Colorado Avalanche: 5 Reasons Why They're a Playoff Team Again
We're now 17 games into the 2010/11 NHL season, and it's apparent that the Avalanche are exactly what they were last season.
A playoff caliber NHL team, who could go further than most expect yet again.
Believe it or not, Colorado is the best scoring team in the NHL when it's five-on-five hockey, and possibly the fastest team in the entire league.
However, the reasons for them being a playoff contender are deeper than that.
I'm going to give you five reasons why the Avalanche will be a force in the Northwest Division again, and likely make it to the playoffs for the second straight year.
Reason #5: They May Be The Deepest Defensive Organization in The NHL
Led by the physical, and sometimes flat out nasty Adam Foote, the D is becoming as solid a unit as you'll find in the NHL.
Every night the Avs take the ice one thing is very apparent—they not only play solid defense, they play physical hockey as well.
Physicality in the NHL is critically important.
It prevents teams from running ramshot into your defensive zone and setting up their offense.
It takes pressure off the goalie when he knows that his D is going to be where they're supposed to be and it makes the opponent play more conservatively.
Think back to the days when Scott Stevens was patrolling the Devils' blue line, and think about what that did to the opponents they played. They knew if they came in head down and blazing, Scotty was probably going to catch them, and it would probably hurt.
Thus teams utilized a less effective "dump-and-chase" offense when they played the Devils.
Through 17 games you can see the physicality in Colorado, and while there have been lapses, overall they've been very solid.
But, even more important than the physicality they display, is the depth the Avs have.
Injuries have taken their toll no doubt, but this team is still rolling out one of the better D units in their division.
"The Stalwarts", as they're known, are John Michael Liles, Adam Foote and Scott Hannan.
Guys like Kyle Cumiskey, Kyle Quincey and Ryan Wilson have played quality minutes. And now, Avs fans are getting the chance to see some of tomorrows studs, namely Jonas Holos and Kevin Shattenkirk.
All in all, the depth is amongst the league's best, and Avs fans can expect a marked improvement once all the blueliners are healthy.
Reason #4: The Play of Budaj
Peter Budaj has never really been a player that I've felt very strongly about. However, it's very clear to me, and most watching this Avs team, that Budaj has found his niche.
He is a backup goalie that can play some solid minutes and pick up the slack when you're down a man.
There isn't a team in the NHL that wouldn't want a guy like Budaj backing up their starter.
He's worked on his game, improved his play from seasons past and is doing a very nice job in place of the injured Craig Anderson.
His 2.69 GAA is a little high, but it still puts him in front of guys like Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco, Miika Kiprusoff, Jonas Hiller and ties him with the guy many consider the best tender in the NHL in Roberto Luongo.
Honestly, Budaj is not going to carry a team to the playoffs and he won't win 30 games for you. But, he can and has been solid in relief.
Make no mistake, there is NO goal-tending controversy in the Mile High City.
The job is Anderson's.
But, knowing that Budaj is behind will give Anderson some confidence and a level of comfort he's not had before.
Budaj playing as he has is not only beneficial for Anderson, but makes the coaching staff's job easier too. They're not giving the game away with their backup in the net.
Boods, as many call him, has done enough to keep the Avs in striking distance of the league leading L.A. Kings, and a mere two points away from the Top Five in the West.
Not bad, for a backup.
Reason #3: The Avs Have a LOT of Speed
The Avalanche have one thing in abundance—speed.
The Avs are, bar-none, the fastest team in the NHL.
Simply put, there's no team in the league that gets through the zone with the speed that the Avalanche do.
The Avalanche have a unique chemistry in that, they have almost as much speed on the blue line as they do up front.
That allows them to attack the offensive zone in ways that other teams can't.
They can play the dump and chase scheme effectively, which is tough, because you need great speed to do that.
They can attack the zone with multi-man fronts, and make it work, because they have speed in the back that allows them to take chances others can't.
The speed of the Avs is the reason they're as prolific a scoring team as they are.
Accompanying the speed aspect of their game is the passing aspect of their game.
A simple look at the stats will show you that the Avs are an incredibly effective passing team, ranking among the leagues best in passing percentage.
Effective passing + Incredible speed = scoring chances aplenty!
The Avalanche will continue to implement this aspect of their game to exploit other teams weaknesses, and try to gain early leads, which is when they play best.
Reason #2: The Avs Can Score Quickly and in Bunches
It's no secret—the Avalanche can score quickly and in bunches.
Ask some of their opponents that have seen leads evaporate thanks to multiple goal periods.
Colorado averages a whopping 32.2 shots on goal per game, and more times than not, those chances are from highly effective scoring areas on the ice—the high slot, low to the goalies side and through screens.
And, when the Avs score early and have the lead, they win more often than not.
As a matter of fact, when leading after the first period, the Avs convert that to a win 83 percent of the time.
When they lead after the second?
Well, good luck, because they're batting 1.000.
That's right, they're perfect when leading after two periods.
The bottom line is that the Avs score and currently there are only two teams that average more points per game on average than Colorado.
Those teams?—Detroit and Philadelphia.
The Avs ability to score is keeping them alive, and making it extremely tough for the opposition to keep up.
If the Avs continue this trend, they will remain among the leagues best this season.
Reason #1: The Coaching Of Joe Sacco
Admittedly, when the Avalanche selected Joe Sacco as the coach, I was skeptical to say the least.
I looked at his record while with Lake Erie, which was NOT good, ranking last or next to last in consecutive seasons and foresaw problems ahead.
Boy, was I wrong....and badly.
Joe Sacco should have been the Coach of the Year last year for the job he did.
Sacco had a roster that was a source of concern for many, myself included.
He lacked size, he lacked talent, and he lacked any chemistry on a team that looked as close to patchwork as one could find in the NHL.
Instead of dwindling in mediocrity, he took the reins to lead that team to perhaps the most unlikely playoff run in the NHL last season, and maybe in the last 10 years.
NO ONE expected the Avs to finish any better then next to last in the West last year—Yet, Sacco made them better.
He had his finger on the pulse of the team, and understood what would work for them. No doubt, the knowledge and experience with the farm team in Lake Erie aided his success.
This season, the Avs are once again near the top of the West, and being one-quarter of the way through the NHL season, the Avs are showing the traits of a playoff team again.
Sacco is indeed one of the best coaches behind the bench in the NHL, and is undoubtedly leading from the front.
He coaches the way he played—hard, intense and unwavering from the principles that create wins.