Greetings sports fans. Eagles Desk has been on self-imposed hiatus for the past few weeks, mainly because of turning down a dead-end street where we didn’t need to be. Details are important but writing game stories isn’t why I started doing this 7 years ago. What is important is putting out information on topics that interest me as a writer and especially you as our dear readers. For Eagles fans that involves more of the big picture, where are they relative to the division and league and how did they get there. For Avalanche fans it’s about specific players and the progress they may or may not be making. So let’s get to it.
The “Friday the 13th” Effect
The Eagles had been bopping around the .500 mark most of the Fall and dealing with a barrage of injuries both to the Avalanche and on their own roster. On Friday, December 13th they played with what was more or less the intended lineup from training camp for the first time in months. Shane Bowers had returned from LBI a week earlier in San Diego and now Martin Kaut and TJ Tynan also dressed. Kaut had been out with a concussion since late October and Tynan had been with the Avs since early November. It was the beginning of a 5-game homestand and time to get down to business.
Over the next 4 weeks they got a point in every game, winning 9 and adding a couple of loser points, until the Roadrunners finally broke the streak on January 11th. Right now they are on pace for around 84 points and 20 of them came in this 11 game stretch. That’s hot, and without a couple hot streaks the playoffs don’t happen in the AHL. Due to the nature of the league very few teams roll consistently. One need only look at the Eagles performance since for the evidence with bad losses to San Jose and Stockton along with some blowout wins vs Bakersfield and San Antonio. Ok, we’re back to normal for now.
What I’m curious about is what the Eagles did well during the hot streak and whether they can carry some of that forward through the rest of the season. Here are some before/during comparisons:
5v5 goals per game
before – 1.91
streak – 2.91
before – 8.8%
streak – 13.1%
adjusted power play percentage
before – 8.3%
streak – 23.5%
before – 90.4%
streak – 93.1%
It’s also worth noting things that didn’t change much over the streak. The penalty kill was the same as always, not great. Shots for and against were steady, high-event but trending very slightly downward. Opponent 5v5 scoring actually went up a bit. The Eagles had a big outlier game with a 10-goal performance vs Manitoba (4 on the PP) so that’s skewing some numbers into unsustainable territory.
Basically it boils down to a few things. They continued their strong 5v5 play from the rest of the season, but added pace both for and against. The power play was actually solid for once. The goalies were… interesting. 6 out of the 11 games they gave up 1 goal or less but 3 times they gave up 4 or more. The only losing goal they gave up was in OT vs Manitoba so they played to the score well enough. None of these are far-fetched in isolation so it’s all stuff they can continue to do barring other issues. So that’s nice.
Since the lion’s share of questions we get about the Eagles from Avalanche fans are about the players on ELC contracts I want to focus more on that aspect. Mainly I’m going to concentrate on Shane Bowers, Martin Kaut, Nick Henry, Igor Shvyrev and Adam Werner. The rest are somewhat out of the picture for various reasons. Logan O’Connor is older and has a couple callups so he’s trending towards veteran status. Josh Anderson has been with the team all year but only plays when there are multiple defenseman injuries. Ty Lewis, Josh Dickinson and Travis Barron are in Utah, as is Brandon Saigeon who I’m not sure counts at this point.
The question many of us have is what does one have to do to get called up to the NHL, with a similar corollary question of what does one have to do to get called up from the Grizzlies. As an organization the Avs tend to treat non-bona fide NHL youngsters as more of an nuisance than an opportunity, with experience more desirable than raw talent. For a club that has repeatedly failed to draft and prepare non-1st round kids to be NHL players they have a very casual attitude towards their own prospects. On the other hand we’re still waiting for that one repressed player to blossom in another org so they haven’t been horribly wrong yet. Enough said about that, let’s talk about the players.
Nick Henry has settled into a role as a benign passenger on the 4th line. I’d say the staff have been more patient than usual with him, which is a good sign. He’s only missed 5 games, 3 with illness and a couple of healthy scratches. Not that playing on the power play would help much but his 5v5 scoring has been a bit light, especially lately with only one assist in the last 19 games. I’d say that’s a little concerning but again, the staff put him in the lineup every night so he is adding something in other ways. What’s concerning for me is the lack of shots on goal. He has only 24 on the season, barely over 2 every 3 games. This is a good indicator of his struggles with the pace of the AHL and the dependence the Eagles systems have on speed. I think it’s something he can overcome with time, he’s smart and sees the ice well, but right now it’s his biggest obstacle.
