Goaltending With a former Vezina-winning goaltender as the coach, the Avalanche developed a Vezina finalist in Semyon Varlamov. After years of promise, the former Washington Capital put it all together in his first season under Patrick Roy and goalie coach Francois Allaire. He had a career year as he won 41 games, had a goals-against average of 2.41 supported by an outstanding .927 save percentage. Varlamov will come in to the season as the undisputed starter. If he could somehow replicate those numbers, he will again be involved in the Vezina Trophy conversation, talked about for the Hart Trophy for the league’s MVP and bring the Avalanche back to the playoffs for the second year in a row. Varlamov will be backed up by Reto Berra. Berra was acquired from the Flames at the trade-deadline last season. He will need to improve this season if he wants to stick with the big club. Power Play The Colorado Avalanche’s power-play unit was as dangerous as any team in the league last season and will almost certainly be as good this year. With a conversion rate of 19.8 percent, the Avalanche placed tied for fifth in the league last season. The unit was paced by an offensively gifted group of forwards. Ryan O’Reilly was the big point-producer last season on the manadvantage. He registered 22 power-play points (9 goals, 13 assists) over the course of the year, well enough for 25th in the NHL. While O’Reilly led the team in this area, he’s not the only one that produces as star center Matt Duchene (17 points) and gifted phenom Nathan MacKinnon (17 points) displayed their offensive talents as well. Penalty Kill If there is one area that the Avalanche can improve upon, it would definitely have to be the success of their penalty killing unit. The team Matt Duchene, Brad Malone Karl Gehring/Denver Post/Getty Images ranked near the bottom of the league (24th) in the penalty kill with a success rate of 80.7 percent. Not only that, but they finished last season with the second-fewest shorthanded goals scored in the NHL. The team will rely heavily on their goaltender Varlamov to make up for the holes in the team’s penalty kill. The addition of Brad Stuart should help the defense gain possession more while shorthanded. Improvements in this area will go a long way towards success in the playoffs. Three Questions 1. Can Semyon Varlamov duplicate his success from last season? Very few goaltenders are Vezina Trophy candidates year after year. If the defense improves, Varlamov will come close to replicating those numbers. Otherwise he is due for a slight regression. 2. How much will the team miss Paul Stastny? Stastny was a key cog for the team over the last few years in Colorado, but the team is prepared to start over with Nathan MacKinnon. The second-year pro looks like a star in the making after winning the Calder Trophy last season. 3. Is there enough depth on the blue line? With the addition of Brad Stuart, the Avalanche made an attempt at filling their biggest need. But, if an injury occurs to anybody on defense, the Avalanche could be in the same situation as last season. Prediction After a surprising season with the team coming away as the Central Division champions, the Avalanche are now the team everyone is gunning for. A return to the playoffs is a strong possibility, but the team will have to show they learned from their playoff experience last season in order to advance further.
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