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Pressing question: Are the Avs for real?

Apr 15, 2014, 1:50 PM EST

Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets Getty Images

One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…

The Colorado Avalanche went from being second worst team in the NHL to Central Division champions in the span of just one season.

That’s remarkable under any circumstances, but especially when you factor in that the team didn’t change substantially over that stretch beyond the addition of rookie forward Nathan MacKinnon and, the man that’s received most of the credit for the turnaround, coach Patrick Roy.

At the same time, certain indicators have left people wondering if the Avalanche are playing above their heads and in danger of coming back to Earth.

One of the big reasons for that fear is that, from an advanced possession statistics perspective, Colorado is roughly the same team that finished in the Western Conference basement a year ago.

Teams have a tendency to dismiss those statistics and some fans might find them confusing, but basically Corsi and Fenwick are a way of gauging puck possession by looking at how many shots are taken (including those that miss the net). Corsi also includes blocked shots whereas Fenwick doesn’t. The idea is simply that if you’re controlling the puck, you’re controlling the game and that will lead to more long-term success.

The Toronto Maple Leafs found this out the hard way in 2013-14, as their horrid Corsi/Fenwick numbers eventually caught up to them and they collapsed. Colorado isn’t nearly as bad in that regard, but the team is near the bottom of the pack.

Toronto: Corsi 42.1 percent (29th in NHL), Fenwick 41.5 percent (29th in NHL)

Colorado: Corsi 47.4 percent (25th in NHL), Fenwick 46.8 percent (27th in NHL)

All stats courtesy Extra Skater

The way the Avalanche have overcome that deficiency is through strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov faced 2,013 shots in 2013-14, which is 125 more than any other goalie in the NHL. If he wasn’t also one of the league leaders in save percentage — he finished third, at .927 — there’s a good chance Colorado wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

So is that it then? Colorado might have some defensive weaknesses, but Varlamov is capable of covering them up? Well, maybe not. For one thing, Varlamov has very little playoff experience and none since 2010, so the man at the center of the Avalanche’s success is an X-Factor just based on that.

Additionally, the Avalanche are dealing with the loss of Matt Duchene and two-way forward John Mitchell, which might exacerbate the issues that have been laying beneath the surface.

In the end, the best counterargument to the Avalanche’s shortcomings might be pointing the finger at the team they drew as a first round opponent: the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota ranked 29th in the league in shots on goal per game in the regular season, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The Wild also aren’t leaps and bounds better than Colorado from a Corsi perspective (48.2 percent, 23rd in the league). Had Colorado been forced to play against Chicago, St. Louis, or even Dallas, it would be an entirely different story, but given that Minnesota is a team that has puck possession issues of its own, that red flag in the Avalanche’s game might not be exposed.

The flip side is that this question won’t be put to rest with the Avalanche beating them. Getting past Minnesota would lead to them facing a team that might be far more qualified to exploit Colorado’s weaknesses.

For more Pressing Playoff Questions, click here.

  1. JoeAvg - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    My memory tells me that teams who improve this much in one season generally come crashing back to reality come playoff time (and the following season). But my memory is spotty anymore so….take it for what it’s worth.

    Wouldn’t surprise me to see the Wild come outta this one.

  2. toiletclown - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:04 PM

    If the Pens don’t win it then I would be all for this team to take it.

  3. hosewater2 - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:16 PM

    This is an interesting question and post, until you throw in the Cori/Fenwick question.

    So tired of this storyline about so-called advanced stats, and the bloggers/Mom’s basement crew treating the Maple Leafs and Avalanche like some sort of referendum on their validity.

  4. usher716 - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    these two teams are competing for a spot to lose in the second round

  5. hockeydon10 - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:39 PM

    As a Red Wing fan I really cannot stand the Avalanche or Roy.

    That said, having the third best record in the league makes it extremely hard to judge when weighed against those Corsi/Fenwick numbers. These things together mean they managed to win against better Corsi/Fenwick teams quite a bit more often than the other way around. It’s not like Varlamov’s Sv% numbers are that much more awesome than the other #1 goalies below him.

    Generally one would like a large sample size for statistical data. 82 games isn’t large, but one thing it has going for it is that it’s identical to the number of games 29 other teams played. 2460 is a good sample size.

