Game 1 vs MIN: Crush Minnesota

When I wrote my last post here, the Avalanche had a >99% chance of facing the Chicago Blackhawks in their opening playoffs series. As the astute reader may have observed, that is no longer the case. Following a flat-out incroyable 8-0-1 stretch, and buoyed along by an equally impressive collapse by the St. Louis Blues, our boys in burgundy and blue have claimed the division title and instead secured a matchup against the Minnesota Wild.

And boy, do I hate the Minnesota Wild.

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Game 76 vs NYR: Beat Chicago

Tyler Dellow recently made an excellent and brief explanation of why Corsi matters – success that defies possession metrics is very likely to be unsustainable over a large span of time. Corsi is predictive; although any given season will have outliers, a team that prospers despite bleeding shot attempts is expected to drop off as the bounces stop going their way. Over the long term, a team will be about as strong as their possession numbers indicate, and good teams have started realizing this.

I’ve written about why the Avalanche have been outperforming expectations, but there’s still plenty of evidence that the team is built on ridiculous goaltending and winning an unsustainable percentage of close games. Avalanche fans tend to cite shot quality as a counterpoint (and I’ll delve deeper into this in a future article) but a look at shot location indicates that this is more likely to be a weakness than anything else.

The reason I’m dredging these same ideas up again is because Justin Bourne recently posted a contentiously titled article – Why the Colorado Avalanche are going to get smoked by Chicago in playoffs. He makes mention of their poor Corsi numbers (particularly head-to-head against the Blackhawks), the underlying puck luck behind buoying their record, and of course the injury to Matt Duchene that will almost certainly sideline him until the end of the series.

The Blackhawks, of course, are a possession juggernaut coming off a Stanley Cup Championship and not exactly pretenders to the throne. While their superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are currently injured, both are expected to return for the playoffs. Even if Colorado has a decisive advantage in the season series, they’ve been consistently outplayed and the conclusion that Chicago is a much stronger team doesn’t seem an unreasonable one to make.

Naturally, Avalanche fans has reacted poorly as they are wont to do. Some issue has been taken with the tone of what he’s written, which confuses me because people prognosticate hockey all the time without an asterisk asserting that nothing is a sure thing and no prediction is made with 100% certainty. This is generally left unspoken because it ought to be plainly obvious that these are not legitimate claims of clairvoyance, but our fandom’s zeitgeist seems to be a massive inferiority complex and woe betide anybody who triggers it.

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Game 68 vs OTT: Advancing Stats, Part II

After an unexpected hot start, my blogging activity has finally regressed to its mean of zero. Sure my post percentage peaked for a while, but you could tell from my career average that it was completely unsustainable and due to fall apart. Ladies and gentlemen, advanced stats!

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Game 42 vs CAL: Erik Johnson Should Be On Your Olympic Team

I’m going to cut to the chase here – Erik Johnson has been one of the best defensemen in the NHL this year and it is unfathomable to me that he missed the cut for Team USA. Snubs for other players have been discussed at length, but outside of Avalanche Nation, very few people are talking about Johnson’s candidacy – which is an absolute shame, because his game has reached some incredible heights over the past 12 months.

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Game 23 vs STL: Olympic Names

I was thinking of doing a quarter-season review earlier, but my poor pattern recognition failed to remind me that about a hundred other writers would be using that exact lead-in. So I’m doing things differently this time – rather than put in the effort to produce creative articles, I’m going to take a clichéd idea and undercut everybody else by writing about it first. The world of hockey blogging is a cutthroat place! This time, we’ll examine who’s in and who’s out among the Avs’ Olympic candidates from top to bottom, or at least until I get bored. Is this what a journalism high feels like?

It surprised me how up-and-down Canadian the roster is – Don Cherry would be proud! AHLer Markus Lauridsen has a contract with the the parent club and would probably make the Danish team had they qualified for Sochi, but he’s our only player hailing from a lesser hockey nation. As for our Russian, Swede, and handful of Americans, they should all be right in the mix for Olympic roster spots – with the lonely exception of Nate Guenin, who will have to deal with the entire team’s smack talk through the break.

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Game 22 @ LAK: Regicide

One of the running themes for this year’s Avalanche (and the 2009-10 Avalanche, and the 2010-11 Avalanche) is that they’ve largely been powered by unsustainably high percentages and winning despite poor puck possession and being regularly outshot. Their gamess against the Blackhawks and Coyotes did little to dispel this. Despite coming out with what were ostensibly statement wins – a 5-1 drubbing of the defending champions and a gutsy effort to recover a blown lead in Phoenix – the Avs were soundly outplayed, and outcompeted by both opponents. Once again, they fell into the trap of overreliance on Semyon Varlamov to save their bacon, as he so often has this season.

So this last victory over the Kings made a refreshing change. By even strength Corsi, LA is the top possession team in the league and not only did the Avs outperform them, they steamrolled them. A 4-minute double minor gave the Kings no momentum, and over even strength the Avs outshot them nearly twofold. Only a brilliant game from sudden superstar Ben Scrivens allowed the Kings to escape with a not-particularly-deserved point, which was probably a pretty good representation of how other fanbases feel during Avs games.

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Game 21 @ PHX: Hooked on Phoenix

Not many people outside of Phoenix have noticed, but the Coyotes have slipped into a good pace as fellow overachievers-of-the-month, spurred on by a tremendous 9-0-2 record at home. Like the Avalanche, their hot start belies some poor possession numbers and puck luck falling in their favour. But unlike our side, these Coyotes haven’t been reliant on their goaltending tandem (which has been uncharacteristically mediocre despite the stifling presence of Dave Tippett’s System) so much as scoring in bunches and bunches.

Their newly active offense was on full display last night, thoroughly dominating possession and hemming the Avs into their defensive zone for much of the game. The boys in burgundy and blue picked up the pace after falling behind though, and outplaying the Coyotes for those 10 minutes proved enough to earn 2 points (granted, after the referees pretty well gift-wrapped them for us). Some pundits will point at these wins over the Blackhawks and Coyotes and say we’re keeping up with top competition, but I’d be wary until we at least stop getting outchanced twofold.

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