Will the defending Stanley Cup champion make the playoffs?

Last year, the Colorado Avalanche made history with the name One of the most dominant Stanley Cup champions To take the snow ever. This year, Avs threaten to make history, too—but not the good kind.

Since 1971, only three cup champions have failed to follow up a title run with a trip back to the playoffs the following season: 1995-96 New Jersey Devilsthe 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings. If the 2022-23 regular season ends today, Colorado will join that group, though Stunning consecutive wins Over the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings over the weekend. With 40 games to go, the Avalanche is at it right now Fourth in the Central Division And 3rd place in the Western Wild Card Racewith four points still separating them from last playoff spot.

So things aren’t looking all that great for the Avs’ championship defense right now. But we probably shouldn’t count Colorado out just yet. Avalanche continues She is ranked 3rd in the NHL Elo Rankingsand there are a few reasons why this team can turn its season around, even though the clock is ticking.

Better health in the future?

For one thing, the Avalanche has been among the hottest teams in the league, standings He lost his third place in the points standings due to injury earlier this season, according to ManGamesLost.com. Among the Colorado players placed on injured reserve This season were three of the eight best players on the team last season according to goals above substitution – Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskoog and Valerie Nishochkin – as well as many other important players. As a result, the NHL has not recruited more different players this year than Colorado, which saw the league’s highest level 38 players total Put on his jacket.

No team has had to tap its reserves more than the Avs

NHL teams with the most different players used in the 2022-23 season

Team attackers Defensemen goal sum
Colorado Avalanche 25 10 3 38
Columbus Blue Jackets 20 12 3 35
Toronto Maple Leafs 20 12 3 35
Vancouver Canucks 17 12 3 32
Chicago Blackhawks 17 10 4 31

Through the games of January 16th.

Source: Hockey-Reference.com

But Avs spend the next month or so disassembly together At least some of their broken list, which got a big boost on Monday when Nichushkin He returned to the game to First time since December 23rd. And any amount of extra production from the healthy bodies in the lineup will help a team with just four skaters — Mikko Rantanen, Kal Makar, McKinnon and Devon Toews — track for a 10.0 GAR this season, down from eight (which was tied for third-best in the NHL). ) last year.

Goaltending and defense can keep them in the chase

Sometimes when a hockey team falls apart, it can be because the pucks don’t stay out of the net. (Just ask the Vancouver Canucks, who didn’t allow Seventh lowest number of goals per game In the NHL last season to suddenly tie him to 11- The number of goals allowed in one match of any NHL team in a single season in the past 30 years.) But the Avalanche has remained nearly constant when it comes to blocking goals—they’re No. 11 this year After finishing ninth a year ago – despite replacing Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Darcy Kuemper with former New York Rangers agent Alexander Georgiev, who turned to One of the most trusted internet professionals in the league.

Instead, Colorado’s huge problem in the first half was on the other side of the puck, where it was an offense We called it “Snow’s Greatest Show” Last season it went downhill badly. Avs gone from Fourth place in the number of goals scored per match In 2021-22 to shock 22 so far this seasonwith 13 of the current top 20 members on the list (by 2021-22 Adjusted points) Track for less total this season. Some of that is down to the aforementioned laundry list of injuries, which has slowed McKinnon (team squad. Most talented forward), robbed Nichushkin of a potentially best career season, overall hollowed out an offensive team that moved from 5th in points to 27th, and even took a bite out of the NHL’s highest-scoring Blueline team a year ago. (Maqar Back to Earth a a teenager a little It didn’t help there either.)

But when a team is struggling to put the puck in the net, it’s nice to be able to take possession of the puck and good old-fashioned defensive hockey. by Multiple measures – Whether you looked at Course ratio (vii), Fenwick ratio (12) or share of expected goals (14) and scoring chances (seventh) achieved by a team in its games – the Avalanche remained among the top half of the league in controlling the flow of play, even if it did not result in the same goal average as in the past. This should bode well for Colorado going forward, if not for its deteriorating offense, then at least for its ability to limit opponents at the other end. And with the big caveat that Georgiev still lacks a huge sample of elite play (he’s already set three new single-season career-high starts), blocking goals tends to be “more consistent” between the two halves of the season than scoring anyway.

Friendly schedule

When all else fails, weak competition may be the best remedy for a declining team. And the Avalanche will definitely get a chance to dine with the league’s weakest teams during the second half of the season: according to the average Elo rating Of its future opponents (adjusted for home ice advantage), Colorado has the eighth easiest remaining schedule in the NHL, trailing only the Arizona Coyotes, Canucks, Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Seattle Kraken and Edmonton Oilers. This is part of a gift from the scheduling gods who have seen the defending champions actually face the seventh easiest roster in the league so far; Staying an easy group of opponents is almost easy from here.

The Avalanche should do a better job of taking advantage of the poor schedule, of course. After weeding out opponents whose ratings fell below the league average last year — winning 75.0 percent of the time, good for fifth-best in the league — Colorado beat below-average teams just 57.9 percent of the time. This season, which ranks only 13th. (They also only win 50 percent of the time as favorites, which puts them a bad 24th in the league.) We saw an example of those failures last Thursday night, when the Avs went to Chicago as preferred by 66 percent Against the feared Blackhawks, only to lose 3-2 afterward Don’t hold the lead every game. But in theory, this team should mind business more often against weaker foes – as it did over the weekend against Ottawa and Detroit – and Colorado will have plenty of chances against that kind of opponent.

All of these factors help explain why, despite the hole they’ve carved themselves in the standings, the Avalanche still has a 75 percent chance of making it back to the playoffs. according to our prediction model. (And why Stanley Cup odds the condition in making the playoffs are roughly the same as those of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes, two teams with much better records.) The NHL season is long, and a lot of things can happen even in a relatively short period of matches. On paper, the Avalanche should be better than it was, especially once they piece together a healthier version of themselves. But the defending Stanley Cup champion shouldn’t miss the playoffs either. With half a season left to reverse course, it is now up to Colorado to avoid adding themselves to that bad list.

Check out the latest NHL predictions.

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