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Avalanche’s trade deadline additions paying big dividends on the penalty kill

Just about everything is going well for the Colorado Avalanche since the arrival of four new players before the NHL trade deadline and the return of Valeri Nichushkin from the NHL-NHLPA Player Assistance Program.

The Avs have won all five games with those players available, including a sweep on a road trip through Western Canada and St. Louis. One aspect of Colorado’s game that the new guys have provided a spark for is the penalty kill.

Colorado had a great start to the season on the PK, but the Avs had slipped in that area and fallen out of the top 10 in the NHL. The Avs are a perfect 14-for-14 on the kill in the past five games and are back up to eighth in PK proficiency.

“I think we are back to our aggressive selves,” Andrew Cogliano said. “I think our PK is based on aggressiveness. It’s based off skating. It’s a long season and there’s going to be lulls in your game, but I think (assistant coach Nolan Pratt) did a good job in terms of getting us back on track and focusing on the details.”

Three of the four new additions — forwards Yakov Trenin and Brandon Duhaime, plus defenseman Sean Walker — have become instant regulars for the Avs on the PK. Nichushkin was a huge part of the unit before his leave of absence, so it’s been a significant reshuffling.

Learning a new PK system on the fly after a trade seems like it would be one of the most challenging aspects of trying to onboard new players, but the Avs have had no issues.

“A little different, but a lot of it is the same,” Duhaime said. “Just a few minor tweaks for what they’ve got going on, so the adjustment was pretty smooth.”

Trenin leads the Avalanche forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game since arriving. Walker is second among the defensemen. Duhaime is fifth among the forwards.

Avs coach Jared Bednar and Cogliano both credited Trenin’s work in the faceoff circle as a big help. He’s won 12 of the 24 draws he’s taken while the team is shorthanded.

“We’ve been a really good rush coverage team all year long, one of the tops in the league,” Bednar said. “When you can send the puck down and maybe stuff them on the rush, you’re killing the clock, you’re killing the first power-play unit’s energy.

“It’s just those little things, not to mention the length and size and quickness of those guys has really helped.”

It’s not just the excellent results. The process also looks strong.

Colorado is second in the NHL in shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes while shorthanded since March 8, and third in shots on goal allowed per 60 at 4-on-5.

The new additions have allowed some of Colorado’s core guys to play less on the PK as well. Nichushkin, Artturi Lehkonen and Cale Makar are all still part of the PK rotation, but all three are playing at least 30 seconds less on the kill.

“I think we take pride in it, and we’ve added more players who are prideful players on the penalty kill,” Cogliano said. “Early in the year we only had four, five guys with some of the injuries we had, but now we’ve got at least six quality guys that we can roll out there. It’s about finding that rhythm, and the more guys, the better.”

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