After their performance in the last two road games, the Colorado Avalanche would have a better chance stopping goals with penalty shots than penalty kills. The Avs took six penalties against the Edmonton Oilers who scored four power play goals. They had eight shorthanded situations against the San Jose Sharks and allowed three power play goals, but also surrendered another goal right after a penalty expired. This comes out to a percentage of eight goals as a result of power plays against the Avs by their opponent in 14 tries, at a rate of 57% inefficiency.
For the year, the Avalanche are averaging three actual power play goals against a game on the road, through three games. The road percentage of penalty kill is a solid 52%, second worst in the league, but they are tied for second in most penalty minutes on the road, averaging over six minutes a game shorthanded. This number is trimmed down from actual penalty minutes because of all the goals they have given up.
There are a lot of excuses as to why the Avalanche penalty kill the last two games is not as bad as it seems. Redirected goals, off skates and bodies, have led to a couple of scores. The team was deflated right after losing its captain in the Sharks game, which led to two power play goals in a row. The last goal in the Oilers game was an empty net goal. The Oilers and the Sharks have two of the best power plays in the west. Penalty killing is hard.
A solid 100% kill rate on six penalties at home through two games has kept the Avalanche’s total penalty kill percentage at 71%, which is 24th out of 30 teams for the year. However, the penalty kill continues to get worse instead of better. The Avalanche leave pucks in their own zone and are allowing too many second chance opportunities for their opponents. Goalie Semyon Varlamov has played well, but is not being effectively protected in front.
The Avalanche let forward Jay McClement go to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the offseason. McClement was the team’s best penalty killer last year, leading the Avs in shorthanded ice time as their fourth line center. Additionally, Ryan O’Reilly is gathering cobwebs in his contract dispute and signing him would help patch up a lot of holes in this club, especially special teams. The Avalanche were 12th in the league shorthanded last year with these two forwards and a respectable 15th on the road.
How to improve the ever-worsening Avalanche penalty kill? Don’t allow shooters to have time to set up their power play and clear pucks out from in front of the net. The Avalanche are failing with a sit and wait penalty kill strategy. They should be more aggressive. Of course, this strategy is easier said than done and the Avalanche likely do not have effective penalty kill players on their roster. The Avalanche have two road games in a row at the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames. Simple advice to those teams, try to draw a lot of penalties.