If you've watched the Avalanche this year, you know they've improved in a lot of areas as the season has developed. They've gotten better in the faceoff circle (they still rank a too-low 26th, but they've upped their numbers from the 44% range to the 48% range). They've improved their penalty killing (now up to 16th in the league). They've become more physical, better defensively, and better in net (well, they started using the good goalie more is probably the more accurate statement). The one area where the team still stinks to high heaven? The powerplay.
The Avs powerplay is kind of like the office hottie; looks good, but doesn't get anything accomplished. The numbers aren't very pretty. 24 PP goals in total (just over half the 44 that league-leading Detroit has). 14.5% effectiveness (a lowly 25th-best). The Avalanche are decent on the PP at home (19.2%, 11th in the league), and atrocious on the road with an absolutely awful 8.3% (dead last).
Joel Quenneville has tried using 4 forwards on the PP, plopping either Joe Sakic or Wojtek Wolski on the point. I don't really feel that either have been tremendously effective, but Sakic, at least, was able generate some offense from the blueline (without embarrassing himself defensively). Wolski is a guy that I really like...but he just seems out of place back there. He has just 4 PP points, and all 4 of those points are goals. I don't remember specifically, but I'm willing to bet that not one of those came from the point, meaning he's essentially provided no offense from inside the blueline. And, he has been pressured off the puck a few times when he's had to go back defensively. Again, I really like Wolski, but I just don't think the point is the place for him.
At times, Quenneville drops the 4-forward thing to go with two defensemen - usually John-Michael Liles and Brett Clark, with Kyle Cumiskey thrown into the mix from time to time. Liles has been good, but not great. He has 10 PP points. That's not all that hot, but he has been on the ice for 18 of the Avs 24 PP goals. He's been shooting more as of late, and I think that's the key to getting this beast into a pink dress. Clark has just 3 points, but I think he looks a lot better than Wolski does on the point. Clark and Liles seem to move the puck between themselves much better than Wolski and Liles, and both aren't afraid to swap sides or move down low if the play needs it. Wolski (and this really isn't meant to single him out), doesn't have those same instincts. Cumiskey has the lowest shots/game total of anyone on the team other than Scott Parker. Until he learns to let it fly a bit more, I don't think he's the answer. Scott Hanan and Jordan Leopold might be able to help a bit here, though.
Whatever the answer is, I hope they find it quickly. Through 37 games last year, the Avs had 37 goals. As of last night (game 37), the Avs have just 25 on the season. By this point last year, the Avalanche had 9 multi-ppg games. This year, they'v managed to do that a mere 3 times. The team's PP is scoring on a pace of 5.5 PPGs per 60 minutes. As a point of reference, they scored 7.64 per 60 last season (9.30 per 60 in the 2nd half).
No matter how you slice it, the PP has taken a big step backward this year. And it's costing the team in the standings. In their 16 losses, the Avs have just 7 PP goals in 66 chances (an anemic 11% conversion rate). 9 of those losses were essentially by 1 goal (2 were 2-goal games with an empty netter). With even a mediocre powerplay, how many of those losses would have netted us another point? 3? 4? It doesn't sound like much, but that's the difference between first place and third place in our division. Let's hope this sputtering doesn't cost us when the playoffs roll around.