Finishing fourth from the bottom in the Western Conference was tough for the Colorado Avalanche and the fans. It’s made even worse by the fact that the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL’s best and current champions, are also in the west. It means the mountain to climb to take that title is even higher—though it’s worth noting that the Avs did beat the eventual champs in the final regular season game.
Breaking things down statistically, though, it can be seen that the Avs had one huge bright spot: The penalty kill. At 84.6 percent, they were fifth in the entire league.
Killing penalties isn’t sexy. It doesn’t make highlight reels or put points on the board. It involves diving in front of shots and cycling correctly as the puck moves. It’s about fundamentals and grit in equal parts.
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However, it’s one of the most important parts of any hockey game. Penalties are a huge, huge advantage. A team can get outplayed the entire night and then win if they just get on the power play a few times and get pucks on net.
For a team that struggled offensively, like the Avs, killing penalties becomes even more important. They’re going to take a lot of games at 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. Every game is a razor’s edge from going the other way. All it takes is a single shot on the power play to even things up, swing momentum, and cost them the game.
Killing them off keeps the Avs in every game, in striking distance.
To some degree, this sounds like searching for optimism. Should fans really be happy that the team can stay in striking distance when what they actually want is to win some games? Of course not. The offensive production has to increase if this team is going to make the playoffs next year. That goes without saying.
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However, the production would have to increase even more if they also had to overcome a lousy penalty kill. By reducing those goals and keeping the scores down, it means that even a slight upswing in goals for could make all the difference. When so many games are won and lost by just a goal, you don’t need that many more points to start getting Ws instead of Ls. That could be the ticket to climbing back into the playoff race.
This isn’t to say they don’t need work in other areas, or that a good penalty kill can carry them. But it is to say that teams need to be built around what they naturally do well. The Avs already kill penalties very well. This can be the core of the team, it can be the identity they carry, and everything else can build up from there until they’re in contention again.