    It’s also interesting to note that of the top 10 Fenwick teams, two missed the playoffs. Of the bottom 10 Fenwick teams, three made the playoffs. (Using the ‘All Situations’ filter.)

    Of the top 10 Corsi teams, four missed the playoffs. Of the bottom 10 Corsi teams, four made the playoffs. (Again using ‘All Situations’ filter.)

    It’s easy to see how all this might even lead some to question the validity of the Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

    • hockeydon10 - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:42 PM

      Looking at this again it’s really reminding me of the “age” argument that gets trotted out all the damn time.

      Teams that make or miss the playoffs are all over the map when one looks at their average age.

      Teams that make or miss the playoffs are all over the map when one looks at their adv. stats numbers.

    • jonnyhammersticks - Apr 15, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      I’m not sure you can question the validity of the numbers since it’s a fairly simple calculation. I think you bring up a good point though; it’s possible to mitigate having bad possession numbers which can be a bit misleading and, recently, over-relied upon at times.

      At the same time, I think it is very useful in measuring certain aspects of the game. It in itself isn’t enough to predict the Av’s demise but it’s definitely something to look out for.

  6. joey4id - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:47 PM

    Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the Wings and Avs play for the grail?

    • thailer35 - Apr 15, 2014 at 2:51 PM

      Now this, joey, we can agree on.

      Whoops, honest mistake. Forgot you don’t like fighting.

      • joey4id - Apr 15, 2014 at 3:06 PM

        Low glass and D’Amico…. Seems like not so long ago. Were there goals scored in that series or was the winner decided by the number of fights a team won?

  7. wjarvis - Apr 15, 2014 at 3:27 PM

    Corsi / Fenwick are useful, but are not definitive stats. Really it’s pretty straight forward logic, if you don’t have the puck as much, you’re going to give up more scoring chances, so your goalie better be good. If your goalie is good (and Varlamov is) then it can negate to an extent the fact that your giving up more scoring chances than you create.

    So the Avs will win or lose in the playoffs largely based on how Varlamov plays, which is pretty much what everyone thought even if they had never heard of Corsi. I would be surprised if the Avs made it to the Western conference finals or beyond, but then again I didn’t think they had a shot at winning the division a week ago.

    Plus what makes the playoffs amazing are that they are so unpredictable, so I’m sure there will be many things that surprise me is the coming months.

  8. earpaniac - Apr 15, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    I just can’t see them making it past the 2nd rd.

  9. alicesrightfootesq - Apr 15, 2014 at 3:39 PM

    They will win the Cup and we will all have a good laugh when Bettman hands the Conn Smythe to Patrick Roy out of habit.

  10. Gord - Apr 15, 2014 at 4:43 PM

    People have waiting all year for the Avs to come “crashing back down” to Earth. If it’s the goalie that gets them as far as they go as opposed to puck possession then so be it. Health issues will also determine how far they, along with every other team they play, get in the playoffs. Not some nerd stat.

  11. jernster21 - Apr 15, 2014 at 4:45 PM

    Shots on net and scoring chances aren’t mutually exclusive. These posts have been cropping up all season long ever since the Avs’ hot start and after their season people are still doubting them. The real question in regards to the subject is: who cares? Who cares if they’re for real? Time will tell. I don’t expect them to win the Cup and I’m a die hard Avs fan and season ticket holder but you can’t win it if you aren’t in it and the Avs made it in impressive fashion. If the Avs don’t win the Cup it’s not the end of the world to me, and shouldn’t be for them; they have a very large window to do so with all the young talent they have. At the same time, the Avs have absolutely nothing to lose and that should be scary for opponents who have a mentality of Stanley Cup or bust. Worst case scenario is together they all earn playoff experience and learn valuable lessons on what it takes to 1) get into the playoffs and 2) win in the playoffs.

  12. comeonnowguys - Apr 15, 2014 at 4:58 PM

    I’m still not convinced Varlamov’s game works as well in a series. By the second or third game in a row against the same opponent, good opponents will get a feel for where all those rebounds he gives up are going to be, and if Varlamov can’t carry them, they are in trouble.

  13. idonthavethebloodyoucrave - Apr 15, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    Beating the Wild proves that … you can beat the Wild.

