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The good, bad and ugly of the Colorado Avalanche season so far

As we head into December, how have the Avalanche built on last season?

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

So December is here - time for holiday shopping, Christmas parties, and that infernal Elf on a Shelf (the bane of any young parent’s existence).

So why don’t we do the same?

Through 26 games, the Colorado Avalanche are currently tied with Nashville on top of the Western Conference. That’s a lot better than many would have expected coming into the season. The hope was to build on last season, but I’m not sure it was realistic to expect the team to be a legitimate contender for the Western Conference title.

Despite an overtime loss to St. Louis on Friday, the team is playing their best hockey of the season having gained points in 10 straight games.

As we head into the third month of the season, let’s look back and reflect on how the season has gone thus far.

The Good

  • Scoring - the Avalanche scored at a torrid pace in the month of November. They now sit on top of the league with 3.73 goals per game.
  • The Top Line - we all knew they were good, but did anyone think they’re this good? The top line is scoring at a rate rarely seen in the modern history of the NHL. Mikko Rantanen leads the NHL with 43 points while Nathan MacKinnon sits in second, only two points behind him.
  • Erik Johnson - While Sam Girard’s play has slowed down a bit lately - he’s still been really good - it’s been Erik Johnson that has been the rock on the blueline. The veteran defender is logging huge ice time and has been Jared Bednar’s work horse all season. When you look at the team’s possession stats, every single teammate gets better when EJ is on the ice. That’s not a coincidence.
  • Goal differential - One of the best indicators of predicting where a team will be at the end of the season is goal differential. The Avalanche currently have a +24. Only the Maple Leafs have a better differential.
  • The power play - The Avs currently lead the league in efficiency with the man advantage - converting on 31.4% of their power plays.
  • Play on the road - The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team in the NHL with as many road wins as the Avalanche. Nine of the team’s 15 wins have come away from the Pepsi Center. It’s been a rough schedule to start the season, but the Avs have handled it well - a good sign for when they start to play more home games. This is very encouraging since the Avs struggled a lot on the road last season.

The Bad

  • Shots differential - the Avalanche have been out shot far too often this season. The Avs are 11th in the NHL in shot against per game, but all the way down at 22nd for shots for. If the shooting percentage normalizes, the offense could start to dry up a little.
  • Patrik Nemeth - He’s been really bad, even for a sixth defender. He was bad last season, but Nemeth’s play has stood out this season - not in a good way. He’s giving up more scoring chances against than any other defender and he’s a drain on the guys he’s playing with. Last year he was bad, but fans stood up for him because he’s big and hits hard - his defenders seem to be far fewer this season.
  • Injuries - First, Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher missed large chunks of the season with head injuries, now Tyson Barrie is on the shelf. Injuries happen to every team, but it’s hard to maintain consistent play through the season when key parts of your lineup are sidelined.

The Ugly

  • Penalties - The Avalanche average more than 10 penalty minutes a game. That is fourth in the league. If they want to keep winning games, the team is going to have to bring that average down as the season goes on. Their -15 penalty differential is the second worst in the NHL.
  • Third period defense - The Avalanche have given up 39 goals against this season, 17 of which have come in the third period. The Avs give up more goals as the games go on - something that is definitely a bad sign.
  • First period play - As good as the Avs have been, their play in the first period leaves a lot to be desired. Of their 97 goals for, only 22 have come in the first 20 minutes. While they’ve been able to make up for it with great play in the second half of games, playing from behind too often could come back to haunt them.