Heading into the new season, one of the hot topics of discussion is the impending regression of the Colorado Avalanche. A team that certainly overachieved last year in taking the Central Division title over the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, the Avs were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Minnesota Wild. Nonetheless, they’re setting their sights on bigger things in the upcoming campaign.
“Bigger things” isn’t necessarily the opinion of the masses, though, as many have predicted that the Avalanche will take a massive step back under second-year head coach Patrick Roy. There’s certainly some potential truth to that, as the Avs defied possession numbers in finding their massive regular season success last season. In talks of regression, the general view is that Semyon Varlamov will suffer the most in that department.
A finalist for the Vezina Trophy, Varlamov put together a career year in a season in which many were questioning his job security and his place in Colorado for the future. He put together a fantastic season, leading the league in wins (41), finishing eighth in goals allowed, third in save percentage, and first in both shots against and saves (his status as a terrible human being notwithstanding).
He certainly had his work cut out for him. The Avs have an excellent group of forwards, which (in a cooperative effort with Varlamov) helped to cover up a miserable defensive group. The Avs allowed the sixth most shots per game last year, at almost 33 per game. Thanks to Varlamov, though, they were middle-of-the-road in goals allowed per game, at 2.63. He played absolutely out of his mind for the majority of the year.
His goals against average for the year came in at 2.41, which was 20th in the league, but a very respectable number when you consider the fact that he was constantly being peppered with shots. Additionally, his still posted a very nice .927 save percentage to help make that number seem less significant. Again, though, the amount of shots he faces per game and the possession numbers that don’t favor the Avs could definitely point to a regression.
The Avalanche finished last year 19th in the league in Corsi For%, at 48.9%. Additionally, they finished 27th in the league in PDO, with a figure of 985. What helped them fend off horrid goals against totals is the fact that they didn’t start possession in their own end, as they actually ranked in the top half of the league in offensive zone start percentage. Had that been tilted to more starts in their own end, the numbers would have painted a much uglier picture.
What this all boils down to is exactly what we’re expecting: a regression for Semyon Varlamov. It’s unreasonable to expect him to continue to fend off so many shots, when the Avs are so poor in possession and so high in shots against. If the Avalanche take a hit in their offensive zone starts, it’s certainly going to increase chances for opposing teams. For a team that didn’t do much of anything to improve their defensive strength, aside from adding Brad Stuart, it’s going to be Varlamov that ultimately suffers the most.