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Where has all the 5-on-5 scoring gone?

The Colorado Avalanche suddenly have a problem scoring goals.

NHL: OCT 25 Avalanche at Rangers Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Injuries have been the main storyline for the Colorado Avalanche with the squad close to 200 man-games lost this season already and have utilized 35 different players in the lineup over the course of the first two months of play. A very underplayed headline, however, is the fact that scoring at 5-on-5 has been an issue all year even before the injury barrage began happening. A hot power play which was tops in the league at one point has covered up the problem as well.

Currently the Avalanche are second to last in the NHL in 5-on-5 goal scored for with 43, only besting the floundering Chicago Blackhawks. The New Jersey Devils lead the league with 75 goals by comparison. Last season the eventual Stanley Cup champions finished fifth in goals for with 198, which is a rate of 2.41 per game. Their pace right now is a paltry 1.53 which would mean just 124 goals scored at 5-on-5 this season.

Goals Gone Missing

The following table indicates every Avalanche player who has scored at least two goals in the 2022-23 campaign at 5-on-5 as well as their per/60 rate. It’s not just the injury bug limiting goals, outside of Mikko Rantanen the rate at which the puck has been going in the net is severely depressed for all players.

2022-23 Season

Player 5v5 Goals For Goals/60
Player 5v5 Goals For Goals/60
Rantanen 11 1.44
MacKinnon 4 0.65
Cogliano 4 0.76
O’Connor 4 0.69
Newhook 3 0.52
Rodrigues 2 0.48
Manson 2 0.39
Lehkonen 2 0.33
Compher 2 0.32
Toews 2 0.25
Makar 2 0.23

Compare that to what the Avalanche received in the 2021-22 season shows the scoring problem this team has endured all season.

2021-22 Season

Player 5v5 Goals For Goals/60
Player 5v5 Goals For Goals/60
MacKinnon 23 1.33
Burakovsky 18 0.98
Rantanen 17 0.87
Kadri 16 1
Landeskog 16 1.25
Nichushkin 15 1.04
Makar 13 0.53
Aube-Kubel 11 1.02
Compher 11 0.78
Newhook 10 0.71

It’s clear here the loss felt by the departure of some of Colorado’s top goal producers in Andre Burakovsky and Nazem Kadri. There’s promise of Artturi Lehkonen and Evan Rodrigues picking up some of the slack but it’s a massive deficit to fill. It’s obvious this is where Gabe Landeskog’s continued absence is contributing to the lack of scoring as well.

Getting the same 11 goals they squeezed out of Nicolas Aube-Kubel from the bottom six group this season feels like a pipe dream. What he brought for only just over a million dollars in cap hit seems to have gone unappreciated and certainly hasn’t been replaced. Only Martin Kaut, Ben Meyers and Dryden Hunt have scored one goal a piece at 5-on-5 in a depth role this season.

And then there’s the slump of some of the team’s top producers. Nathan MacKinnon has yet to get hot and produce much at 5-on-5 with only four goals thus far. With Cale Makar it is fair to wonder if his eye-popping goal scoring output from last season will stand as an outlier in his career.

Getting Goals to Return

One of the most important analytic indicators when discussing goal production is shooting percentage and as a team the Avalanche are easily dead last in the league shooting at 6.2% in their 5-on-5 play. There is optimism for that percentage to normalize and approach the 8.9% scoring rate from last season. But there’s danger in just writing off this year’s discrepancy to bad luck and natural shooting variance as the injuries and depth problems are just as culpable. The Avalanche are getting fewer shots on net as they are down from 34.5 per game to 31.6 which also continues to shooting percentage woes. Lower skill players will naturally have trouble converting on their chances and thus will bring down the entire team’s percentage in the process.

Nathan MacKinnon’s low shooting percentage seems to be a storyline every season. With the talent level he possesses and the shot volume MacKinnon creates he’s always bound to get hot and start filling the net. But his shooting percentage has been wildly inconsistent his entire career even after MacKinnon ascended to superstar status. His current 5.7% at 5-on-5 is a far cry from the 11.3% of last season but in the 2020-21 season MacKinnon finished the year shooting 6.3%. His .65 goals per 60 of this season matches up with the .66 rate he put up two seasons ago as well. So while he might find more individual success this season it’s hardly enough to pull the team out of a shooting percentage related tailspin.

Aside from getting consistent producer Landeskog back in the lineup there’s some hope on the horizon. The continued development and offensive improvement from the likes of Alex Newhook and Ben Meyers will lead to more pucks in the back of the net. Artturi Lehkonen is well below his career pace presently shooting 5% so there an uptick is expected from him as well. Makar shooting 3.8% is one of the lowest on this year’s squad and there will be more to give from a superstar talent in him, too. Rantanen’s torrid pace is something he matched from two years ago and he is a consistent high percentage shooter where his 17.4% is not wildly outreaching career norms and could continue for the bulk of the season.

So some natural upward regression is fair to expect. The Avalanche very likely will not finish bottom five in 5-on-5 scoring this season but can they even get in back the top half of the league much less in the top five with the deficit already created and diminished firepower overall? That is the question which might define the 2022-23 Colorado Avalanche.