Unless your favorite team is winning every game by a score of 5-0, there’s a good chance that they have some areas for improvement within their current squad. That’s certainly the case for these Colorado Avalanche, whose incredible start to the 2013-14 season and massive improvement over last season shouldn’t mask the fact that the team still has things to work on.
From the team’s gradual slide over the month of December, to the loss of a handful of key forwards over the course of the year, the Avalanche are far from a perfect team. If there are five areas that the squad should work on as it makes a push for a playoff berth, this is what Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic and team management should look to address.
This is the big one, the problem that could kill the Avalanche as the season continues. Especially with P.A. Parenteau now out for an extended period, and Alex Tanguay still sidelined, does Colorado have enough secondary scoring in the lineup to win close games or pull out shootout victories?
Players like Jamie McGinn and Maxime Talbot will need to step up their offensive performance in the coming weeks to ensure that any bad game for stars like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and Paul Stastny goes unnoticed. If they do, this won’t be a talking point anymore.
If you’re still unfamiliar with the Corsi index, here’s the simplest way to put it: It tracks the amount of shots both ways while a given player is on the ice, sort of like plus/minus does for goals. The idea behind it is that a team getting outshot frequently is less likely to win games than a team putting more pucks on net than their opponents.
Unfortunately, only three full-timers—Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Ryan O’Reilly—have posted positive Corsi numbers through Thursday, and each is a modest number. The fact that none of the team’s most prominent defensemen (only Nick Holden, who has appeared in about a third of the team’s games so far, and Matt Hunwick in his single game this year) are in the plus range of the Corsi statistic so far is incredibly disconcerting.
Of course Semyon Varlamov is the team’s No. 1 goaltender, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s losses in each of his past three decisions have proved that his hot start may have been a slight aberration. That being said, Patrick Roy can’t rely on Varlamov to play tons of games in a row—it just hasn’t worked so far this year.
When Varlamov got eight starts in a row from November 10 to November 27, he went 4-4-0. In four straight starts from December 10 to December 16, he went 2-1-1, posting the team’s first shootout loss of the season. But in the four three-game stints he’s had this year (October 2-8, October 12-17, October 25-November 1, December 19-23), Varlamov is a combined 9-1-2.
He’s a bona fide number one goaltender, but his starts need to broken up.
October’s 10-1-0 record and November’s 9-5-0 mark yielded to a 5-5-4 December result, which seems to suggest that a season of awful Corsi ratings will bring a team back to earth eventually. The Avs are still scoring points and staying toward the top of the Central Division, but that kind of losing record can’t persist if the team wants to be a serious playoff contender.
Now in the midst of a lengthy homestand, Colorado has an opportunity to post its first three-game winning streak since late November. It’s those kinds of runs—three wins here and there—that will keep it in the hunt for extra hockey in April and even home-ice advantage for a series or two.
The Avalanche locker room is not exactly led by the most even-tempered of coaches in Patrick Roy. Still, players need to make sure that they’re keeping themselves together both on and off the ice.
In a game back in October, Cody McLeod received a five-game suspension for a hit on Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall; he had a similar hit on Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin a month later that earned him an ejection (but not a second suspension).
Away from it, Semyon Varlamov’s legal troubles, though now apparently over, have been well documented. Colorado has a young roster, with many of its best players in their early 20s, and becoming a group dominated by emotion and heavy, negative stories is the last thing it needs.
Chris Leone has written for Bleacher Report since 2008 in multiple capacities. Follow him on Twitter @christopherlion.