Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets

Pressing question: Are the Avs for real?


One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Colorado Avalanche went from being second worst team in the NHL to Central Division champions in the span of just one season.

That’s remarkable under any circumstances, but especially when you factor in that the team didn’t change substantially over that stretch beyond the addition of rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon and, the man that’s received most of the credit for the turnaround, coach Patrick Roy.

At the same time, certain indicators have left people wondering if the Avalanche are playing above their heads and in danger of coming back to Earth.

One of the big reasons for that fear is that, from an advanced possession statistics perspective, Colorado is roughly the same team that finished in the Western Conference basement a year ago.

Teams have a tendency to dismiss those statistics and some fans might find them confusing, but basically Corsi and Fenwick are a way of gauging puck possession by looking at how many shots are taken (including those that miss the net). Corsi also includes blocked shots whereas Fenwick doesn’t. The idea is simply that if you’re controlling the puck, you’re controlling the game and that will lead to more long-term success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs found this out the hard way in 2013-14, as their horrid Corsi/Fenwick numbers eventually caught up to them and they collapsed. Colorado isn’t nearly as bad in that regard, but the team is near the bottom of the pack.

Toronto: Corsi 42.1 percent (29th in NHL), Fenwick 41.5 percent (29th in NHL)

Colorado: Corsi 47.4 percent (25th in NHL), Fenwick 46.8 percent (27th in NHL)

All stats courtesy Extra Skater

The way the Avalanche have overcome that deficiency is through strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov faced 2,013 shots in 2013-14, which is 125 more than any other goalie in the NHL. If he wasn’t also one of the league leaders in save percentage — he finished third, at .927 — there’s a good chance Colorado wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So is that it then? Colorado might have some defensive weaknesses, but Varlamov is capable of covering them up? Well, maybe not. For one thing, Varlamov has very little playoff experience and none since 2010, so the man at the center of the Avalanche’s success is an X-Factor just based on that.

Additionally, the Avalanche are dealing with the loss of Matt Duchene and two-way forward John Mitchell, which might exacerbate the issues that have been laying beneath the surface.

In the end, the best counterargument to the Avalanche’s shortcomings might be pointing the finger at the team they drew as a first round opponent: the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in shots on goal per game in the regular season, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild also aren’t leaps and bounds better than Colorado from a Corsi perspective (48.2 percent, 23rd in the league). Had Colorado been forced to play against Chicago, St. Louis, or even Dallas, it would be an entirely different story, but given that Minnesota is a team that has puck possession issues of its own, that red flag in the Avalanche’s game might not be exposed.

The flip side is that this question won’t be put to rest with the Avalanche beating them. Getting past Minnesota would lead to them facing a team that might be far more qualified to exploit Colorado’s weaknesses.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

Goalie injury wave hits Boston, Subban recalled on emergency basis

Malcolm Subban
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The injury bug that’s sweeping NHL creases has hit Boston.

Ahead of Tuesday’s home tilt against the Wild, the Bruins — without the services of Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin — goalie recalled Malcolm Subban from AHL Providence.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to Khudobin, who played in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Montreal. Rask, who hasn’t suited up since Thursday’s win over New Jersey, was absent from practice with no clear word on what his ailment is.

All this points to Subban, 22, potentially making his second career start tomorrow night against Minnesota. The former first-round pick’s had a nightmare start to the year in Providence, going 0-3-1 with a 4.50 GAA and .846 save percentage.

“I don’t know if he’s where he wants to be or where we want him to be,” head coach Kevin Dean said, per the Journal.

As mentioned above, Boston isn’t the only team dealing with goalie injuries at the moment. The L.A. Kings are without Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff, forcing No. 3 netminder Peter Budaj into the starting role.

The Coyotes have listed injured starter Mike Smith as week-to-week with a lower-body ailment, the Penguins are still without Matt Murray (hand) and Nashville had to play without Pekka Rinne on Saturday night, as he dealt with a bout of food poisioning.

‘Lots of try,’ but Coyotes still winless on tough road trip

New York Rangers' Josh Jooris, right,reacts after scoring past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of the NHL hockey game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Two more games and it’s over.

Two more games and the Arizona Coyotes can go home.

