of 6.5 a game. That was good for sixth best in the league. This season has been a step backwards in that regard. Only seven teams have committed more giveaways than the Avalanche have this season. The team is now averaging 8 giveaways a game. Going from 6.5 giveaways to 8 giveaways a game might now seem that drastic of a shift, but considering some of the timing and location of these mistakes, the Avalanche are off to a terrible start.

(Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)
Colorado’s defensive woes have some people questioning the team’s playoff potential. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Colorado never had good possession numbers last season, and they were pegged for a spectacular regression this year. Their slow start is being taken as a bit of a told you so moment for a lot of pundits. The issue with that isn’t so much that the team has bad corsi numbers, it’s that they aren’t playing the same way they did last season. Varlamov has played well in the games he started, as has Berra. But the team in front of them is giving up the kind of chances that it didn’t last season.

Erik Johnson has not been the same player he was last year. In Tuesday night’s game against Florida he gave the puck up behind his own net that let Florida forward Sean Bergenheim walkout in front of the net uncontested. That was one of Johnson’s two turnovers against the Panthers. Johnson was a rock last season at the back, he, along with Tyson Barrie were the team’s big minute eaters. Their play this year though is leaving a lot to be desired. Johnson seems to be prone to the occasional crisis of confidence. Two years ago he played poorly, but last year he seemed rejuvenated and was one of the years better defenders. He is capable of playing as a real number one, which is what he is when he plays to his potential. The problem may be he’s being asked to do too much.

Ryan Wilson (Wikipedia)
Ryan Wilson (Wikipedia)

After Johnson, Barrie, and to some extent Holden based on his development last season, the Avalanche defensive core is starting to look thin. Ryan Wilson who had 2 turnovers against Florida in only 8 minutes of ice time hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and his erratic starting time has clearly thrown his game off. Patrick Roy is going to be without number 44 again Friday against Vancouver. This should be a time for some of the other veterans like Brad Stuart to step up. But he’s been a mixed bag so far. He’s shown that he’s a capable defender positionally, but his foot speed is so below average it makes it hard for him to do too much. He’d need someone to play along side him, someone quicker who can get into the corners and let Stuart be a stay at home defender. Maybe someone like Zach Redmond. Redmond, because of Wilson’s injury will get his first taste of action this season against the Canucks.

Redmond could be the help Colorado need if they look to overturn this slow start. He played well in preseason, but Patrick Roy, who seems to prefer using players more familiar with his system has held back using Redmond in games. If Redmond has begun to grasp the style of play Roy wants then he’ll be a good addition to the bottom pairings. Colorado desperately need to find depth on their back-end.

Despite what some of the analytics say, if Colorado play like they did last year they will make the playoffs. The problem now is they’re not playing like they did last year. Turnovers are the real killer for the team, not their corsi percentage. They like to hold on to the puck. It gives their speedy forwards a chance to create offense. The team just isn’t getting those opportunities now. They are too careless with the puck, both in their own end and the neutral zone. They are also not aware of where everyone is on the ice, as evident by allowing the Montreal Canadiens to score twice from players coming straight out of the penalty box. All these problems could be mental ones. Yes, the team doesn’t boast the best collection of defensive talent, but as everyone saw last year it’s not necessarily about that. It’s about taking care of the puck.

If this is a mental problem for Colorado that it’s one they can overcome. Patrick Roy is a great motivator of his players, and right now it’s clear to him that his team isn’t working as hard as they did last year. Bringing in a player like Zach Redmond might be the new blood needed to spark the team. But Redmond isn’t going to be a miracle worker. All he can do is provide depth, and lessen the burdon on some of the other defenders. Improving as a team and eliminating costly turnovers is something that everyone is going to need to work on. Otherwise Colorado will be watching the playoffs from the couch, not the bench again this April.