Mike Laybourne recently wrote a piece about the struggles of the Colorado Avalanche. The facts of his article are impossible to deny. The Avalanche do currently sit at 5-7-0. Semyon Varlamov does currently have a 0.881 save percentage in 8 starts. Matt Duchene is the only player on the team with more than 3 goals. Andrew Ladd did score. Twice.
So, is Mike right? Are the Avs a bust? No. They’re not. And I’ll continue to tell myself that until they’re eliminated from the playoffs in late March. The team is 29th overall in goals for per game and 24th overall in goals against per game. Certainly there is no one solution to fixing this team when you’re near the bottom of both, but being 2nd last in scoring is rough.
The Avalanche as a team are averaging only 50.87 shot attempts per 60 minutes (28th overall) at 5 on 5. That’s bad. However, they are managing to still get 29.95 of those attempts on net per 50 (12th overall). Of those shots on net they are putting a 3rd worst 6.94% of those shots in the net.
The problem with this team is not a new one under coach Jared Bednar, but one that has been around since Patrick Roy was coach. That problem being that they are too fancy. How do you have so few shot attempts and such a high number of shots? You only take the shot when you have a good attempt. Mikko Rantanen provided a great example in a recent 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues.
While Rantanen’s pivot was great it provided 0 shot attempts. He pivoted, went to the net, made one move too many and lost the puck. Possession over. The forwards on this team are incredibly talented, but try too hard for the perfect shot. The talent of the team gives a reason for hope that the shooting percentage will go up.
If the Avalanche had a league average shooting percentage (9.1%), they would have a goals per game of 2.63 (18th overall). This isn’t terrific, but it’s not 29th. With a little less fanciness and a little more puck luck the Avalanche could easily be a top half team in scoring the rest of the way.
Most of what is within me just wanted to write “Start Calvin Pickard”, drop the mic and walk away. But it really might be that easy. With the expansion draft coming the Avalanche will have to decide which goalie to protect between Pickard and Varlamov. At this point, Varlamov will be 29 years old with 2 years left on his deal and has had a save percentage above .920 twice in his 6 seasons with the Avalanche. Pickard, on the other hand, has never had a save percentage under .920 in his partial seasons with the team, and has another RFA to sign after one more season.
The choice to me is clear: Pickard is the future. He has been better, he is better and he is the goalie the team needs to protect in the expansion draft. In due time, they need to make the change as even based on current performance, Pickard has been playing better. If the Avalanche had Pickard’s level of goaltending all season his .923 save percentage would leave the team with 2.26 goals against per game. Pair that with the 2.63 goals for per game and that is a positive goal differential.
Perhaps, Varlamov still hasn’t gotten over his troubles with Roy leaving, but whatever is happening, he is not what this team needs right now. A switch to Pickard can give this team the consistent goaltending it needs.
Trust or Bust?
The Avalanche are not Cup contenders and are very much long shots for the playoffs, but the performance put forth by the team so far this season is not who they should be. It can be expected for them to turn things around any day now and start heading up from the cellar of the Central division.