    Doesn’t mean a thing.

    I would be more surprised if the Wild actually won 3 games.

    • yetidad - Apr 15, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      Go Wild!

  14. zacmelvinmcnutt - Apr 15, 2014 at 7:46 PM

    I’m constantly hearing people trash talk the Av’s sub-par defence, their poor corsi stats and that the only reason they were as successful as they were is because of superb goaltending from Varly. You people need to realize something, the Avs have five players on their roster with 20+ goals this season, last time I checked that’s the most in the league. Duchene: 23, Landy: 26, O’Reilly: 28, Mackinnon: 24 and Stastny with 25. Yes, a lot of their success this year was because of Varly’s goaltending but the bottom line is to win games you gotta out score your opponent, and the Avs can score.

    • wjarvis - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:57 PM

      Not true, Philly had 7 players score at least 20 goals, and a number other teams also had at least 5 players including the Hawks, Blues, Pens, Lightning, Senators and Bruins.

      Yes the Avs are one of the best scoring teams in the league, but they also give up a lot more scoring chances than most teams (6th most shots against). Because of Varlamov they are pretty much at the league average for goals against though (14th).

  15. davekillercarlson - Apr 15, 2014 at 8:21 PM

    This wasn’t nearly as bad as Jason Brough’s article the other week where he was basically complaining because the Avs haven’t crashed yet. What I really think is great about seeing the Corsi-crowd so confused about the Avs ability to win despite a lower Corsi/Fenwick is that they don’t look at anything else about this team.

    For instance, Varlamov is unbeatable this year when he faces 40+ shots a game. I can’t recall the exact record but he rarely loses when he faces 35 or more shots. Some goalies work like that, the more action they see, the better they are. Also, the Avs have a gaggle of guys who can score. Oh, Duchene’s out? Boo fu*in hoo. Take your pick between Landy, ROR, MacKinnon, Stastny, Barrie, or even some of the 3rd liners who have gone on tears at time, to light it up.

    The Corsi Clowns and Fenwick Fools need to watch a game and see the team before they jump to their statistical conclusions. Oh and yeah the whole thing about statistics only being able to predict outcomes, not assure them, so there’s that too.

    • jtijj5 - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:47 PM

      Hear hear! It is no accident Roy, Sakic, Roy’s goalie coach, Foote have turned this franchise around. Maybe a couple hall of famers know more than some stats. Not this year the Cup, too young and no playoff experience. But Avs are back NHL!

  16. slysipops - Apr 15, 2014 at 8:53 PM

    anyone that knows hockey, knows the AVS are for real !

  17. dremmel69 - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:11 PM

    Buzzkilltalk.com? Know-it-alls and stat geeks make this sound like the least interesting series in the world. I’m sorry but I’m not letting anyone buzzkill the most exciting, unpredictable playoffs in pro sports.

  18. jtijj5 - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:12 PM

    As

  19. jtijj5 - Apr 15, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    My son and I discussed Varmolov record dramatically better when he sees more than 40 shots. Anyone stop to think that it is Roy’s system to give up more shots as long as they not from the slot and from the edges where Varmolov can come out and cut angle. Why else would Varmolov be so much better when facing more than 40 shots. They Avs are young team loaded with talent who dramatically underperformed under Sacco and Sherman. Also three quarters of Avs defensive corp is NEW. And Barrie and Johnson have blossomed under Roy with Foote’s help.

    Go ahead and question Roy/Sakic! Oh Roy can’t hear cause he has two Stanley cup rings in each ear and Sakic one in each ear. Yes Avs two young to win it all this year. It will be either the Hawks, Ducks, Bruins or Penguins. But Red Wing fans go ahead and crnge , Bruins will send u packing in five and Sakic/Roy have the Avs BACK. Colorado will be a contender for the Cup by 2016. U all forget Avs have most room under the cap in NHL. Yes, they have cap room to add two to three big name free agents to go along with the plethora of young budding stars(Duchene, Landeskog, Barrie, Varmolov, O’Reilly, MacKinnon,Johnson).

  20. helloname01 - Apr 16, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    The Wild ended Roy as a 7th seed. No reason they can’t end his less-skilled ’14 Avs in similar fashion

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