The Colorado Avalanche have had a solid start to the 2011-12 season. Heading into tonight’s contest with the Calgary Flames in Denver, they have compiled a 7-5-1 record. They’ve beaten some very good teams and have been competitive in just about every game they’ve played.
They have stalled out a little, though, after a stellar 6-1 start that saw them win six straight on the road. A large part of their success through the first stretch of the campaign was stellar special teams play. While the power play has continued the excellent start (it is currently ranked first in the NHL at an unbelievable 38.5 percent), the penalty kill has faltered. Colorado is currently 24th in the NHL at 77.3 percent. If the Avs are going to maintain their winning ways, their penalty kill has to get back to, at minimum, above average.
It may be implausible to expect this Avalanche team to have a top-tier penalty kill. While they have a few workhorses that have proven themselves defensively, like Ryan O’Reilly and Ryan Wilson, the rest of the team has struggled in their own zone of late. This was no more apparent than in Colorado’s 7-6 overtime loss to Dallas on Friday night.
In a game that saw many good things for the offense, including a Matt Duchene hat trick, the defense ultimately let the game slip away. The Avs led three different times in the game and never could hold the lead. It could have been an easy win for Colorado if it weren’t for the three power-play goals the team gave up during the second period. The Avs’ penalty killers finished a dismal 50 percent (3-for-6) down a man.
The Avalanche are playing above the expectations of many this year, but to continue winning, the team will have to button down their own zone. This is especially true when they are down a man. A young team that has the tendency (and capability) to be a high-flying, offensively-minded group will have to see to things in their own end to be a well-balanced contender.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you can score six goals in a game if you also give up seven.
Chris Hoffman is a featured Avalanche columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a lead writer for Avalanche Insider. Follow him on Twitter @AvsInsiderChris. This piece originally appeared on Avalanche Insider.
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