The Colorado Avalanche defied conventional wisdom for about two-thirds of the season. A young team, picked by most to finish last in the division or last in the conference, the Avalanche toyed with first place for a couple of months and were solidly entrenched in a playoff spot for five months. A number of very good hockey minds tried to explain the ins, outs and what have yous of the flaws that Colorado. From Gabe's post:
I know nobody wants to hear this, but I'm concerned that Colorado's success is illusory.
And right he was. Colorado squeaked into the playoffs on the soft schedule, even though the goaltending didn't hold up.
Everyone knows that Colorado had some incredible luck through the first two-thirds of the season. From the beginning of the season through January 24th, the Avs had 66 points in 51 games, or 1.29 points per game. Avs fans were talking about a 105 point season. Through the same period, the Avs Corsi percentage was .422 - they were getting absolutely shelled at even strength. But Colorado's even strength save percentage of .932 (thanks Craig Anderson!) kept them from being Blue Jackets-level awful.
The overall team PDO of 102.6 wasn't going to be sustainable as Gabe said, but Avs fans did not go quietly into that good night. Instead they began defending the team with inane excuses like "depth of scoring", "a puck possession style", "Coach Sacco's will", "Craig Anderson really is an elite goalie", and a game plan that included getting outshot in the third period.
That was the end of the good times though. Colorado started to collapse and hung on for dear life to get into the playoffs. From January 28th on, the Avs Corsi percentage was .486, meaning they improved in the shooting department, yet they were still being outshot handily. What was the source of the improvement? From Scott's last post on Colorado:
But I do think they'll make the playoffs. The Avalanche are much better at home than they are on the road and have a favourable schedule in that regard (15 at home and 11 on the road). They also don't have the toughest schedule with 12 games left against teams outside of the top 9 in the West or top 5 in the East. Basically, if their goaltending can stay strong, they should be able to maintain .500 hockey. If they do that, their odds of making the playoffs are over 90% which will make them one of the worst teams to make the playoffs since the league expanded to thirty teams.
Essentially, Colorado got to face a large number of soft opponents. Even though the schedule got softer and the shots rate strengthened, Colorado's performance faltered. From January 28th through today, Colorado has 27 points in 28 games, or .964 points per game. The even strength save percentage during that span has been .916 and talk of Anderson as an "Elite goalie" has disappeared. The team PDO in that stretch is 100.1 and the Avs have been a 79 point team rated out for a full season.
Scott's prediction was bang-on, by the way. The Avs held on for dear life and claimed the last playoff spot (thanks Sutter brothers!), but they are one of the worst teams to make the playoffs in the last 10 years.
I appreciate the "little engine that could" side of this story, but in the end, I wish that Colorado would have slipped out of the playoffs. Colorado fans can now hold on to their delusions, rather than gaining a deeper understanding of what was actually going on during the first four months of the season. Although the slide was a lesson in math to most, falling completely out of the playoffs would have driven the point home to even Avs fans. You can briefly live on the whale tail, but eventually it all comes tumbling down.