Daniel Chidel assesses how the Colorado Avalanche have looked since the NHL restart and what their chances are of going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020.
Hockey has finally returned after a near five-month hiatus, and the Avalanche are ready and raring to go. In their first two games back, the Avalanche have posted 2 solid wins against the Stars and Blues, vaulting themselves into a first-place position in the west. As fans, we have been treated to a high level of play throughout the season, exemplified with a buzzer beater goal with 0.1 seconds left in their win versus the Blues. Their results so far have increased expectations of the team for the playoffs and how far they can go. Many fans believe the Avalanche are among the teams that could hoist the Stanley Cup once it is all said and done. Are these new expectations fair for the team or is it too much to ask of the young squad?
Presenting the facts:
The Avalanche are currently 1st in the Western Conference with 2 wins in the round robin and 92 points during the season prior to the stoppage of play. This puts the team among the top 5 teams in the league which include the Bruins, Blues, Lightning, and Capitals.
Throughout the season, the Avalanche’s age as a team could cause problems during a deep playoff run.
3 things holding the Avalanche back:
Firstly, although improved since the 2018-19 season, the team has been awful during overtime, losing 8 of their 13 appearances during overtime play. It is evident while watching the Avalanche in overtime that once the game leaves regulation they seem to lose composure and make blatant errors that can lose them the game.
Secondly, compared to the other top teams, the Avalanche are last in power play percentage and only middle of the pack in penalty killing percentage. Being effective on the power play and penalty kill is an essential for any team to succeed, especially in the playoffs. Unless the Avalanche improve in both of these categories, the power play and penalty kill pose a serious risk to their chance for a Western Conference championship and Stanley Cup.
Lastly, this team is heavily centered around the effectiveness of Nathan MacKinnon. Watching them throughout the season, when MacKinnon was injured, or less impactful, the team was sluggish and ineffective. Mackinnon’s leadership and impact on the ice is a necessity for the Avalanche. An injury to the Avalanche Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award nominee could pose a serious threat to their Stanley Cup aspirations, let alone advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
Despite this, there are 3 Qualities of a Contender the Avalanche have:
The Avalanche are one of the best and deepest scoring teams in the NHL this season.
Before the NHL restart the team finished 3rd in goals with 236 goals, led by Mackinnon’s 35 goals and 93 points, the team had another 15 players with over 20 points. The Avalanche’s 16 skaters with over 20 points was the more than any other team. Being able to score with so many different skaters allows for the team to be deadly, even with a third or fourth line on the ice. Their team speed and tenacity lead to more opportunity at the net, and the Avalanche are top ten in both shot % and total shots.
Scoring is not the only strength the Avalanche have this season.
The team’s young defensive lineup has been incredibly strong this year with the rise of both Ryan Graves and Cale Makar. The Avalanche tied for 5th in goals against with the Blues and Islanders, allowing only 190 goals all season. The simplest way to show how strong this team is defensively is to look at the top ten skaters in +/-. The Avalanche have not just one, but two of those players, including Ryan Graves taking the top spot in this category at a +40. Only two other teams have more than one player in the top ten of +/-, and they are the Hurricanes and Lightning, both of which are strong candidates to go far in the playoffs.
Goaltending wins championships.
It is a saying that has traveled around hockey for years and is often the truth in the NHL. The goalie duo of Grubauer and Francouz has put up the league’s 4th highest save percentage by a team. Francouz has been the mainstay piece helping protect the crease for the Avalanche, posting the 5th highest save percentage among starters with over 20 games and the 7th lowest GAA amongst the same starters. Having such solid goalies protecting the net will really help the Avalanche in their quest to win the Stanley Cup this season.
So, what expectations should we hold for this team heading into the Stanley Cup playoffs this season? In all honesty, the Avalanche are my pick to secure the Stanley Cup in 2020. The team overcame most of their issues from last season with new signings and their experience over the course of the season and last playoffs. Namely, the Avalanche fixed their immaturity, lack of scoring outside of the first line, and their defensive struggles. With these issues addressed, the talent of the team can shine and drive this team to their first ch