The Cost of Penalties

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 01: Jay McClement #16 of the Colorado Avalanche skates into the penalty box during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on April 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Avalanche defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in an overtime shoot out. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

76.2%. That's the Avs' penalty kill rate. It's good for 27th in the league. 8 is the average number of minor penalty minutes assessed per game. And 15? That's the number of power play goals given up through 18 games. Obviously, time spent in the sin bin is hurting the Avalanche tremendously. The questions are who and why and how much?

First and foremost, put away the tin foil hats as the Avalanche is not the most penalized team in the league. That honor belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers (288 total PIM, 16.9 per game). Colorado is actually right in the middle of the pack with a total of 197 minutes, 142 of which are minor penalties.

What are the most common penalties for the burgundy and blue? Far and away, the Avs are called for interference above all other infractions. At 17 interference penalties, the boys are averaging nearly one per game. Second on the list is roughing with 11. Hooking, holding and boarding fill out the top five types of minor penalties the Avalanche take.

Now, no penalty is ever really good, but sometimes they're a necessity. The most common of these kinds of penalties is tripping, and it usually occurs when an opposing player gets a breakaway that looks like an inevitable goal. Of course it's preferable to find another way to stop the guy, but it's not always possible to do so without taking that call. Occasionally, a player will be penalized for something that has to be called but wasn't really his fault or couldn't be helped. And then there are those that the refs completely blow, making a borderline or wrong call. Those last two are not nearly as common as most fans would like to believe.

The majority of penalties are just plain bad: stupid, reckless, boneheaded moves that are avoidable when playing smart. It's in this area that the Avs seem to be excelling, which is therefore contributing to their all-too-high goals against average (3.33). So who are the bad boys on the team, the guys committing these infractions?

Details after the jump.

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(Click on chart to enlarge)

Daniel Winnik and Shane O'Brien tie for the baddest boy of them all with each player taking 6 penalties from the top 5 list. Two of Winnik's interference calls are goaltender, and that's a risk that comes with crashing the net. O'Brien's tendency to come to the aid of his teammates - not a bad thing by any means - accounts for at least one of those roughing calls. Individually, their penalty box time doesn't scream out "PROBLEM CHILD!" What is disconcerting, though, is how many guys are taking the interference penalty. This, along with the roughing and boarding penalties, shows the team is frustrated out there. When they're frustrated, they stop thinking and start reacting. That's the kind of play that causes a game to devolve and get away from you.

Although no one player is taking them exceedingly, the sheer number of holding and hooking calls suggests that the team is also playing frantically. When they lose their systems and the other team is taking control of the play, desperation sets in, and the guys start grasping at everything like they're drowning.

The first 9 games of this season, the Avs were doing quite well. They had a record of 6-3-0. During that stretch, the team took 31 minor penalties but gave up only 4 power play goals. The past 9 games have not looked as good. The team's record is a dismal 2-6-1. Although there wasn't a huge increase in penalties taken (38, or +0.78 per game), the number of goals allowed nearly tripled at 11.

There was little difference in the types of penalties taken in the first half as compared to the second, with interference being the exception. Interestingly enough, there were more of these types of penalties in the first 9 games than in the last at a rate of 11 to 6 respectively. However, when the boys were winning, they were called only 5 times for interference. It jumped to 12 when losing.

So what does this all mean? One conclusion that can be drawn from this information is that the power play goals allowed have heavily impacted the team's record. Without even an average penalty kill, the team just won't win. Using the average kill rate for the league (83.5%), the Avalanche would have allowed only 6 power play goals in that second half. There's no doubt the team would have a few more wins on its record having given up 5 fewer goals.

We can also see that the defense is, in fact, more physical than previous defensive corps. The three top minor penalty takers are d-men: O'Brien, O'Byrne and Quincey, and the penalties they most often take are interference and roughing. When you're clearing out the crease, that's bound to happen. Since there were more of those types of penalties in the first half of the season, there may be credence to our observations that they're not being as aggressive around the net lately.

There's no real way to tell if a causal relationship exists here, but there's certainly some correlation going on: the more power play goals the Avs give up, the more they lose. Taking penalties doesn't seem to be the issue; the types of penalties, however, might be since they are an indicator of the way the team is playing.

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