I should be up front about my allegiances: I'm a regular writer at the Copper and Blue and a fan of the Edmonton Oilers. Nonetheless, at the start of the season I decided to track scoring chances for all of the Avalanche games. That didn't quite happen, but I did manage to finish the first half, and thought that it would still be worthwhile to post those results.
For those who'd like a definition: a scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots, though sometimes slightly more generous depending on the amount of immediately preceding puck movement or screens. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score. And, of course, a big thanks to Vic Ferrari for providing a script to make the process much, much easier. The results after the jump.
In that table the EV totals include 5v5 and 4v4 time, but the special teams totals do not include any two-man advantage situations. The typical range for this kind of thing, at least in the larger samples, is about 40% (terrible) to 60% (excellent), so the Avalanche look pretty bad sitting at 45.8% through the first half. Some of that is score effects (i.e. the Avalanche played a lot with the lead), but some of it is just that they didn't have the puck as much as the other guys, which is also why they were so consistently outshot, even if you just look at results with the score tied.
In terms of specifics, I've noticed that caring about Wojtek Wolski has become a bit of a joke here at MHH in recent weeks, but at least for the first half of the season, he was the Avs' best player by this measure, and he did so while taking on the opponents' best players more often than not. I understand that he apparently had "motivation" issues, and I can respect that. Still, trading away one of your best forwards for a player who might turn out to be good usually isn't a good plan. I realize that Peter Mueller played very well after being traded to Colorado, and I think he'll be a pretty good player in the league for many years. But I think Wolski will be quite a bit better.
Another player who took on tough competition almost every night was Paul Stastny who also shows well here. Almost breaking even was, frankly, pretty fantastic on this team last year. I don't know if he catches a lot of flak in this community, but if he does, he shouldn't. The guy is a very good player.
The rookie forwards are fun to look at too. Matt Duchene is clearly the class of the group, and better than the team average (i.e. the Avalanche were better with Duchene out there than they were with him on the bench). His first half was a very good start to his NHL career. Both T.J. Galiardi and Ryan O'Reilly got absolutely shelled, but they tended to get put with lesser quality linemates than Duchene. O'Reilly in particular was just in a very difficult role. There aren't many 18 year-olds who can handle being asked to start a lot in their defensive zone and come out ahead. Of the two, I'd say O'Reilly probably becomes the better player.
On defense, John-Michael Liles was pretty terrible overall, especially since he put up that number against weak opposition. When he was out of the lineup, Kyle Cumiskey was often the guy taking that gig, and the difference in their numbers at EV is rather large. I know that Liles was a healthy scratch later on in the season, and if his play didn't improve, he definitely deserved it. Scott Hannan and Kyle Quincey were consistently taking on tough competition and starting in the wrong end of the rink, so their performance actually looks pretty good to me, especially Hannan. The guy is kind of slow, and not a great passer, but he's strong positionally and can win battles.
I also thought it would be interesting to look at some splits, so here are the results for the Avs at home and on the road:
No surprise here, the Avs were much better at controlling the play at home than they were on the road. This has a lot to do with the Avalanche controlling the match-ups better when they have the last change. A guy like Ryan O'Reilly, for example, looks like he may have been keyed on by opposing coaches when the Avs were on the road. When the Avalanche were at home, they could try to make sure that the defensive zone draws O'Reilly had were against lesser opponents. On the road, not so much.
The home/road split is especially interesting on special teams. On the road the Avalanche were out-chanced 109-88 on special teams, whereas at home they out-chanced their opponents 102-74 (in five fewer games). Some of that is no doubt the result of generating more power play chances at home, while taking fewer penalties. Still, that's a huge difference.
Finally, let's look at team performance in ten-game segments:
The Avalanche were huddled right around 46% for the first thirty games and then fell into a bit of an elevator shaft at the end of the first half. The big difference between the first fifteen games (they were 10-3-2) and the next fifteen games (they were 5-6-4) was percentages at even strength. They were hot, and then, all of a sudden, the team stopped "making its shots" and Craig Anderson's Patrick Roy imitation came to an end (although he was still very, very good, and remains a great goalie). Then the magic was back! They closed the first half by going 8-3-0 despite being outplayed in the majority of those games (although some of these games saw the Avs jump out to an early lead, so playing to the score is the reason for some of that shortfall). This is the worry for the Avalanche heading into next year. Their percentages were, on the whole, very good last year, something that teams tend not to be able to repeat. In order for the Avalanche to make the playoffs again next season, it's very likely that they'll need to do a better job of controlling the play and generating chances.
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