Anyone who has watched the Colorado Avalanche in the past couple of weeks has seen some concerning signs. The team has been outplayed, outscored and out hustled. Both the goaltending and offensive effort appear suspect. Are the Avalanche in danger of crashing down to mediocrity, or worse yet, ineptitude?
Losing Four of the Last Five Games Raises Concerns
In the last five games, the Avalanche have won just a single game. Two weeks ago the team was competing for a first place spot in the Central Division and Western Conference while sitting fourth in the NHL. Since then, the Avalanche have fallen to third in the Central, fifth in their division and ninth in the NHL. What a difference a few games make.
In the last five games, Colorado has been outscored by 10 goals. Arguably one of the more potent offenses in the NHl, including the top line of Nathan MacKinnon-Gabriel Landeskog-Mikko Rantanen, have been out hustled and outscored by an average of two goals per game.
Goaltending has Struggled
Part of the problem rests with the goaltending. Both Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer have been – leaky. For the season, Varlamov is 24th for his save rate while Grubauer is 49th. As for average goals allowed, Varlamov ranks 28th and Grubauer is 50th. Those are not impressive numbers for a team aiming to go deep into the postseason. And the goaltenders precipitous fall-off in the last month should raise serious concerns. Are the players injured? What is Jussi Parkkila (the goaltending coach) actually doing to address their newfound tendency of allowing soft goals?
The goaltending has not been the only problem with the Avalanche though. Special teams, normally a strength for the team, have been disjointed.
Special Teams Fell Apart
Colorado allowed two short-handed goals against in the last five games, one of which cost them an overtime win. They had only allowed one in the previous 29 games.
In the four losses, the special teams proved to be poor in other areas as well. The power play only scored three times in 18 opportunities. That’s a huge drop and moved the team from first to third in power play prowess. In five games. That’s not good.
And while the Avalanche struggled to score on the power play, the penalty kill fell apart. Colorado allowed six goals in 13 short-handed situations over the four losses. That’s nearly half the time. The penalty kill struggled so badly, the Avalanche fell to 23rd in the league. They were 13th less than two weeks ago. That’s stinky bad. The penalty kill was one of the team’s strengths last year. One has to wonder what happened.
Each of the Five Games Tells a Story
Regardless of the reasons, the Colorado has looked unprepared to play a full 60 minutes throughout the last five games. A quick review of the team’s struggles highlight some of the issues.
Against Tampa Bay one has to wonder if Colorado failed to adjust their clocks for the eastern time zone. The Avalanche surrendered six goals in the first 30 minutes of play, leading to Varlamov being pulled from the contest. The Avalanche looked so disjointed it appeared the Lightning implemented the mercy rule for the remainder of the contest. It was a dismal affair and showed the Avalanche were not yet ready for top tier competition.
When the Avalanche hosted Edmonton, Colorado didn’t score a goal until after 36 minutes had elapsed in the game. They were down 5-1 before they looked capable of launching any attack and then it was too little too late. The Avalanche pulled Varlamov midway through the contest and outshot the Oilers but still never really looked dangerous.
The St. Louis matchup didn’t go much better. The Avalanche made the 28th ranked team look like an imposing foe. The contest really turned into a comedy of errors when the Avalanche garnered a power play in overtime only to turn over the puck to former Avalanche player Ryan O’Reilly who promptly scored the Blues overtime winner. The Avalanche need to win the ‘easy’ games as points will only get harder to come by. Making the Blues look like a dominant hockey force should have been a wake-up call.
It looked like the Avalanche learned their lesson when they opened up the next night at home against the Dallas Stars. Colorado skated their way through a dominating first period performance that saw the Avalanche score five goals, two of which were overturned on review. Colorado launched 20 shots on net in the first frame and then appeared to rest on their laurels. The Avalanche allowed a resilient though struggling Stars team back in the game.
They were outscored 2-1 in the second period and then gave up two more goals in two minutes in the third, allowing Dallas to tie the game. Colorado was able to respond in the final minutes to get the win. But the team allowed yet another opponent to get momentum in a game. The Avalanche had dominated earlier yet again made it hard on themselves to get the win.
One would think the Avalanche would have responded with a resounding push against the New York Islanders, a 17th ranked team still struggling to find their identity. Colorado was at home, they were coming off a big division win, and they had the opportunity to regain some momentum. But no, the Avalanche looked like the visiting team who ran out of gas midway through the contest. Down by three goals entering the third period, Colorado managed only eight shots on goal, finishing a disappoint night with another loss. That’s not a comeback effort. That’s just ugly.
Fortunately, the Avalanche still have time to right the ship. There’s time to tweak the goaltending and repair the special teams. The real questions about the disjointed play and the apparent lack of effort over long blocks of time, though, can only be addressed by the coach and players. It’s time for Colorado to dig deep. They have to start winning games at home and winning against weaker teams. The points will only get harder as the season progresses and teams start playing for their postseason lives. The Avalanche have had their wake-up call. Now it’s time to see how they adjust.