Four games into the season and the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t the only team surprising in the Western Conference. The Colorado Avalanche‘s hot start to the season is one that has Avs fans around the world excited. The team is scoring and, more importantly, keeping the puck out of their net. But how much of this is the actual team and how much of this is just a good four games.
Shining Start – Colorado Avalanche Hot Start Giving Fans Hope
So far the Avs have been in every game. This includes their only loss to the upstart New Jersey Devils. Had they not given up three powerplay goals the score would have been more indicative. The shorthanded goal against also didn’t help. Aside from that one game the Avalanche have looked really strong. They’ve beaten two teams most people pegged to make the playoffs in convincing fashion. Two wins against the Boston Bruins and one against the now lowly New York Rangers have vaulted the team into second place in the division, only behind the St. Louis Blues.
Maybe the biggest surprise is the defense so far. The pairings that coach Jared Bednar has utilized so far have looked strong and are holding down the team. Giving up only two goals at even strength through four games is always promising. Erik Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Nikita Zadorov and the surprising Patrik Nemeth have shut down some of the strongest lines of the year so far and made it look easy. The third pair, which has changed almost every game, has also held their own. Chris Bigras and one of Mark Barberio and Anton Lindholm have been solid, averaging over 12 minutes each this season. Overall there can be very few complaints about the blue line.
The goaltending has also kept the team ahead with three strong performances by Semyon Varlamov. He looks like himself again and might have put himself back in the possible Vezina Trophy conversation as a dark horse if he can continue. His 1.67 goals-against-average and .945 save percentage probably won’t stay where they are. But an improvement over last year will definitely help the team.
Of course we’d be remised if we didn’t mention the contribution of the forwards. Through four games nine different forwards have a goal and 10 have points. They have scored 14 of the teams 15 goals and this is all without Nathan MacKinnon, preseason favourite to lead the team, scoring a single goal. He has contributed four assists though.
The leaders so far have been the “second line” of Matt Duchene, off-season pick up Nail Yakupov, and college free agent Alexander Kerfoot. The trio is responsible for six of the teams goals, while looking very quick and dangerous every time they touch the ice. Of course, everyone in the NHL world expect Duchene to be traded sooner rather then later so the chemistry might disappear. But for now, Avalanche fans should be excited from what they see.
The first line of MacKinnon, Sven Andrighetto and Mikko Rantanen are holding their own as well. With four goals split between the pair and the only powerplay tallies, the combination of skill, size and speed has proven a tough stop for some strong defenses. MacKinnon looks just as dangerous as he did last year, and a full season alongside Rantanen should boost his offensive production.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the forward core is the third line of Gabriel Landeskog, J.T. Compher and Tyson Jost. The captain has taken on the third line role and run with the two youngsters. They have turned into a fairly strong shutdown line despite their lack of experience outside of Landeskog. If they can add a little scoring similar to the Nazem Kadri line in Toronto, they have the makings of a very strong season ahead.
Its four games in but there are signs that the start is not sustainable for the Avs. Even strength they have been good, but not great. With seven of their fourteen goals coming at five-on-five is a good mark. Its is even better considering their expected goals for is 7.82, so they only missed out on one real scoring chance at even strength.
On the flip side they have gotten a little luck and some stellar goaltending. They have only given up two even strength, five-on-five goals so far. Although they were expected to give up 7.71 goals against so far, which if true would put them almost even. If they continue to get Vezina-like Varlamov then this could last, but it is highly unlikely.
The biggest worry is the special teams. The powerplay has looked less than scary, converting only three of 17 opportunities, an 11.8% clip. The penalty kill hasn’t looked much better, operating at a lowly 66.7% so far this year. If the Avs want the start to continue they are going to need to remake the special teams.
The corsi numbers are another story as well. The Avs are producing well above the corsi number they have, which is currently at 47.02% at five-on-five. The difference is they are converting their scoring chances as mentioned above. Their corsi-for percentage currently ranks them 24th in the league. This doesn’t bode well for the future if they can’t limit the shot attempts. Of course, if Varlamov continues at his current save percentage (once again, highly unlikely) it won’t matter.
With all the numbers, the Avalanche starts looks like an anomaly. They are producing right where they should offensively, but will most likely let in more goals the rest of the way. For Avalanche fans it is a sign of optimism though. The future is starting to look bright again with so many youngsters getting their opportunity. If they can continue to play a quick and smart game, this team may surprise people this season even. Playoffs are very likely out of the question. But maybe they don’t finish in the bottom three? We will have to wait and see.