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Colorado Avalanche, the NHL’s fastest team, is even faster now than it was a week ago

CALGARY — The fastest team in the NHL is the Colorado Avalanche.

That’s a popular opinion among players, coaches and informed hockey observers, but there’s also new data measuring the top speeds of skaters around the league that support this claim.

Here’s another, less tangible observation, but one that could be problematic for the other 31 clubs: The fastest team in the league is even faster now than it was a week ago.

“If you’d asked me before I came here, I’d have said this was the fastest team in the league,” Casey Mittelstadt said. “Now to have joined them, I’ve had to pick up the pace a little bit. It’s definitely a bit of a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed it. I think it fits my game really well.”

Colorado added four players before the NHL trade deadline. Two were specific replacements: Mittelstadt clearly plays at a faster pace than Ryan Johansen, and, this might be more of a surprise for those who were unfamiliar with his game, Sean Walker is also faster than Bo Byram.

The other two new guys, Yakov Trenin and Brandon Duhaime, also play at high speeds. The entire package — four lines, three defense pairs — looks like it has unlocked a new level of fast-paced, in-your-face hockey.

“I don’t know. Tough to measure. I like the pace we played at (Tuesday) night,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said. “I think when we’re on our game, we have good pace to our game. We’re trying to set the tempo and see if other teams can keep up. That’s always part of what we do.

“We talk about it all the time. Playing fast isn’t just being able to skate. It’s knowing where everyone is going to go and where the puck is going to get delivered to. Hopefully, with the new guys, the longer they’re with us, the more they’ll pick it up and the guys who have been here keep getting better at it and the pace will continue to improve.”

The Avs lead the league in the number of times a skater has reached 20 and 22 miles per hour, according to the league’s new NHL Edge tracking numbers. Both are by a significant margin

Colorado has 2,338 bursts of 20-plus miles per hour this season. That’s 403 more than second place (Edmonton). The gap between the Avs and Oilers is more than twice the size of the one between Edmonton and 10th place.

The Avs have logged 225 bursts of 22-plus miles per hour. That’s 96 more than the Oilers and nearly three times as many as the cluster of teams that rank seventh through 10th.

They also lead the league in both categories among forwards and defensemen, so it’s not just one or two guys doing all of the heavy lifting.

This is the first season the NHL has released this information, and there’s plenty of additional context — average speeds, game-by-game data, etc. — that is not available. But the league has tracked top speeds. Five players have hit 24 miles per hour this season. Three of the top 10 speeds tracked belong to Avs: Nathan MacKinnon at 24.05, Valeri Nichushkin at 23.96 and Miles Wood at 23.88.

Byram is a great skater, a young player with huge upside. Walker is an elite skater. He’s been flying around the ice since joining the Avalanche and his teammates have taken notice.

“I saw (Walker) a couple times joining (Tuesday). I knew he was a good skater, but it maybe surprised me a little bit with his speed and how quick he looked,” Mikko Rantanen said. “He looked like Cale sometimes there. It is good to see him play with this confidence.”

Makar is second in the NHL among defensemen in both 20-plus and 22-plus bursts, behind only New Jersey rookie Luke Hughes. But Walker’s addition is notable: he’s in the top 10 in both categories as well.

Toss in Samuel Girard, who is tied for ninth in 20-plus bursts, and the Avs now have three of the fastest defensemen in the NHL. And they have one of them on each of the three pairings when everyone is healthy.

“I think that’s a strength of his game,” Bednar said of Walker. “Breakouts, joining neutral zone regroups, joining the rush, that’s a strength of his game. He’s a great skater. He can get up the ice. He makes good puck decisions. We want all of our ‘D’ involved and he’s certainly a guy who can do that.”

The three new guys up front have certainly made their mark. When Duhaime is on the ice at 5-on-5, the Avs have 24 shots on goal and their opponents have seven. Duhaime, Mittelstadt and Trenin are first, second and fourth among the forwards (MacKinnon is third) in on-ice shots for percentage.

“I like the way they’re fitting in,” Bednar said. “I think they all provide something a little different and play to their identity. They’re figuring out the structure of our game and the identity of our team and how we want to play.”

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