The ‘Yotes lost their fourth straight road game Sunday in New York, falling 3-2 to the Rangers. They play at New Jersey tomorrow and at Philadelphia Thursday. Then, mercifully, the six-game trip will be done.

“We knew this was going to be a tough trip,” head coach Dave Tippett said, per the Arizona Republic. “We were going to find out about our team. Every game we find out a little more. There’s some areas that are improving. There’s some areas that still need lots of work. We got lots of players that are getting good experience right now.”

The Coyotes actually played quite well in New York. The game was tied, 2-2, until Dan Girardi scored early in the third. Arizona ended up outshooting the Rangers, 29-26.

But a 1-4-0 record has the Coyotes in last place in the Pacific Division. It’s an early hole for this young team, with five rookies on the roster, including three teenagers. And even when they finally get home, tough games await against Colorado, San Jose, and Nashville.

“Lots of try in our group. Lots of try,” Tippett said. “But we’re giving up three goals a game now. We gotta find a way to be better defensively.”

Arizona’s next opponent, New Jersey, isn’t the most offensive team in the league. In fact, the Devils rank dead last in scoring, with just eight goals in five games. And the Flyers haven’t been all that great either.

So perhaps the Coyotes can still salvage something from this trip. It’s been a tough one so far, but end it on a high and the flight home will be that much more enjoyable.

Related: The Coyotes are in a tough spot

Isles bring back Steve Bernier on two-way deal

NEWARK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25:  Steve Bernier #16 of the New York Islanders skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on September 25, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Islanders 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After attending training camp on a PTO, Steve Bernier has signed with the Isles.

On Monday, the club announced Bernier had agreed to a one-year, two-way deal, which gives him a second go-round with the club. Last year the veteran forward caught on with the club and proceeded to score six points in 24 regular-season games, and appear in six playoff contests.

A former first-round pick, Bernier’s deal comes with the Isles dealing with a few injuries up front — Shane Prince is currently week-to-week with a lower-body injury, and Mikhail Grabovski is out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.

The Bernier deal could also give the Isles flexibility with their two 19-year-old rookies, Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal, as both are eligible to be returned to junior (and the Isles would prevent “burning” a year on their entry-level deals if they do it before the nine-game threshold.)

That said, Beauvillier is off to a terrific start, with five points through five games. Barzal has been less effective, dressing just once.



With three straight wins, the Oilers have ‘responded well’ to the Buffalo debacle

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Oscar Klefbom #77 of the Edmonton Oilers congratules Cam Talbot #33 on his shutout against the Winnipeg Jets during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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The Edmonton Oilers improved to 5-1-0 with Sunday’s outdoor shutout of the Jets. They’ve now won three straight since getting embarrassed, 6-2, at home by the Sabres, leaving head coach Todd McLellan quite satisfied with the response he’s seen from his group.

“I thought we started the season sloppily and (still) won games,” said McLellan. “We gave up a lot of opportunities and chances. We were very sleepy and casual against Buffalo, and we went after the group pretty hard. But after that, we responded well, and we played three pretty good teams over the last little bit and played the game a lot better.”

Since the debacle versus Buffalo, the Oilers have beaten the Hurricanes, Blues and Jets, all in regulation. Goalie Cam Talbot has been excellent, improving his save percentage on the season to .919. Over the past three games, it’s been .970.

“I think it started after that Buffalo game that none of us were happy with obviously, so we knew we had to address some things after that,” said Talbot. “We came out Tuesday hard against a tough Carolina team, got a 3-0 lead and kind of let them back in the game there. We talked about it again after that game that we’re going to have to tighten up when we do have these leads, and Thursday was a big win against St. Louis going 1-1 into the third, getting a lead and then holding onto it. And then tonight we took it to another level (with a 3-0 win).”

There are still concerns, to be sure. At five-on-five, the Oilers rank 23rd in Corsi, per Natural Stat Trick, and that’s often a better predictor of success than a team’s record. Overall this season, the Oilers have surrendered more shots (199) than they’ve registered themselves (173).

So while happy, McLellan was careful not to spread the praise too lavishly.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do, and when we do, we seem to have a goaltender that makes some pretty good saves, which is nice to have,” he said. “But we’re a growth team. I wouldn’t consider us a championship team or anything like that right now. We’re still a growth team. We’re learning how to do things.”