The Colorado Avalanche cannot afford to give away any points this season if they hope to make a strong championship push. With a struggling penalty kill and frequent giveaways in their own zone, the Avalanche need to work on the following five areas of the game to become a more consistent hockey club.
With the fifth-worst penalty kill in the league (78.8 percent), the Avalanche need to find a way to prevent teams from converting on the power play. Giving up costly penalties has hurt Colorado, especially with the slew of close games the Avalanche have played in. With a majority of their contests having a margin of victory of one or two goals, the Avalanche need to play smart hockey and step up their penalty kill.
To help with the penalty kill, the Avalanche need to be more aggressive with their back checking. The Avs are allowing too many opponents to get wide-open looks deep in the slot. With opponents' defensemen pinching in due to a weak back check by the Avalanche, the net-minders are put under unnecessary strain. Becoming more aggressive on the back check will force more turnovers and turn into more odd-man rushes up the ice for the Avalanche.
Weak back checking is not the only thing that puts a major strain on a goalie. Turnovers deep in your own zone drive goalies, coaches and fans crazy. I cannot think of a goaltender that looks forward to his defensemen turning the puck over twenty feet in front of his net.
The Avalanche pride themselves on creating odd-man rushes, but the turnovers they commit in their end are going to come back and hurt them down the stretch. As mentioned previously, the Avalanche have been in numerous one-to-two goal contests this season. It is safe to say that unless they start protecting the puck in their own end, the games could very easily go in favor of the opposing team.
Sloppy turnovers have plagued the Avalanche all season long and sooner or later, if nothing gets fixed, will result in more losses for the club. Colorado has the offensive firepower to hang with any team in the National Hockey League. They love to send the puck up ice quickly and catch teams in an odd-man situation. The problem with this is that inexperienced defensemen hurry their outlet passes which results in turning the puck over deep in their own end.
It's simple. If the Avalanche become more tenacious, the aforementioned problems should solve themselves.
Colorado used to be one of the most feared teams in the NHL due to their physical play. Watching the Avalanche recently, they are a much different team.
The Avalanche are not lacking size with defensemen like Shane O’Brien, Ryan O’Byrne and Jan Hejda. The thing that is lacking, however, is the physicality. Colorado’s defensemen need to start being more physical with the opposition if they want to contend for the Stanley Cup.
If the Colorado Avalanche can fix these five areas of their game they definitely have a chance to be contenders in the Western Conference. Granted, the Avalanche are a young squad and are apt to make mistakes. The thing that is on Colorado’s side is time. There is over half of the season left which is more than enough time to start a playoff push. The bottom-line is if the Avalanche can return to a physically dominant team, there is no limit on where this club can go.