For all the talent that Colorado had last season in their forward core, their power play was mostly ineffective. Newly departed players like Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn were some of the Colorado’s better power play specialists. They’ve left, but they’ve been replaced by the likes of Carl Soderberg, and Mikhail Grigorenko. Colorado had the 29th ranked power play last season, they finished in the bottom half of the standings.
Having the best power play isn’t going to guarantee the Avalanche a Stanley Cup. Last season the team that won the Cup had the 20th ranked power play. Obviously that Chicago team does a lot of other things really well, like have one of the best defenders in the sport, so they don’t need to rely on the power play as much. Inversely, the fifth ranked power play last year didn’t even make the playoffs. That was Columbus. Obviously having a good or bad power play isn’t the recipe for success or failure, but Colorado was 29th. They don’t have the ability in other areas of the ice to survive in the brutal Central division if they don’t score more on the power play.
A New Line Up
The departure of O’Reilly and McGinn leaves a hole in Colorado’s special teams. Over the last five years both players had the best points per 60 on the power play for the Avalanche. Colorado need to find a way to reproduce those numbers. However, Colorado made one important acquisition that should be a big help to their power play numbers. That’s Soderberg. While O’Reilly may have led Colorado in points per 60 on the power play, Soderberg’s numbers from his time in Boston eclipse O’Reilly over the past five years.
Soderberg will be on one of Colorado’s two power play lines. He’s a creative playmaker who should thrive with goal scorers like Jarome Iginla, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon. Even new comer Grigorenko should get time on the power play. He never played that role in Buffalo, but under Head Coach Patrick Roy, he scored 22 power play goals in the QMJHL for the Quebec Remparts.
Players like Duchene and MacKinnon had poor seasons last year. Both players combined for 5 power play goals last season, a number that Roy would surely like to see increase. Gabe Landeskog and Iginla both had 8 goals apiece on the power play, but after that there is a drop off. Even O’Reilly and McGinn, who put up real good numbers on the power play in the last five years only managed 3 goals between them on the man-advantage.
It seems hard to believe that such talented forwards would be so ineffective, but it was something that happened all season. With new talent to work with in 2015-16, Colorado’s goal scorers will need to start scoring again. There were some players last season that did their part, Landeskog and Iginla were two, though compared to the big names in the NHL their power play scoring looks relatively small. Tyson Barrie had been a premier offensive-defenseman last season. He led the Avalanche in power play assists last year with 14.
If Colorado’s core players are able to play more like the 2013-14 versions of themselves it will fix a lot of the problems with the powerplay. Two years ago the team had the fifth ranked power play, and they won the Central division. Better performances from better players will mean that Roy is less likely to dig deep on the bench and try throwing players like Cody McLeod out there. McLeod is a fan favorite, dear to many Avalanche fans, but the power play is one place he should rarely ever be.
A major problem with Colorado’s power play last season was how they played. More specifically, how they had trouble setting up plays in their own end because they spent too much time playing dump and chase. The question here is whether or not that dump and chase style of play is a result of a crisis of confidence among a struggling team, or a strategy employed by the coach. If it was the former then that is something that should resolve itself if the team improves. If it’s the latter then that is a problem for another article to look at. Assuming it’s just a confidence issue, where forwards are worried about turning the puck over then perhaps some of the new talent on the team could be available to help.
Soderberg, as previously mentioned, has shown he can be a creative player capable of setting up plays. Along with Barrie, and forwards Duchene, Landeskog, MacKinnon and Alex Tanguay; the Avalanche have no shortage of players capable of carrying the puck into the offensive zone. They also need to shoot more.
Dumping the puck in and not putting the puck on net often enough resulted in a lot of easy clears by opposing penalty killers last year. Next year the team needs to worry less, and trust their abilities.
Last off-season it seemed like everyone in the Central division got a lot better, while Colorado seemed to stand still. Colorado received a nasty wake-up call last year, and responded by making steps to improve the team. The Central division is still an unforgiving gauntlet, and Colorado are getting ready to run right through it. There are a lot of things Colorado need to do well to survive this time, and remembering how to score on the power play is one of them.