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Colorado Collapse: What’s eating the Avalanche?

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Typically, the U.S. Thanksgiving break serves as a solid benchmark in the NHL for which teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

For this year’s Colorado Avalanche, a peek at the standings on the final day of November would prove that Colorado was tied with Nashville in points atop the Central Division. But since Dec. 1, the Avalanche are 7-15-3 (17 points), which is the worst mark in the league. Here in early February, they’re on the outside looking in, two points back of Vancouver in the Western Conference wild card race, after the Canucks defeated them 5-1 on Saturday.

Here’s a deeper look at how the Avalanche problems have (ahem) snowballed:

Top Heavy

Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen make up arguably the best line in the game. Entering Colorado’s matchup with Vancouver over the weekend, the trio had combined for 199 points (79 goals, 120 assists) after all three had been named All-Stars. But head coach Jared Bednar split them up for the Canucks game, looking to spread a bit of the wealth. Alexander Kerfoot started on the top line in Landeskog’s spot along with MacKinnon and Colin Wilson, while the Avalanche captain played left wing on the second line with Carl Soderberg at center and Rantanen on right wing. It lasted less than 20 minutes, as Landeskog, MacKinnon and Rantanen were reunited by the end of the first period after Colorado had fallen behind 2-0.

Since the start of December, Landeskog (26 points), MacKinnon (30) and Rantanen (31) have combined for 87 points. During that span, all other Colorado forwards have combined for 69 points. Outside of the big three and Soderberg – who has a career-best 17 goals this season – the Avs have struggled to produce up front. That lack of depth will make it difficult for them to turn things around and make a playoff push.

Power Play

Through Nov. 30, the Avalanche had the best power play in the league, with the man advantage clicking at a whopping 31.4 percent, or 27-for-86 in 26 games. In the following 25 games since Dec. 1, Colorado has 20 power play goals, despite 18 more power play opportunities (20-for-104). While it is unreasonable to expect that the Avs would have continued their torrid pace from earlier in the year, the dip in production on the man advantage helps explain why Colorado’s overall goals per game has slid from 3.73 through November (tied for best in the league with Tampa Bay) to 2.92 since.

Goalie Struggles

Colorado has allowed three or more goals 33 times in 51 games, so defensive structure has certainly been an issue this season. Still, the Avalanche has also failed to get big saves from either of their goaltenders. Since early December, Semyon Varlamov is 4-8-2 with an .875 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average. That save percentage is the worst among all netminders who have played at least 10 games in that span.

Philipp Grubauer – who was signed during the off-season to a three-year, $10 million deal – hasn’t been any better with a 3-5-1 record, an .878 save percentage and 3.68 goals against average during that same stretch.

After regulation

Get this, the Avs are 1-7 in overtime this season and 0-1 in shootouts. Those are precious points they’ve left on the table in a conference with playoff spots ripe for the taking.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Avalanche, also owns the Los Angeles Rams. On the bright side, if the Avs get just three points, they’d be back in the playoffs.

PHT Morning Skate: Where rats are now parachuting to the ice in Florida

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

George Richards of the Miami Herald gets this great photo of one of the Panthers’ iconic rubber rats floating to the ice with a makeshift parachute. You rock, Panthers fans. (On Frozen Pond)

Daniel Alfredsson might be back for Game 6? At home? To close out the Rangers? Time to bite your nails New York fans. (Ottawa Sun)

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says the Sharks are out of the playoffs because they beat themselves. Brian Elliott might disagree with that a bit. (CSNBayArea.com)

The Bruins may have lost Game 5 but at least Brad Marchand responded to being moved to the fourth line to start. (CSNNE.com)

Joe Haggerty says the reason the Bruins are on the brink today: Braden Holtby has been better than Tim Thomas. (CSNNE.com)

The Caps went from being the high-flying, high-scoring all-around fun team to the blue collar team that many in D.C. can identify with. (CSNWashington.com)

One reason why Detroit is out: No support for Jimmy Howard on the goals he allowed. (Detroit Free Press)

The Norfolk Admirals lost a game for the first time in over two months. 29 straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. (Lightning)

Avs governor, and son of owner Stan Kroenke, Josh Kroenke says he’s happy with the progress the team has made. (Denver Post)

Columnist rips Avs’ home record, front office, identity…pretty much everything

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Longtime Colorado Avalanche reporter Adrian Dater took the club to task today in a scathing piece entitled “Avalanche lost in a haunted house.”

Dater aggressively questioned the direction of a team that, after starting the season 6-2-0, has lost nine of its last 11. Five of those losses have come at the Pepsi Center, where only 14,882 are showing up per night. (That’s 24th in NHL attendance.)

Three major issues with the Avs arise in the piece: 1) an inability to win at home, 2) the team’s lack of identity and 3) a muddled front office.

Dater, on Colorado’s home woes: “Trouble, like charity, begins at home. That has certainly been true for Denver’s once-proud NHL franchise, which was slated to start a record eight-game run there on Friday night against the Dallas Stars. Like the weather in Honolulu, such a favorable schedule would ordinarily be cause for some easy forecasting. Avs teams of yore would be expected to win a minimum of six and most likely did. But this most recent edition carried a 2-6-1 home mark into its game against Dallas, and was 5-19-2 overall in its previous 26 home outings.”

Dater, on the lack of identity: “Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Avs played a free-wheeling, fun, skilled game against the Penguins, taking a 3-1 lead and nearly building a bigger one if not for the stout defensive efforts of a couple of goalposts. In the third period, the Avs tried to slow things down and preserve their advantage. They played too much in their own end and left the arena on the nasty end of the 6-3 final score.

Then on Thursday night in St. Paul, the Avs took on the plodding, defense-minded Wild. Instead of skating like they did in Pittsburgh, they looked like they were trying to match each dump-and-change shift with Minnesota. The result? A competitive game, but a 1-0 loss.

Bottom line: the Avs play too much like the team they’re skating against and often abandon their own distinctive brand of hockey.”

Dater, on the front office: “The team’s ownership group, led by E. Stanley Kroenke and his son, Josh, are rarely seen at home games and they almost never talk publicly about the Avs (though Josh, an executive with the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, is often front and center at that team’s press conferences). Below the Kroenkes, former maestro GM Pierre Lacroix retains the title of team president, but he’s rarely around the building anymore too. His son, Eric, is the assistant GM to Greg Sherman. The great and popular [Joe] Sakic has the title of ‘executive adviser.’ Confused yet about really runs the show? The question of who’s in charge has been leveled at the guys upstairs as well as at the guys down on the ice.”

Dater also ripped Sherman’s highly-questionable trades (Craig Anderson-for-Brian Elliott, Chris Stewart/Kevin Shattenkirk-for-Erik Johnson/Jay McClement, Semyon Varlamov-for-1st/2nd round picks), the dragging of feet on naming Milan Hejduk captain (which had been vacant since Adam Foote retired) and the struggling young centerpieces of the team — Paul Stastny and and Matt Duchene.

This is uncharted territory for a team with such rich winning history. The Avs have won two Cups and made the playoffs 12 out of 15 seasons since moving to Colorado. Sure, the Avs have had down years before, but they always seemed to have strong leadership and a sense of direction — something that can’t be said for the current lot.

When looking at the Avalanche of today, one has to wonder what’s the end game.