Did anyone see this coming? That the Colorado Avalanche defense would get tougher, without Cale Makar and Bo Byram and Erik Johnson? Did anyone expect that the Avs’ shots-against average would go down with guys like Dan Renouf and Jacob MacDonald and Greg Pateryn playing double-digit minutes lately?
It’s turning into a big story, the Avs’ defensive stinginess. I was at the game tonight at still-fanless Ball Arena, and if fans had been let in, they would have given the team a standing ovation as they left the ice. What a defensive clinic the Avs put on against the Los Angeles Kings. Colorado outshot the Kings 46-18. The Avs had the puck all night. Take a look at this flow chart:
The Avalanche defense have held opponents to 30 shots or fewer in the last 15 games. That’s an all-time record for the team. They are allowing an average of 24.9 shots per game, fewest in the NHL. The 2.36 goals-against per game ranks fifth.
They really are playing well defensively, and it’s not just the D-men doing it all. The forwards are doing a better job away from the puck, and working hard to get the puck when they don’t have it. They are really getting in on opposing puck-handers fast, given them no time and space to make decisions.
Question: What happens when Makar and Byram come back? Both like to play at the offensive end, though they work hard in the D-zone too. Can they just be inserted into a “system” that Jared Bednar may have right now, just as easily as guys like MacDonald, Renouf and Pateryn seem to have done lately?
“The system is only as good as the players playing it,” Bednar said. “To me, it’s buy-in and it’s commitment and it’s hard work. That’s what defending is. You have to have the buy-in from the players, all your players. It’s hard not to buy-in on our team because our top guys buy in real hard. Then, everyone else has to choice but to follow suit. We just keep trying to raise the bar. I think we have players that are getting better at what we do. They’re picking up on the finer details. We’re not scoring a lot of goals right now. You saw like we had tonight, just a 1-0 game at the end, but we gotta want to win games 1-0, 2-1. I think when we do that we create more scoring chances.”
He’s right; the Avs aren’t just packing it in defensively, and foregoing anything at the other end. When they take the puck away from the opponent in their own zone – which has been often of late – they’re still charging down the ice, looking to score. Right now, the puck just isn’t going in a lot. But they’re still getting wins, and anytime you can win a game where you outshot the opponent 46-18, you’re a happy player, coach and fan of that hockey team.
Nothing’s perfect, but tonight’s game was pretty darn close to a perfectly played defensive game.
And you know the old saying about what, in the end, defense wins.