NEWARK, N.J. — Unexpected hiccups or weaknesses have a tendency to overshadow a team’s positives early in a season, especially in the court of public opinion regarding a defending champion that’s supposed to click into place automatically.
So it’s natural that the Avalanche’s slow start in the penalty kill was more of a focal point than the other side of the special teams equation.
The power play numbers are becoming difficult to ignore, though. Colorado (4-2-1) is unstoppable.
Heading into Thursday’s games, there have been 773 power plays in the young NHL season. The league-wide power play scoring percentage is 19.9%. Colorado has scored on half of its power plays (10 of 20) in the first seven games, eclipsing the league average by more than 30%. The next-closest team in efficiency: the 33% Chicago Blackhawks, whose 15 attempts are second-fewest in the NHL.
The Avs rank in the bottom eight in power play opportunities but are the first team to reach double-digit PP goals. Right wing Valeri Nichushkin has scored five of his seven goals on the power play en route to becoming the second Avalanche player in franchise history to score seven times in the first seven games of a season.
The next step is to avoid over-reliance on the power play, coach Jared Bednar acknowledged. Colorado has scored only 11 even-strength goals (1.57 per game) and has created 39 high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five. The league average is 49.
“We had lots of chances (in New York) to score; lots in Vegas too, really, at the end of the day,” Bednar said. “Got to capitalize on some of them. Got a couple of guys that are not putting the puck in the net on the chances.”
Roster moves have been commonplace in the first month for the Avalanche, especially in the hunt for fourth-line production. With the team’s two-game trip to Finland looming, more adjustments are possible, but Bednar was happy with the fourth line he rolled out against the Rangers: Martin Kaut, Mikhail Maltsev and Dryden Hunt.
“Good energy. Spent more time in the offensive zone than the D zone,” Bednar said. “Created a couple of scoring chances. Made nice puck plays. Went to work on the forecheck. And all three guys were physical.”
Hunt was claimed off waivers from the Rangers last week and arrived in Denver in the middle of the night. He debuted the next day against Seattle then joined the Avalanche on the road.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t (surprising to be waived),” Hunt said Tuesday in New York, noting that he would probably use the off day to finish cleaning out his Greenwich Village apartment. “Pretty surprised, for sure. I really wanted to build off last year, and I thought I had a great camp and decent preseason, so it was a bit of a shock for sure.”
Jacob MacDonald and Kurtis MacDermid, both able to play forward or defense, have remained on the NHL roster in New York. Ben Meyers and Anton Blidh have been with the AHL affiliate Eagles.