In the 2011-12 season the Colorado Avalanche won more regular season games than the Stanley Cup winning Los Angeles Kings. In the end, they were separated by seven points. Their respective seasons could not have been more opposite. Whilst the Kings swept all before them, the Avalanche were confined to another season without playoff hockey. It was the first time in the franchise’s short history that they had missed the playoffs for back-to-back seasons. The conundrum that coach Joe Sacco and every single Avalanche fan will have pondered since 7th April is how playoff hockey will return to Colorado next season. For me, there are several critical success factors that will make or break the Colorado Avalanche quest for the playoffs.
Win More Divisional Games
The Northwest division teams went to town against the Avalanche in 2011-12. A 8-14-2 record demonstrates how poor Colorado were against their divisional rivals. Even the Edmonton Oilers, who finished bottom of the group, had a better record in divisional games. The Calgary Flames who finished two points above the Avalanche had a 15-6-3 record and it would be that statistic which would differentiate the two teams.
Less Shots on Goal from the Opposition
Semyon Varlamov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere were busy goalies last season. Varlamov faced 1564 shots over the 53 games at 29.51 per game compared to Stanley Cup goalies Quick (27.00) and Brodeur (24.95). It is worth noting that Giguere faced 850 shots over the season at 26.56 per game. A more robust defensive showing from the Avalanche would protect the goalies. Even the goalies of bottom of the league Columbus Blue Jackets faced less shots per game than Varlamov.
September 4th may prove, in years from now, to be a defining moment in Avalanche history. Naming Gabriel Landeskog as the youngest captain in the teams history is a brave but necessary move. Some players buckle under the pressure and some thrive. At 19 years and 286 days, Landeskog was 11 days younger than Sidney Crosby when he was named captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Landeskog’s first season in the NHL was a landmark one with a Calder Trophy win to top off a record breaking start to his Avalanche career. Even more amazing is that he featured in every regular season game.
Take More Games to Overtime
A quick analysis of results shows that 11 games would be lost by a single goal. Clearly, taking 8 of them to overtime would have taken the Avalanche to 96 points. 8 of those games were against their Northwest division rivals and, therefore, compounds the point made earlier about divisional games. It is also worth noting that 7 of those defeats prolonged multi game losing streaks.
When will the real Semyon Varlamov turn up?
As a follower of Varlamov’s career, it is still a mystery as to why he isn’t more effective. At the Washington Capitals he was part of a triumvirate of goalies that couldn’t exist on the same team. The Capitals decided to go with the Vokoun / Neuvirth partnership and traded Varlamov.
Clearly, the terrible tragedy in September 2011 involving the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team weighed on Varlamov for a while. Not only being an ex-player but the possibility of being traded back to Lokomotiv, before the Avalanche came in for him, would play on his mind. Off performances would see his early season blighted by being benched and replaced by his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winning mentor, Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Varlamov was part of the 2012 World Championship winning team and was leading goaltender (.939). That is not the record of a poor goalie and it’s only matter of time before the real Semyon Varlamov shows the NHL his potential.
I think that the gap that Colorado need to plug isn’t huge for them to get into the playoffs once the season starts. In fact, there is much for the Avalanche fans to be excited about. The team has plenty of young players, like Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, who will form the nucleus of a Landeskog driven team. However, Joe Sacco’s fourth season must deliver otherwise a change of coaching direction is required at the Pepsi Center. Whenever the season starts, the Colorado Avalanche manangement need to address their problems to bring success back to the franchise. I’m not saying that they can, necessarily, emulate the Kings and bring a third Stanley Cup to Colorado but once you’re in the playoffs and you build momentum….