Now that the Stanley Cup playoffs are officially set to begin, it is time to assess where the Colorado Avalanche stand. The MHH team takes a look at what has impressed them about the team and the rest of the NHL as well as what to expect from the coming playoffs.
What was the most impressive part of the Avalanche’s play in earning the second seed in the Western Conference during the round-robin?
Tom: Erik Johnson was absolutely flying for most of the round robin games. He as looked like the old EJ and is playing at a level that is far better than we saw from him during last year’s playoffs. He was suffering through an injury but he was bad. Now EJ has looked confident and like his old self. The wily old veteran could end up being the x-factor in a long playoff run.
Hardev: The win over the Dallas Stars was pretty perfect considering the opponent. They got production from all their lines and Nathan MacKinnon was still the best player on the ice. Pavel Francouz was great in net and the defense did their job against a heavy forechecking roster like Dallas. Getting lines rolling offensively with defensive pairs to join in and back them up is the next step for the Avalanche and one I hope people around the league take notice to.
Luke: The one 5v5 goal against in 3 games impressed me. This team wants to play 5v5. They were one of the best at it during the regular season, and since most of the game is played at 5v5, knowing that they can lock it down defensively really impressed me.
Jackie: The maturity the Avalanche showed in their game was the most encouraging to me. Starting with holding on to a one goal third period lead in exhibition against Minnesota to the last second game winning goal to thwart St. Louis, controlling play to maintain a shutout of Dallas to even in a loss the fortitude to tie the score against Vegas three times to force overtime. The Avalanche looked as composed and structured as they ever have been and that legitimizes their chances for an extended stay in Edmonton.
What areas of concern remain?
Tom: My biggest concern is going to be discipline. Both Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog took bad penalties at inopportune times during the round robin. That can’t happen in the playoffs. And then there’s that Nazem Kadri guy...
Hardev: The Avs are a high penalty team, but they also get a lot of power plays thanks to the referee’s constant need to keep things even. Considering how good the Avs power play is, I’m good with that trade off. I guess I’m concerned about injuries, but who isn’t, right?
Luke: The bottom 6 has looked... well... off. I believe they’ll sort it out, but they’ve looked a bit lost at times, that 4th line hasn’t gelled together yet either. To win a cup you need all 4 lines rolling, lets hope they find that chemistry against Arizona.
Jackie: The power play always concerns me and failing to convert on a long 5-on-3 in the Vegas game wasn’t inspiring. However the more pressing concern, Bednar is sure to go with Philip Grubauer in net and while he hasn’t performed poorly it’s tough to ignore that his counterpart Pavel Francouz hasn’t given up a goal since arriving to the bubble with a shutout of Dallas and also shutting the door in his half of the exhibition game against Minnesota. Goaltending is so critical in the playoffs I’m not sure the Avalanche are going with the right guy.
What was the biggest surprise through the qualifying portion of Return to Play?
Hardev: I was pretty smug when Chicago beat Edmonton, I was pretty surprised when Montreal best Pittsburgh. I knew it was possible but I didn’t think it would actually happen. St. Louis and Boston going winless in the Round Robin feels like a conscious mistake on their part and one that will bite them in the ass harder than they think it will.
Luke: Toronto, Pittsburgh and Edmonton were all in the Lafrenière sweepstakes. I did not see that one coming. You like the Cinderella stories, but to be honest not having McDavid, Matthews or Crosby in the playoffs seems kinda wrong. They’re the leagues biggest stars. Now they’re golfing. Carolina looks really good though.
Jackie: There were a lot of upsets but the one that caught me most off guard was Montreal defeating Pittsburgh. The Pens controlled a lot of their series but just could not score and a five game series makes that a lot more dangerous. I also was glad to see so many young players have big moments such as hat tricks from both Andrei Svechnikov and Pierre-Luc Dubois which greatly impacted their series.
Tom: Honestly, I was most surprised by the fact that the Islanders beat Florida so handily. I really underestimated what a hinderance Sergei Bobrovsky was going to be. Florida was really good before things were shut down in March and they have a better roster than most give them credit for. None of that matters when you have a veteran goalie who sinks you. Damn is that a bad contract.
Prediction on how the first round series against the Arizona Coyotes will go?
Tom: I think the Coyotes pose a very tough matchup for the Avs because of the style of game they play. That said, the Avs are still the superior team and I think they move on in six games after a lot of close decisions.
Luke: A tough series, but Avs take it in 6 after losing Game 1
Jackie: The Coyotes gave the Avalanche only one of two shutouts in the regular season so it’s very apparent their structured defensive style is going to prove tough. However the Coyotes are making their first postseason appearance since 2012 and just can’t match offense with the Avalanche. I wish it could be over for the Avs in five but the series probably pushes to six.