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[Wild About Numbers]: Turns Out The Avalanche Weren’t a Special Snowflake After All

After all the hype about them based on their regular season points total, the Avs' season ended, not with a bang, but a whimper and it really wasn’t that surprising.

Nino rules, OK?
SB Nation

I think it's hard to properly describe how glad I am that the Wild beat the Avalanche last night. I'm currently on a couple of days holiday in Dublin and as I sit typing this article while sipping a pint and listening to a folk band playing, I'm still buzzing from the excitement of that game. With that series out of the way, it's time to pick the bones of what is done and then start looking forward to the impending series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Hopefully this is the last thing I have to write about the Avs until next season at least.

It's old news at this point, but the Colorado Avalanche have been a hotly debated topic between the advanced stats crowd and the traditionalists this season. After finishing with the #1 overall draft pick last year, capping 3 seasons of not making the playoffs, the Avs, under their new head coach Patrick Roy, went on an improbable run to win Conference III (or the Central Division, if you prefer) ahead of the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks. Many writers and fans pointed out that, despite their wins, they were posting possession numbers that put them in the bottom-5 of the league (with all the other successful teams like the Flames, Oilers, Leafs and Sabres). The Avs were being heavily out-shot and out-possessed at even strength but continued to pile on the wins thanks to an incredible season from Semyon Varlamov, above average shooting percentage, an excellent powerplay and great success when pulling the goalie.

It seemed that, while they were terrible when both teams had the same amount of players on the ice, they played like an elite team once they had an extra man out there. It's been shown time and time again that, to be a successful team in this league, you need to post strong possession numbers and not rely on unsustainable shooting percentage or your usually average goalie having an incredible season. Sooner or later those percentages are going to regress and, if you're being consistently out-shot, things are going to go downhill fast.

To the Avs' credit, they were a real outlier and managed to sustain their good fortune all the way to the division title. Unlike the Maple Leafs, their poor possession numbers didn't blow up in their face before the end of the season. So the Avs went into their 1st round match up with the Minnesota Wild feeling pretty confident. They beat out the Blues and Blackhawks to win the division and won the season series against the Hawks very comfortably, why would they expect anything other than total domination against the Wild?

They weren't wrong in seeing the Wild as the easiest draw they could have gotten. After all, the Wild were the 21st best possession team in the league. Now, that ranking doesn't really tell the full story as the team's numbers were decimated by losing Koivu, Parise and Spurgeon to injury for a spell and they certainly would've been better if Matt Moulson had been around all season. Still, this Wild team is pretty middle-of-the-pack in terms of puck possession unlike the league-leading Blackhawks, top-5 Blues or top-10 Stars. But despite the Wild not being one of the elite possession teams, they were still much better than the Avs and it showed in this series.

-Look at the comparison between the Avs' regular season and playoff numbers:

5v5  Close

Regular Season


CF vs CA






FF vs FA






SF vs SA






GF vs GA















*CF=Corsi (Shot attempts) For
*FF=Fenwick (Unblocked shot attempts) For
*SF= Shots On Goal For
*GF=Goals For

The Avs were able to out-score teams in the regular season thanks to their high shooting percentage and great goaltending, but when their goaltending regressed to the mean in the playoffs, the house of cards came tumbling down. Their Sh% actually increased in the playoffs and yet they were still out-scored at 5v5 Close. The Wild out-scored them 13-9 with a PDO of 98.6. That shows you the kind of luck the Avs had to ride during the regular season. Looking at total EV play and not just when the score was Close, the Wild had a 98.2 PDO to the Avs' 101.8 and yet the Wild out-scored them 16-13.

The only reason this series made it to 7 games was thanks to the Avs dominance with the extra man (particularly with the empty net), laughably incompetent officiating in Game 5 and a freak Game 2 in which the Wild just didn't show up at all.

I don't know how any Avs fan could watch that series and come away thinking: "Yup, our team is definitely as good as their standings position suggests". They were consistently outplayed by a non-elite Wild team. Their shot totals in Games 3 and 4 were simply embarrassing. Can you fathom the Blackhawks or any other true elite team ever turning in a performance like that in the playoffs? I sure can't.

All the talk before the series about how their high Sv% wouldn't regress because Roy's coaching system (allegedly) allowed for fewer quality shots to be taken on Varlamov turned out to be as true as the Leafs talk about how their Corsi sucked because they held the puck in the zone longer and waited for high percentages chances only.

pinpointed the Avalanche as the most favourable match-up for the Wild before this series and, despite a few hiccups, it all went according to plan. Truth be told, while this is a sweet, sweet victory, the Avs are an inferior team who the Wild should beat every time and the real challenge lies in the next round against the Blackhawks.

I think they can stop asking #WhyNotUs now. The answer should be painfully, painfully obvious.


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Thanks to Extra Skater, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Abstract and SomeKindOfNinja for all the data.

For a quick advanced stats 101, read this. For more in-depth stuff, read this.