Despite looking rather lackluster in the past two games, the Colorado Avalanche have started the season 4-3 and from a record standpoint, have exceeded expectations early in the season.
Those 4 wins, however, are disguising a disturbing trend that is going to need to be corrected if this team is going to remain out of the bottom-5 of the NHL. Though they have two road wins, the team has been pretty bad when away from the Pepsi Center. The wins in New York and Boston, are both wins that can be attributed to some incredible goaltending play by Semyon Varlamov. The Avs were outplayed in both of them - by teams that are struggling mightily so far this season.
Sometimes it’s easy to just chalk wins up to goaltending play, but in the case of the Avalanche this season, it’s the case. Colorado’s goaltending tandem of Varlamov and Jonathan Bernier are currently sitting at a sv% of .926, that’s 16 percentage points higher than the league average of .910. The goalies have been outstanding, and it’s hiding a disturbing trend of terrible road play.
2017-18 Home/Road Splits
The difference in the team’s play is night and day. Of course, it’s an incredibly small sample size - especially at home - but we can see a trend starting to develop on the road. The goals against look fine - in fact, the 2.6 per game is well below average - but again, that’s thanks to the goaltending. When we look at the number of shots and scoring opportunities the team is giving up, it’s a cause for concern.
Through the first five road games, the team has been giving up an average of 35.4 shots against. That’s 15 more than at home and among the highest in the league. You can only count on your goalies to bail you out so much. If this trend continues, the road record is going to get really ugly, really fast.
Is it as simple as the team being able to choose the matchup at home, resulting in better performance?
Maybe it’s the fact that the home sample is so small, and at five games, it will look as ugly as the road numbers.
2016-17 Home/Road Splits
Last season’s (.325)/road(.244) winning percentage splits resulted in a 0.081 home/road split, which put the Avalanche right in the middle of the league. Letting that split widen by playing so poorly on the road is not a way for this team to improve.
Through five games road games this season the Avalanche are actually playing worse than the one that went 10-31 away from the Pepsi Center last year. That team only gave up 32.6 shots per game on the road. The most concerning number might be the 63.6 CA/60 on the road so far this season. The team only won 10 games on the road all last season and so far are giving up more opportunities at their net this year. That’s frightening.
For all the talk about the Avs defense exceeding expectations, the numbers show they actually aren’t. They’re playing worse than last year and that can’t continue.
Is this just a failure by the coaching staff to adapt and make adjustments on the road, or is there another underlying issue? Whatever the reason, this Avs team is going to have to fix what they’re doing on the road if they want to avoid another embarrassing season.