With the 2021 regular season complete for the Colorado Eagles, one thing stands out as an overwhelming success heading into the postseason: special teams.
Unfortunately, in order to become such a monster on both the power play and special teams, it meant parting ways with a coach that had ties back to the franchise’s Central Hockey League days.
It was originally reported on March 4 that Colorado would be mutually parting ways with assistant coach Ryan Tobler, who’s time with the organization dated back to 2003 and the Eagles’ first season of play in the CHL. Tobler also played and coached with Colorado in the ECHL before he and the club transitioned to the AHL for the 2018-19 season.
The Colorado Avalanche then sent their development coach and former defenseman Brett Clark up to Loveland to take Tobler’s place on the bench. That change was announced on March 15, just shy of two full weeks since Tobler’s departure.
A CHANGE WILL DO YA GOOD
Since joining the AHL three seasons ago, the Eagles have been all over the place when it comes to their special teams rates. Below is a table outlining the Eagles’ first three seasons in the AHL on both the power play and the penalty kill.
|YEAR||GAMES PLAYED||POWER PLAY||LEAGUE RANK||PENALTY KILL||LEAGUE RANK|
|2018-19||68||40/289 (13.8%)||31st out of 31||49/308 (84.1%)||6th out of 31|
|2019-20||56||44/250 (17.4%)||17th out of 31||37/208 (82.2%)||14th out of 31|
|2020-21||34||25/117 (21.4%)||6th out of 28||18/144 (84.2%)||6th out of 28|
While the PK has remained in the top half of the league, the PP has improved each year, landing Colorado in the league’s top six in both categories to close out the 2021 regular season (The Belleville Senators have two games remaining on their regular season schedule. Being 5th on the PP and 7th on the PK, those placings could change for the Eagles after May 20).
The remarkable shift in the special teams numbers (especially the power play) is noticeable from Tobler’s time behind the bench to Clark taking over in mid-March. Here’s a breakdown as to how the Eagles performed during each “era” this season.
|DATES||ASST. COACH||POWER PLAY||PENALTY KILL|
|Feb. 13 to March 4||Ryan Tobler||2/34 (5.9%)||24/29 (82.8%)|
|March 5 to March 14||N/A||2/13 (15.4%)||13/14 (92.9%)|
|March 15 to May 15||Brett Clark||21/70 (30%)||59/71 (83.1%)|
MASTERS OF THEIR OWN DESTINY?
Heading into the final three games of the season, the Eagles had to defeat San Diego in just two of three in order to lock up the fourth seed in the Pacific. However, Colorado only won against the Gulls on Wednesday night, losing both match-ups on Friday and Saturday. This left the Eagles and the San Jose Barracuda at an even .500 points percentage, with San Jose earning the higher seed due to more regulation wins (15) than Colorado (13).
LIMPING INTO THE POSTSEASON
In regards to both win-loss ratio and special teams, the Eagles find themselves slumping into the play-in round. Since hosting Ontario for a three-game set starting April 28, Colorado has gone 2-5-1 with just a 3-for-25 power play conversion rate (12%) and 19-for-25 on the penalty kill rate (76%). With the taxi squad replaced with an expanded roster for the playoff-bound Avalanche, the Eagles will need to rely on the leadership & playmaking ability of T.J. Tynan, the youth movement of Jean-Luc Foudy & Sampo Ranta, and the netminding of Hunter Miska in order to advance in the postseason.
Fifth seed Colorado will take on the sixth seed Ontario Reign this Tuesday, May 18, at 7:30pm PDT in Irvine, CA. The winner will face either San Jose or Tucson in the play-in round’s final on Wednesday, May 19 at 7:00pm PDT.