From the Eagles Desk: Breaking Down the Season, Part 1 – The Team

The ice is gone now at the Budweiser Events Center and the beloved Eagles season is in the books. There were a lot of firsts this year and some success with a playoff berth and some fun extra hockey. Now it’s time for some thoughtful contemplation on their maiden voyage in the AHL.

Breaking Down: 2018-19 Regular Season

Team Record: 36-27-5 (0.566), 77 points, 4th in Pacific Division, 8th in Western Conference, 15th in the AHL

Regulation: 24-27, tied 17 times, 48 points (62%)
Overtime: 6-4, 16 points (21%)
Shootout: 6-1, 13 points (17%)
Opponent points: 76 (54 in regulation, 14 in OT, 8 in SO)

The Eagles were not a good team in regulation for many reasons and earned just 2/3rds of their wins and less than 2/3rds of their points in the first 60 minutes. Getting to overtime and eventually the shootout is a strategy in the AHL’s point system and they were rewarded for doing so.

One thing that folks don’t look at often is opponent points, or points given away as it were. For many years the Monsters/Rampage had given away far more points than they earned, usually in the neighborhood of 10-20%. This season the Eagles came out on the plus side, albeit only by one, and with a heavy divisional schedule that was helpful in eventually clinching a playoff spot.

Bottom line they were bad in regulation, decent in overtime and very good in the shootout. The general feeling is that shootouts are luck (Michael Joly’s skill there showed that in Colorado’s case it was perhaps repeatable) and OT also depends somewhat on luck rather than skill. To take a brutally honest view, this was a mediocre team that got lucky this season so congratulations are in order but there are still a ton of problems to work through.

Goals: +191/-205

The Eagles scored 191 goals this season (2.81 per game, 24th in AHL). 40 were on the power play, 16 shorthanded and 6 in the shootout (fake). That leaves 129 at even strength or 1.9 per game.

Goals against came to a total of 205 (3.01 per game, 17th in AHL). 49 were while on PK, 9 shorties against and 1 in the shootout (fake). At even strength they gave up 146 or 2.15 per game.

Looking just at the real goals, they were outscored by 17 at even strength, which works out to one goal every 4 games, and by 2 in combined special teams play. Safe to say that scoring at evens was the weak spot this year.

Shots: +2134/-2286 (48.3%)

While shot generation felt weak many times overall it wasn’t poor and their 31.38 per game finished 9th in the league. The Pacific in general was a lot more high-event than the rest of the AHL with 3 teams in the top 5, 6 in the top 10 and all 7 in the top 13. Taking that into consideration the Eagles were 6th out of 7 teams in the Pacific so yes there were some struggles generating shots on goal.

Shot suppression was not so good. Colorado ended up 30th in the AHL at 33.62 per game. Again, the Pacific teams were all high-rate shooters but they finished 6th out of 7 here too.

All situations shot rates aren’t that great an indicator but it’s what we have to work with. The Eagles generated 30.9 SOG per hour and gave up 33.1 for a combined shot pace of 64 per hour. It’s not apples to apples but for comparison’s sake the Avs shot pace in all situations was 63.89, so very close.

Shooting percentage: 8.7%
Save percentage: 91.1%
PDO: 99.8

Save percentage was slightly above league average and shooting percentage slightly below. This is logically what one would expect from a high-event team with poor power play numbers and an effective penalty kill. The final PDO shows that at least as far as shooting luck goes they were neutral.

PP: 40-289, 13.8%, last in AHL
PK: 259-308, 84.1%, 6th in AHL
Adjusted PP: +31 in 289 chances
Adjusted PK: -33 in 308 chances
Adjusted Special Teams percentage: 99.7

It’s hard to put into words how poor the power play was this season. First of all the staff were saddled with the Avs atrocious PP system which only works with elite talent making up the gap between incompetent and average. Unfortunate, but there’s not much they could do about that. It’s hard to say if the Avs high penalty volume strategy/tendency is something the staff had a choice in using but I would tend to think that with the way the Eagles roster was built that a low-volume strategy would have worked out better. A combined PP/PK volume of nearly 9 per game hurt more than helped thanks to not being able to capitalize on power plays.

The staff did have some choices as far as PP personnel and did a pretty poor job there. Along with most other decisions pertaining to deployment over the season they opted for experience over skill and the results never materialized. Again, not apples to apples here but the Avs had 120 power play assists while the Eagles had 76 (both 1.9 per goal) so in that respect the systems seem to be similar in how they function. The Eagles just didn’t have the skill on-ice to generate enough goals.

The penalty kill did function correctly, and thank goodness for that. Only one team had more PIM per game and another had more PK per game than Colorado did, neither were in the Western Conference. Fun fact: The Eagles had a 5.2% goals for rate on the PK so it was used as a creative way to generate offense they couldn’t get elsewhere. In contrast to the Avs terrible PK the Eagles had good pressure on the puck and got consistently solid goaltending numbers. I’m not sure who to thank for this, Coach Schneekloth handles the defense and Coach Cronin was the PK coach for the Islanders last year, but regardless they did a good job all season.

Overview

Offense

Scoring: D
Shot Generation: C
Power Play: F

The Eagles actually scored a lot of goals, sometimes. Inconsistency was the killer. 22 times in 68 games they scored 4 or more goals, 32 times (almost half the season) they scored 2 or fewer. One stretch in the beginning of January they scored 24 goals in 6 games… and got shut out twice. Shot generation was similar with plenty of 40+ shot games and a boatload of periods in the single digits. Looking at averages tells a story of mediocre overall play, looking at game-by-game stats shows that Colorado could beat the best or fall to the worst at any given time. The reasons for this more than likely go back to some coaching and management decisions that we’ll examine in the next few articles.

Defense

Scoring: C
Shot Suppression: D
Penalty Kill: A
Goaltending: B

The penalty kill was one area that the Eagles truly excelled in. Save for one brief stretch they were in the top 10 all season and often in the top 5 of the AHL. Colorado was a high-volume penalty team which meant that they got plenty of practice and the system used was effective. The PK alone jacked the scoring defense grade up from a D to a C.

Aside from the penalty kill the defense overall ranged from bad to just ok. They were handcuffed by a lack of talent in general and again some coaching and management decisions that amplified their lack of puck skills. Like the offense what they appeared to be on average belied the overall inconsistency.

Goaltending was another bright spot on the season with Pavel Francouz among the tops in the league all year. Spencer Martin had a revelation in mid-December and from then on provided very good backup support. They covered a lot of warts for sure.

Overall

Season Grade: C

A grade of C is pretty generous here. With the positive aspects mainly falling on the play of Francouz and to a lesser extent Martin there were a lot of disappointing areas but making the Calder Cup playoffs for the first time ever for the Eagles and the first time in 8 years for the Avs has merit. It was a goal from puck drop on opening day and they reached it. We’d all like to see more focus on the process going forward and hopefully having a result like this in the bank allows the staff to make more competent decisions in the future. For a first-year franchise in the 2nd-best North American league they did well and they can do a lot better.

Next up

The series continues in the coming weeks with looks at the players and management.

Thanks to the AHL for stats and standings and to the Colorado Eagles for the feature photo.

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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