Igor Shvyrev is Henry’s linemate on the 4th and plays a very similar role. There have been some small gains over his rookie season, especially in even strength points, but overall not a lot of progress. I still wonder about his grasp of English and how that’s affecting him. His play is pretty inconsistent, sometimes strong and detailed and sometimes he goes back to being a dart without feathers. Like Henry the staff have been patient with him but that won’t last forever.
Adam Werner has definitely been a bright spot for the org this year. He’s already had an NHL shutout and earned the starter’s job in the AHL at age 22. His biggest flaw is inconsistency, big surprise, and reading his stat line tells very little about the big picture. Ok, he’s got a .910 save percentage but there’s a lot of variance. He has as many starts where he was over .940 as under .900 with a similarly inconsistent team in front of him. The next step is seeing how he deals with pace and pressure ramping up down the stretch and gradually eliminating some of the poor performances. Next season he should be one of the top starters in the league and a solid #3 for the Avs.
Conor Timmins isn’t a rookie even though he hadn’t played a professional game until this season. The Avs gave him a token pair of games before sending him to Loveland to get to work. I would say that by TOI he’s probably a 3rd pair defenseman on the Eagles but the staff use the pairs situationally so it’s not the same as a 3rd pair guy in the NHL. He’s smart and skilled and generally they try to take advantage of that. An LBI in mid-December took him out for around 5 weeks. Coach Cronin remarked recently about Timmins inconsistencies in back-to-back games and there’s evidence of that. I liken it somewhat to Martin Kaut last year dealing with a conditioning deficit that he could never get ahead of. It’s just something that he has to plow through and improve on over the summer. Unless something remarkable happens this could eliminate him from callup consideration this year. Statistically he’s 3rd among defensemen in points per game (3G/12A) and 4th in SOG per game (43), which is pretty stout for a rookie that’s not in a pure offensive role. Considering all the factors he’s having an impressive first pro season so far.
Like many Eagles players, Shane Bowers started slow. He went his first 7 games without a point and had only 4 in 14 before succumbing to an LBI in November. As mentioned above, his return helped spark the team to the 11 game point streak. Since then he’s had a 5-game point streak, a 7-game point streak and a 4-game goal streak – 7G/9A total in 18 games. My main concerns are some iffy defensive zone play here and there and his shot generation is weaker than I’d like but not awful for a rookie. He plays on the 1st PP unit and PKs fairly often. The staff seem to like him with AJ Greer even though they play the same role in the same areas of the offensive zone and usually cancel each other out but that thinking is pervasive throughout the organization. It’s worth noting that he hasn’t played much at center lately, which is fine because he doesn’t really play a center role in the o-zone or in transition and still does F3 defensively.
Like Bowers, Martin Kaut also started slow with no points in the first 7 games before sustaining a concussion. After returning in December it took another 4 games to get his first point but since then he’s had 11 in 14 games. During the point streak he was a shot generation machine with 26 over the 11 games. Since then he’s tailed off like the rest of the team but still keeps putting up assists. Right now he’s regularly on the top line (which I hate), 2nd PP unit and PK. The staff have gradually added more responsibility over the past month and he’s handled it fine.
Out of all these fellows Adam Werner is the most likely for a callup if only because he’s the only option if either Grubi or Frank are injured. Kaut and then Bowers are the next closest with Kaut getting the edge from his stronger play in all 3 zones and has more trust from the Eagles staff. Does that mean he’s next in line if the Avs need a forward? Who knows. It’s between he and Tynan and they didn’t seem all that enamored with him by the end of his stay. Kaut’s contract can slide if he plays less than 9 NHL games this year, and I think the Avs love the idea, but that’s still a wide window. I tend to think that the Avs won’t call Timmins up again this year unless they’re left with no choice.
Since the Friday the 13th streak the Eagles have settled back into playing .500 or so hockey, just with a big cushion now. Honestly they could play .500 from here on out and make the playoffs, so the margin for error is there. Coach Cronin and the staff have some things to ponder like where did all the shot generation and 5v5 scoring go, why special teams can’t get any better and how to get everyone to stop turning the puck over constantly. The next 12-game stretch is tough but once they hit March it gets easier. If they can arrive at that point at .550 or better it should be smooth sailing.
Thanks to the AHL for stats and standings and to the Colorado Eagles for the feature photo.