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Avalanche Penalty Kill: Good System, Bad Execution

Too many penalties to kill and plenty of individual mistakes obscured a surprisingly effective PK system

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Like most aspects of the Avalanche last year, the penalty kill was not very good. Not last in the league thanks to the Dallas Stars but close enough. The good news may be that going forward 3 out of the top 8 in PK time on ice plus 2 of the 3 goalies are no longer with the team.

The first things that jump out at you when looking at the numbers are some groupings. Overall percentage, goals against (both counts and per hour), and save percentage are all ranked about the same, and bad. Shining a bit of hope are the shot attempt and scoring chance against rates which are more mid-pack or even in the top 10 in the league. If you want to take an optimistic view like I do, then this is explained by the systems that Coach Bednar and Nolan Pratt installed and the poor overall numbers can be written off to personnel shortcomings and having the 4th most times shorthanded in the league. It’s not an unreasonable premise.

Just like with the power play, I looked at some team statistics by situation to see if there were weaknesses based on score. With the PP, the more favorable the game situation, the less effective the Avs became. On the PK the last time you want to give up a goal is when you have a 1-goal lead, to a lesser extent the same is true when the game is tied.

Shot attempt against rates (CA/60) were actually pretty steady relative to the league regardless of the situation.

Overall: 95.51 (11th)
Down 1: 88.39 (10th)
Tied: 97.76 (15th)
Up 1: 96.92 (11th)

This really doesn’t say much other than what they did as far as shot suppression goes was sustainable and probably system related. Where the numbers moved a bit was in save percentage (PKsv%).

Overall: .835 (29th)
Down 1: .773 (27th)
Tied: .835 (27th)
Up 1: .867 (18th)

First of all, even though it’s save percentage by the goalie it’s not necessarily the goalie’s fault when he does not make a save. There’s no category for 5-hole tricklers vs unseeable rockets past the glove hand. Some of this is on Pick/Varly/Smitty/Marty, some of this is on the team for screening or tipping pucks past their buddies. It’s tough to say how much of each. What jumps out is that in the absolute worst situation to give up a goal, the PK was actually more effective! Unbelievable. The depressing part is that it looks like they gave up as the score became less and less favorable. Those queasy feelings of “oh no, here we go again” were real. There’s not a lot to get from the goalie stats but between Pickard and Varlamov, they saw similar attempt and shot rates and Varly’s Sv% was .852 to Picks’ .833.

Two of top PK defensemen from last season (Beauchemin & Tyutin) won’t be around in camp. Beauch was fairly effective while Tyutin was horrible. The shot attempts per hour (CA/60) numbers from the top 4 by time:

Johnson: 95.14
Beauchemin: 97.33
Zadorov: 100.98
Tyutin: 107.31

Barrie (70.29) & Barberio (79.07) didn’t see much time on PK but had a knack for suppression. If Duncan Siemens (55.96!) and/or Anton Lindholm (72.34) make the team they have shown some pretty effective shot suppression in small sample sizes. Safe to say it’s unlikely the Avs will miss the two exiting vets.

The top PK forwards all return this season, here are their shot attempts against rates:

Landeskog: 93.56
Comeau: 96.01
Nieto: 96.86
MacKinnon: 107.37

Hmmm, something’s a little off. One of these fellows might not be what we’re looking for. Love Mack but what he adds, mainly a threat to go up ice quickly, probably isn’t a good thing as far as being in the top 4 penalty killers. Landy is a shot suppression beast as always, I’d love to see a way to decrease his PK time but he’s so valuable there. Comeau and Nieto are exactly the kind of players that should be getting big minutes. Carl Soderberg (75.69) could find a way to be useful on the kill, CF/60 on the PK is a pretty dumb stat but Carl’s 24.13 is the tops out of guys that played noticeable minutes. JT Compher (91.53) and Tyson Jost (95.86) are also options with some promising suppression numbers in small samples.

While the power play will have a brand new look with coach Ray Bennett joining the team, the penalty kill should be much the same as far as broad systems go. The ways it will improve will be some personnel changes, perhaps some input from Randy Ladouceur & Eric Veilleux who guided the Rampage’s 10th place PK in the AHL and the usual year-to-year tweaks that all coaches install. It’s not a slam dunk to improve but given the underlying shot suppression stats the Avs ought to have been a mid-pack team on the PK. Basically, fundamental mistakes and general apathy caused them to underachieve rather than something horribly flawed in their strategies. For a team that gave up over 270 goals knocking 10-12 off just by percentage is a good start, cutting down on idiotic penalties to kill in the first place would be nice too. Coach Bednar made the point several times last year that having too many penalties to kill was part of why the overall percentage tanked, on paper he seems to have a case. If the Avs trust the system and stop making life difficult on the goalies it’s easy to turn the PK into a net positive.