Colorado Avalanche: Surprising the Hockey World Early

Before the beginning of the season, Colorado Avalanche head coach, Patrick Roy, said that it was his team’s goal to surprise the world of hockey. Five games into the season, it’s safe to say that the hockey world is now taking notice of what is happening in the Mile High City, and if all they’re noticing is a little shouting from the head coach, then they’re not paying nearly enough attention.

Who Have They Beaten?

That’s always a question people are eager to throw out. Sure, the team is 5-0-0, but who have they beaten? Well, aside from the Nashville Predators, the Avalanche have taken on and beaten four other teams who were all a part of the Stanely Cup Playoffs a season ago. Anaheim was second in the Western Conference, Toronto was a playoff team, the Capitals won their division and the Bruins were the runners up for the Stanley Cup. So this Avalanche team is a little bit like the new tough guy trying to establish dominance. They’ve walked into the room, picked out the biggest and strongest guys and laid them on their back side for everybody to see.

How they’ve won these games is the really impressive part. They’ve gone against the Bruins and went blow for blow, matching the physical intensity of one of the toughest teams in the league to grind out a win. Then they beat the Capitals with a high skill game and put up a ton of goals. When they need to be defensively solid, they are and the goaltending has been simply magnificent. Gone are the days that the Avalanche wilt beneath their opponents.

Numbers Speak Volumes

(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
(Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding in Colorado this season tastes a whole lot better than what we saw a season ago. This season, the Avalanche have scored 18 goals in the first five games. This is tied for fifth in the league. The Avs have had power play goals in three of their first five games and it sits at 22.2% (T14th in the league).

Scoring is also coming from all places. Currently, the leading scorer on the team is rookie Nathan MacKinnon, with six points. The encouraging part of this is that there are four other players right beneath MacKinnon with five points. A season ago, Matt Duchene and P.A. Parenteau pretty much did all the scoring, this year everybody is finding ways to chip in, including the defense. Last season the Avalanche had absolutely no offensive production from the defense. With five games played, the Avalanche defense has already put up six points. Words cannot explain how important it is to have some kind of decent production from your blue line, and the Avalanche are finally getting it.

Defense and goaltending were the biggest question marks surrounding the Avalanche coming into this season, which makes the following numbers that much more impressive. The Avalanche penalty kill was abysmal in 2012-2013. The team finished ranked 20th in the league at 80.2%, which doesn’t seem that bad but it was a tale of two teams. At home, there was no better penalty kill in the league than Colorado, but it was the exact opposite on the road. The Avalanche road penalty kill was below 70%, which is just unheard of. This season, the Avalanche have yet to give up a power play goal and are ranked atop the league. Time will tell if this continues, but they are doing all the right things.

Goaltending has been out of this world. Semyon Varlamov has four starts and four wins, with a 1.00 goals-against average and an unbelievable .970 save percentage. J.S. Giguere has one start, one win, and one shutout. Both goalies are making big saves when the team really needs them to, and are giving the team a confidence that we haven’t seen in an Avalanche goalie for a long time.

Where Can They Get Better?

(Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE)
(Timothy T. Ludwig-US PRESSWIRE)

As with any good team, the Avalanche cannot be satisfied with their early success. This record start to the season is fantastic, but Patrick Roy has to have his team keep the mindset of improving their game each time. One area the team needs to continue to improve is defensive zone coverage. Things have gotten much better already, but the spectacular play from the goalies has masked the team’s greatest weakness. Right now, the Avalanche are giving up a ton of shots on goal. At this point, the Avalanche are giving up 34.2 shots each game, good for a tie at 25th in the league. It’s a good thing to have confidence in your goalie, but at some point you still have to help him out more than this. There have been times, early in this season, that the Avalanche have looked very sloppy in their defensive end. Not getting the puck out fast enough, losing their man in front of the net, or making a few bad turnovers. Luckily for the Avalanche, the goalies have bailed them out thus far but you can’t keep putting them in that position.

The Avalanche power play is another thing that could improve. It definitely looks much better than a season ago but there have been some struggles. The main struggle has been breaking into the zone. Against Nashville and Toronto, the power play simply couldn’t do anything, but did improve and found the mark against both Boston and Washington. I hope to see continued improvement on the power play.

The Avalanche are a new team. Everybody is on board with Patrick Roy and the new coaching staff and the wins are coming quickly out of the gate. Offense has improved, goaltending has been brilliant, defense is playing better and the team is convinced they can win. They’ve gone up against some of the league’s best early in the year and have an unblemished record. This team has earned each and every one of the points they’ve taken home, and it looks like there will be many more. The Colorado Avalanche wanted to surprise the world of hockey, who knew it was going to happen so fast?

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