Avalanche First Quarter Snapshot: Not Bad!

In the salary cap era we’ve seen a trend that teams in playoff spots by Thanksgiving, or more or less one-quarter of the way through the season, have about a 75% success rate making the cut by the end. Good news, the Avs are in a playoff spot and that’s not all either.

Record

Right now the Avs are in the 1st wildcard spot with 26 points in 21 games. With the Pacific Division being a total dumpster fire the assumption is that 5 teams from the Central ought to make the playoffs and by merit that should happen. The thing is that those crappy Pacific teams haven’t been through the heavy divisional part of the schedule yet and that can throw a wrench into things if one of the bottom-feeders gets hot. We’ll see.

Looking strictly at the Western Conference the Avs are 4th in points, 4th in points percentage (which no one looks at, but they should), are 2nd in goal differential and have the 2nd fewest regulation losses. I like goal diff as a general bellwether of how a team is playing in general and what we’re seeing there is that there are 8 teams at even or better and then a big gap to all the others. The only outliers are the horrible Ducks who have a -16 diff but are 3rd in the division and Arizona who are even and quite a ways out of a spot but with 3 games in hand on Anaheim. My wild prediction is that the Duck will drop out at some point this year and either the Yotes or Oilers will sneak in. The Kings and Blues are so far out at this point it’s hopeless for them.

After 21 games last year the Avs were at 24 points, the difference now is that they’ve managed to turn two regulation losses into OT/SO losses. That may not sound like a lot but if that turns into an extra 6 or 8 points in April it gets significant.

Scoring

Colorado leads the Western Conference with 78 goals (3 more than Calgary) and 3.71 per game (0.3 more than Calgary). Last year after 21 games they had 70 goals so this is impressive stuff. Also, even though they have the league’s top power play they aren’t relying on it. Their 2.9 goals per hour at 5v5 leads the Western Conference by a fair amount over Nashville at 2.78 per hour.

Something interesting comes up when looking at league scoring rates. Eight out of the top ten teams in GF/60 at 5v5 are from the East. Also eight out of the ten worst teams for GA/60 are from the East. We’re seeing a bit of a divergence, one conference is high-event and one is not. Next time you look at the pace charts put that into your evaluation. One thing that skews those charts is that they are score-adjusted, which means that events that happen while the score isn’t close are taken out. The problem here is that the time is not. What this does is make teams that are ahead/behind by more than a goal in the first two periods or not tied in the 3rd seem to have less pace than those that aren’t. The Avs score a lot on the PP and spend the 3rd least time at 5v5 per game anyway so saying they’re low-event is specious and quite possibly wrong.

The Avs have only given up 62 goals compared to 65 last season and are 3rd in the West with a 2.28 goals against per hour rate at 5v5. Last year at this time we were seeing the staff try to suppress everything, now they seem to have hit on how to suppress the opponent slightly more than they suppress themselves and it’s worked out ok for the most part.

Special Teams

As of today we have the best power play by percentage (32.9%) and 2nd best by goals per hour (11.8) behind Winnipeg. At this point last year the PP was 10th at 18.2%. PP scoring in general seems to be rocking since 5 teams are better than where the #1 Bolts were after 21 games last year at 27.2%. Last year he median team in 16th was at 19.7% and this year it’s 20.3% (in both cases it’s Edmonton if you like weird coincidences). Yay offense!

The PK was in a deep funk at this time in 2017, 26th in the league at 76.5%. Of course they went on to finish top 5 so things can change. Right now we’re 14th at 80.5%. I’d love to see some analysis whether the power play percentages rising is from offensive play getting better or PK’s running out of tricks.

Shot Metrics

Guess what? The Avs still aren’t a “possession team”. Most aren’t. There are only 6 teams at 52% (Corsi or expected goals) or above and it doesn’t have any correlation to scoring or points in the standings. For the record their Corsi for percentage is 47.88 and their xGF% is 48.05, if it matters to you. The two numbers that I found to be indicative of success at the end of last year seem to work this year too. Those are goals per expected goal, which the Avs are consistently top 5, and expected goals against per hour, which the Avs are currently 9th. GF/xGF works well on the PP too and the Avs are just as good in that situation. xGA/60 also works well on the PK and when the Avs are doing well in that regard they tend to be high there.

The Avs are never going to be a volume shooting team but they can develop scoring chances that fit their strengths well and do that consistently and sustainably. They will also never fit the narratives of the sleepyheads on the East Coast that don’t watch them either, so don’t take it personally. Jared Bednar’s system isn’t completely optimized at this point but it works and it still has upside.

Individual

Let’s do some year over years for fun.

Mack 2017: 7G/18A
Mack 2018: 14G/17A

Mikko 2017: 6G/13A
Mikko 2018: 8G/26A

Hey, that is fun. Mack has doubled his goals and Mikko doubled his assists.

Landy 2017: 9G/8A
Landy 2018: 13G/10A

I guess Gabe isn’t as good of a passenger as Mikko is.

Barrie 2017: 2G/15A
Barrie 2018: 2G/17A

EJ 2017: 1G/6A
EJ 2018: 2G/7A

A subtle but noticeable improvement for both veterans.

Kerfoot 2017: 7G/8A
Kerfoot 2018: 4G/13A

Soderberg 2017: 3G/6A
Soderberg 2018: 7G/8A

Wilson 2017: 1G/4A (15 games)
Wilson 2018: 6G/3A (20 games)

It’s funny because Kerf is shooting more but has less goals and a ton more assists. Carl’s been hot lately since the staff gave him some offensive help but that’s a big jump. Wilson has been healthy and a role finally so he’s made some big strides.

Girard 2017: 2 assists in 7 games
Girard 2018: 9 points in 21 games

Jost 2017: 2 points in 6 games
Jost 2018: 7 points in 17 games

Kamenev 2017: 1 bad injury in 4 short minutes
Kamenev 2018: 2G/3A in 16 games

Sam’s role has increased a bunch and he’s getting PP time now so a 50% increase is a good payoff. Jost’s improvement isn’t as obvious but it’s there and he’s been much more productive recently. Kamenev is a solid addition and seems to be ready to take on more.

Aside from those fellows you have Andrighetto who hasn’t been healthy and doesn’t have the time on the top line buoying his numbers. Compher has been hurt for all but 5 games. Z has played more games but in a different role. Nemeth has played the same number of games but has half the points. Barberio has a third of the games and a third of the points. Nieto has the same points in 4 more games. Bourque has 3 points in 19 games as opposed to 0 in 7 last year. Sheldon Dries has added 2G/2A in his rookie season.

Goalies

Last year after 21 games Varly was 7-4-1 with a .903 save percentage. This year the record isn’t quite as good at 7-5-2 but the save percentage is all the way up to .925. Jonathan Bernier was 4-4-1 with a .901, Phillipp Grubauer is 4-1-2 with an .896. So Varly’s played a lot better but doesn’t have the results to show for it and Grubauer hasn’t played as well as Bernier but the results are much better. I know, I don’t get it either.

 

This is a better Avs team than it was a year ago. The experience of the rest of last season helps and some of the personnel changes have really paid off. I guess the biggest worry is consistency because it’s still not there. Last year’s team needed a 10-game win streak plus a huge 9-game points streak in late February and early March just to grab a playoff spot on the final day. The key is not needing that or using hot streaks to make a move on the 3 teams in front of them rather than to stay on the bubble. It’s going to be fascinating to see how they confront the next 30 games or so leading into the 10 day break at the end of January.

 

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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