An Avalanche of in­ep­ti­tude

The Washington Post Sunday - - HOCKEY - BY NEIL GREEN­BERG neil.green­berg@wash­post.com

There is no other way to put this: The Colorado Avalanche, de­spite back-to-back vic­to­ries Tues­day and Thurs­day, are a bad team. Not only are they the worst team in the NHL this sea­son, they could turn in one of the worst per­for­mances of the past 18 years, the first time the league awarded two points for a reg­u­la­tion or over­time win, one point for an over­time loss and zero points for a reg­u­la­tion loss.

The Avalanche has a 19-44-3 record (41 points), which puts it on pace for the worst sea­son since it re­lo­cated to Den­ver from Que­bec in 1995, where the fran­chise was fondly known as the Nordiques. As of Fri­day, Colorado ranks last in the NHL in goals scored per game (1.95), the third low­est since 1999-2000. The Avalanche al­ready has been shut out 11 times in 66 games, putting it within strik­ing dis­tance of the 2006-07 Columbus Blue Jack­ets, who were shut out 16 times that sea­son, the most since the league ex­panded be­yond the Orig­i­nal Six in 1967.

Part of the prob­lem for Coach Jared Bed­nar is his team’s in­abil­ity to cre­ate scor­ing chances. Colorado is the only team this sea­son cre­at­ing fewer than six even-strength chances per 60 min­utes, and it has a league-low 83 scor­ing chances on the power play. The team’s most used line, fea­tur­ing Nathan Mackin­non, Gabriel Lan­deskog and Mikko Ran­ta­nen, has been out­shot 114-102 at even strength after ad­just­ing for score ef­fects and has a mi­nus-5 goal dif­fer­en­tial in 212 min­utes played. Swap­ping out Rene Bourque for Ran­ta­nen sees the Avalanche out­shot 66-63 with a mi­nus-3 goal dif­fer­en­tial in 116 min­utes played.

And that of­fen­sive in­ep­ti­tude over­shad­ows the team’s de­fense, which isn’t as bad as it looks.

Colorado is al­low­ing 32 even-strength shots per 60 min­utes, third worst in the league, but only 19 per­cent of those, fifth low­est in the NHL, are clas­si­fied as high-dan­ger shots, those orig­i­nat­ing in the slot or near the crease.

So in­stead of al­low­ing 150 goals against at even strength be­cause of puck luck, Colorado should have al­lowed 126 based on lo­ca­tion. Those ex­tra goals against help con­trib­ute to the team’s league­worst mi­nus-88 goal dif­fer­en­tial and ac­count for most of the dif­fer­ence be­tween the Avalanche and Ari­zona Coy­otes, the team with the sec­ond-worst goal dif­fer­en­tial this year (mi­nus-54).

But that’s just a sil­ver lin­ing. The Avalanche will miss the play­offs for a third year in a row and is in its third year of de­cline. The only ques­tion left is how far it will fall this sea­son.

If Colorado con­tin­ues to lose at its cur­rent pace, it will end the sea­son with the third-low­est win­ning per­cent­age among teams with at least a mi­nus-80 goal dif­fer­en­tial. If the Avalanche wins fewer than two of its re­main­ing games, it be­comes the sec­ond-worst team since 1999 be­hind the 1999-2000 At­lanta Thrash­ers, an ex­pan­sion team with 14 wins on the sea­son.

MATT SLOCUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Colorado ranks last in the NHL in goals scored per game. Gabriel Lan­deskog, above, is sec­ond in goals with 15, and no one has more than 16.

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