Avalanche going to penalty box less frequently, improving on PK

Where does gradual penalty kill improvement start for the Avalanche? With committing fewer penalties, of course.

The Avs have spent two months slowly climbing out of the cellar in NHL penalty kill rankings after a dismal 11-for-20 (55%) start to the season. Entering Thursday night’s game against Los Angeles, they are out of the bottom-10, now ranking No. 22 with 76.4% PK rate.

A crucial part of the recent marginal uptick has been their improvement at staying out of the box to begin with — spending less time on their heels, more time at even strength.

“We’ve bought into our checking game, so we’re not chasing people from behind all night,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “And just being disciplined with our sticks. Just using your legs and skating to check.”

In the first 23 games of the season, the Avs stopped 63 of 84 power plays. That’s exactly 75%. In the last 10 games, they are 18-for-22 (81.8%). In the full-season sample size, that percentage would be fifth place in the league right now. The big difference? In the first 23 games, Colorado defended 3.65 power plays per game. In this 10-game stretch, only 2.2 per game.

There was one especially brutal six-game span in late November stretching into December, when the Avalanche went to the box 4.67 times per game. They allowed seven power play goals in the last five of those games, coinciding with the beginning of a losing streak.

“I think during that stretch when we were taking five, six a night, there were some unfortunate ones,” Bednar said, “but we were kind of putting ourselves in bad spots by not getting above pucks early enough.”

Since then, the Avs have only committed four penalties in one game. A winning streak ensued.

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