by PuckStopsHere on 07/15/10 at 01:07 PM ET
Last year the Colorado Avalanche grabbed the final playoff spot in the West Conference with a 43-39 record (9 regulation tie points). They did so largely by a strong start. They had a 10-3 (2 regulation tie points) record at the end of October. They did this despite a low team Corsi rating. They allowed 699 more shots directed at their net (shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots) than they managed to direct at their opponent’s net in 5 on 5 situations. This was the third worst in the NHL (only Edmonton and Florida were worse) and this shows that Colorado was not strong at puck possession. In fact, the only team that had as high a Corsi as Colorado’s was negative was the Stanley Cup champions in Chicago.
How did Colorado manage a playoff berth with such poor puck possession? Can they expect to repeat it in the future?
The three main factors that are not measured in Corsi Ratings that significantly affect a team’s result are goaltending, penalty killing and power play. In terms of goaltending, Colorado did well with Craig Anderson in goal. He was no Vezina Trophy candidate, but he was very good. His .917 saves percentage was a big improvement over the Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft pairing that Colorado had the previous season. Anderson is a 29 year old goalie who has only one season as a number one goalie (last year) and that provides some reason to doubt his ability to follow up the season with another strong one, but I think he will be solid.
Colorado had a mid-level power play. They scored on 15.1% of their man advantages. This placed them 15th in the league. That is average and not an explanation of improvement from their poor team Corsi.
Their penalty kill was not any better. They killed 80.2% of their penalties and this placed them 21st in the league.
Thus we have a Colorado team that had poor puck possession at even strength. They had nothing special to make up for this on special teams. They did have a strong goaltender, but he was not among the best in the NHL.
While Colorado jumped by 26 points in the standings, climbing from last place in the West Conference to a playoff berth, their team Corsi Rating actually fell from a 26th place -354 to a 28th place -699. There is no clear explanation for the improvement based on puck possession or special teams and the goaltending improvement is too mild to account for things. So how did they improve?
Colorado scored on a higher percentage of shots taken. This either shows that they were more efficient on the shots that they took or luckier. I argue strongly for luckier. It is extremely rare for a player to be consistently a better percentage shooter than the average NHLer. One behind the net study lists only Ilya Kovalchuk and Nathan Horton as clearly possessing this talent and yet Colorado seemed to have the talent as a team last year (but not the year before). That is strong evidence that it was merely luck. Colorado was luckier with their shooting in 2009/10 than expected and good luck is unlikely to be repeated. Thus Colorado with the same performance as they had last year is likely to drop in the standings.
Will they have the same performance? Probably they will not. They have some talented young players in Paul Stastny (though last year was his first injury-free campaign and that may not be repeatable), Chris Stewart and Matt Duchene. It is reasonable to expect that Colorado may be a bit better than last year in terms of talent. However, the remarkable shooting luck is highly unlikely to remain.
Colorado was very lucky to do as well as they did last season. They do not have good puck possession numbers and they do not have other strong demonstrable reasons to explain it. The team is not as good as many people think it is. They will have to improve significantly to make the playoffs again and I do not think that is very likely.
Colorado in 2009/10 is an example of a team that benefitted strongly by good luck. In a season, the results do not always go as expected. Over time, luck tends to even out and any string of good or bad luck will end. Colorado exceeded their ability last year. They have a young and not particularly deep offence. They lack any defensive stars. They do have a solid goalie in Craig Anderson, but he is a step below the NHL’s best. Some of their young offensive talents, such as Ryan O’Reilly and TJ Galiardi showed defensive lapses that should have hurt the team. I think Colorado’s showing next year will be more in line with that talent level.
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