As the Colorado Avalanche pause for an 11 day break over the all-star and bye week now is time to look at how their second half sets up.
What will be the key to the Avalanche’s success moving forward and what will be their toughest task?
Adrian: The Avalanche need to get hot going into the playoffs. Being on a roll going into round one seems to be the key to deep playoff runs. The toughest task will be catching the St. Louis Blues in the race for first place in the Central Division.
Scott: Special teams will be key for any team moving forward, but there’s not necessarily a strong correlation between teams that have strong special teams and playoff success.
For example, the past two seasons, only half of the 16-team opening round of the playoffs had top-10 power-play units. And in the 2018 first round, only a quarter of the teams had top-10 penalty kills. The Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup with the 15th-best PK and the 7th-best man advantage. Last season, the Blues won it with the 10th and 9th-ranked power play and penalty kill, respectively.
Obviously, it’d help if the Avs could start cashing in on some more of their opportunities, but for me, the Avs’ success will be wholly dependent on a better team defense.
Luke: Both one is the same, key to being successful moving forward and it will be tough to do, is cleaning up the special teams. Start by taking less penalties. By doing that alone you spend less time on the PK which is sitting below 80% right now. It's been bad all year, and especially in playoffs, winning the special team battle can win you series. Clean up the PK and PP in the next 35 games and go in to playoffs with some mojo.
Jackie: A common theme here is obviously improving special teams. It is unacceptable for a team which is the best in the league at scoring 5-on-5 is then 20th in the league on their power play. It really feels like the current system has run out of looks and the coaching staff is out of ideas. And while even strength scoring isn’t an issue it would behoove both Gabe Landeskog, who somehow still has just eight assists on the season, and Mikko Rantanen to get back to producing at their potential.
Tom: Finding consistency is going to be the biggest need for the Avalanche going forward. As the team has built towards being a contender over the last two and a half seasons, finding a consistent level of succeeds is something that has alluded the Avs. A long winning streak follow by a prolonged cold one - this group has to figure out how to maintain the high level of play. Good teams eliminate the losing streaks from their seasons so as the Avalanche continue to build, they are going to need to maintain a more regular pace of winning. Start slowly, win three out of every five games for a while. It doesn’t sound like a lot but if it can be maintained but that’s a pace for 98 point season.
Was Cale Makar snubbed by not making it into the All-Star Game?
Jackie: Makar’s performance in the two games leading up to the break makes it clear he was snubbed. Makar is a game changer and already among the league’s best. He is second on the Avalanche in scoring behind Nathan MacKinnon and it doesn’t feel right that the second best team in the western conference only has one all-star.
Adrian: Makar is undoubtedly one of the most effective defenders in the league. The All-Star game isn’t really an All-Star game given the current format. If the league took the leagues best rather than at least one player from each team he’d of made the cut for sure.
Scott: 100 percent. And you have to think his missing eight games during peak voting time was the reason why he’s not going. Makar really only had one week where he was healthy and fans could vote. He left the game on Dec. 7 and didn't return to action until the 27th, a week after voting closed. So in that sense, it was a little unfair and his three-week absence was his downfall. Had he not been out all those weeks, I think he’s in and he likely has more points than both Central Division D-man representatives.
Luke: If it was truly an All-Star game, where the best go to play the best, then yeah he got snubbed. But he’s going home with some hardware in June, so I'll take that and a playoff run over which Vancouver player goes to St Louis.
Tom: If you want the most entertaining game possible, Makar should have been there, but with the current All Star format, it’s hard to call his absence a snub. MacKinnon was always going to be the Avs representative and while Makar’s inclusion would have been warranted, it’s hard to argue against Roman Josi and Alex Pietrangelo being the defenseman for the Central. Think of it as one last hurrah because it’s going to be hard to see anyone other than Makar and Miro Heiskanen on the blue line for the Central for the next decade.
Are you excited for the upcoming outdoor game against the L.A. Kings or over it?
Adrian: I was fortunate enough to experience the last stadium series hosted by the Avalanche at Coors Field. It was an incredible event despite the seating not being suited for a hockey rink. The football stadium at the Air Force Academy will be a much better layout for watching the action. I’m excited and look forward to seeing the full game day kit after fans have brutally bashed the Stadium Series Jerseys.
Scott: I enjoy these little annual events the NHL puts on each season. It’s a nice reprieve from the standard 82-game schedule and it sprinkles in a little excitement during these arduous, middle-of-the-season stretches. I’m not too stoked about the matchup, though, to be honest. I don’t really see the connection or discernible rivalry between Colorado and L.A. that would warrant a prime time event like the Stadium Series. It also doesn’t help that the Kings are the second-worst team in the league. I don’t expect it to be much of an exciting brand of hockey, but the spectacle it will be in and of itself is worth the price of admission.
Luke: Since the Avalanche are involved in an outdoor game, yes I'm excited for it. I'm curious to see how the jerseys look in game. I wish they would bring back the alumni and have a game. The Avs have some great past players would I would pay to see one more time lace them up.
Jackie: I believe the outdoor games are still fun for the local fans and having now two hosted in Colorado has been nice. I’m glad I was able to attend the one at Coors Field as well but it is more for the atmosphere than watching the game and I’ll be doing so at home this time. The outdoor games add a little excitement to a long season so I’ll always welcome them.
What would you like to see the Avalanche do at the trade deadline?
Jackie: Ideally nothing or even a minor sell of veterans either having career years (Ian Cole) or who are on expiring contracts (Matt Nieto) would help stock the asset coffers for deadlines to come. No team with Cup aspirations can get away with nothing so whatever the Toronto third round pick and the prospects/players they won’t qualify in the summer can buy. Deadline deals are far too often more about optics than impact.
Adrian: I think the Avalanche are buyers at the deadline. They could use another physical, shut down, defender to solidify the PK unit. A player that would make a significant addition would ultimately come at a cost. This Avalanche group seems to be a tight knit crew so I would hope the cost doesn’t include a roster player. That would mean a possible trade would involve a solid prospect and picks.
Luke: Outside of a minor AHL move, if Joe and company could acquire a solid mid 6 winger, I would be all for it. Their pro scouting staff has been very good in recent history, and getting a guy would can play with Kadri or Jost would be welcome.
Scott: The Avs will most certainly be buyers at the deadline. Now’s the season to make to make the big push toward a Cup. You were one goal away from the Conference Finals. Now, the expectation is to go past that with what is the best roster we’ve seen in Colorado in a decade. That said, I think the Avs missing piece to go deep is a veteran, stay-at-home D-man with some playoff experience. I vote Sami Vatanen or Jeff Petry.
Tom: I’m with Scott, I mentioned it a couple weeks ago and maintain that if Jeff Petry is made available by the Canadiens that he should be a target for the Avalanche. Petry would instantly become one of Colorado’s three best defenders. He is one of the more underrated defenders in the league and would create a lot more depth on the right side of the blue line. He’s a veteran shot suppressor who plays a style that would fit into the Avalanche system perfectly. In an ideal world, Sakic would be able to sell Ian Cole for a pick and then turn around and grab Petry. It would even out the left-right combinations and improve the blue line in a way that would be noticeable right away. Going into the playoffs with pairs of Girard/EJ, Z/Makar and Graves/Petry would give the Avalanche a distinct advantage over most opponents as they would be able to play all six defenders big minutes on any given night.
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