This past year has been the exception in many regards, and the NHL has proved no different with its game-changing rookies and broken records, the revamping of its entire postseason format and absolutely everything about team “bubble” life. There is one exception, however, that Colorado fans cannot seem to wrap their heads around: The Colorado Avalanche’s power play. Why does an otherwise phenomenal team struggle so much when given the advantage, and how impactful will this obstacle be in the race for the Stanley Cup?
Fans talked a lot over the course of the 2019–20 regular season about the Avalanche’s mediocre-to-awful power play execution and what changes needed to be made in order to improve it. Whether the team relied too much on one-timers from Nathan MacKinnon in the left face-off circle, whether their passing lanes were too predictable, whether the second unit was underperforming or whether special teams simply needed to put more pucks on net were all issues discussed and debated as the calendar year turned from 2019 to 2020 and the Avs’ power play conversion rate…well, let’s just say it did not look much better.
The Avalanche ended their regular season with a power play percentage of 19.1, while the other top three teams in their division—the Jets, Stars and Blues—finished with percentages of 20.5, 21.1 and 24.3, respectively. The differential is not massive, although St. Louis ranks third in regular season power play conversions, and yet for a team currently sitting near the top of Western Conference power rankings and one that has made such a strong run this year for Ole Stanley, you would think their power play numbers would be a little higher.
But should you?
Yeah. You probably should.
On the other hand, I think most of us would agree that single statistics rarely tell the whole story.
Colorado is currently third in the league in scoring differential, behind only Boston and Tampa Bay, and despite much anxiety regarding the goaltending situation, Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz have brought their A game and kept the Avalanche’s save percentage hovering around .913. While Colorado did go 1/5 on the power play in their postseason exhibition game against Minnesota, they also went 18/80 on power play conversions from January through March, which puts their power play percentage over the second half of the season right around .225. And, there are some things stats just cannot track, like whether MacKinnon goes on a record-breaking 13-game point streak or just how good Cale Makar’s defensive playmaking abilities are going to be.
Oh, or if they manage to score a game-winning goal with 0.1 seconds left in the game.
So, for a little bit of postseason inspiration in the midst of anxiety surrounding Colorado’s special teams, let’s take a look at some teams who managed to grab the Cup in recent years while underperforming on the power play.
In the 2011–12 season, Los Angeles finished with a power play conversion rate of 16.96 when the league average that year was 17.31. When they won the Stanley Cup again in the 2013–14 season, their percentage was even worse at 15.14 when the league average was 17.89. But, they had a killer center in Anze Kopitar, who led the playoffs in points both years, as well as a top-scoring defenseman in Drew Doughty and a goaltending performance for the books from Jonathan Quick.
The Chicago Blackhawks also struggled on the power play in both of their most recent Stanley Cup finals. In 2012–13, their power play percentage came in at 16.67 when the league average was 18.82, and in the 2014–15 season, it was a little better, but still not great, at 17.69 when the league average was 18.66. But, they also had star forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, solid netminding from Corey Crawford and exceptional defensive performances from the likes of Duncan Keith, not to mention some good young draft picks contributing like Teuvo Teravainen.
So, what is it going to take for the Avalanche? And how much need is there to worry?
Clearly, the team has a lot of the ingredients it takes to win. Blue line depth, all-star forwards, two goaltenders who are both reliable enough that Bednar does not even decide who to play until the very last minute. Five on five, Colorado looks pretty darn good.
But five on four, or even five on three…
Maybe special teams need to force the puck to MacKinnon less often. Maybe Colorado needs to shoot more and stop looking for that extra short pass. As one Twitter user suggested, maybe the Avalanche could just…refuse to take the advantage?
Yeah alright, that is not an option.
But, while I certainly hope the Avs figure out a way to fix their special teams, I have also been a little less worried knowing that previous teams have snatched the Stanley Cup with worse regular season power play performances.
On the other hand, we probably should not let our guards down. Playoff hockey is never quite like regular season hockey, and in this regard, 2020 is no exception.