The Colorado Avalanche find themselves down 2-0 in their series against the Dallas Stars. They dropped Game 1 by a score of 5-3 and followed that up by losing Game 2 5-2. Now, they have had injuries to battle through, losing their starter in Philipp Grubauer doesn’t help. That being said, the Stars have had similar issues. Their starter Ben Bishop has been unfit to play for a majority of these playoffs. Yet, they continue to roll.
The Avalanche desperately need their depth scoring to come through if they want any chance in this series.
Nathan MacKinnon Needs Help
If there has been one player that has shown up to play this series, it’s been Nathan MacKinnon. His line has scored all five of the Avalanche goals through the first two games. Not only that, but Mac has factored in on each of them with three goals and two primary assists. They have matched, and even arguably outplayed, the Stars top line of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and Jamie Benn. However, the difference has been coming after that top line.
The Stars have seen players like Joe Pavelski, Radek Faksa, Corey Perry, Jason Dickinson, and more either score, or chip in with assists so far this series. Meanwhile, the Avs depth has done absolutely nothing on the score sheet. Nazem Kadri looked electric during the round-robin and first round has now been completely neutralized. Joonas Donskoi, Andre Burakovsky, and Tyson Jost have all fallen quiet. The Avalanche can’t win a series with just one line scoring, there needs to be more.
What’s a little more concerning is also the fact that some of Colorado’s middle-six haven’t just been unlucky, they’ve been straight up outplayed. When we look at NaturalStatTrick, we can see that six of the Avs 12 forwards have been under 50% in xGF%. The CF% numbers are a little better, but controlling quantity and not quality is concerning.
The real concern is that not only are some players just below 50%, some have been absolutely cratered. At 5v5, J.T. Compher, Donskoi, and Andre Burakovsky have all been in the 20% for xGF%. They have been completely dominated when out on the ice and it is near impossible to win games like that. As you can see below, names like Kadri, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Valeri Nichushkin are are well below 50% in either CF%, xGF%, or both.
Being absolutely dominated like that just can’t happen. It will be just about impossible to win four of the next five games if they continue to have their middle-six get absolutely crushed at 5v5.
Fourth Line Magic?
One of the lone bright spots outside of the MacKinnon line so far has been the duo of Matt Nieto and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Both well above 50% in CF% and xGF%, they were paired up with Nischushkin to make a de facto third line during Game 2. None of these guys are known as goal scorers, and you can’t expect them to carry the team offensively. However, the Avalanche could really use them to chip in with a goal or two in this series.
Getting a gritty goal from your bottom line, or someone in your bottom-six can help take a bunch of pressure off your team. It allows the top line to know they will have a bit of support, and it should also help the other lines feel more confident in their game. If Nieto and Bellemare continue to chip away like they have at 5v5 this series, they might just get a bounce. Even something as simple as that would be critical for the Colorado Avalanche.
What Needs to Happen
At the end of the day, the Avalanche desperately need their middle-six to wake up. Kadri has been great up to this point, but he needs to continue to win his matchups. The guys making the big money have pulled their weight, but now it’s time for the secondary players to add some depth into this roster.
Names like Donskoi, Jost, Namestnikov, and even Nischushkin need to chip in somehow. The difference between a series win and loss can rest on getting even three or four goals from the bottom lines in this series. You get a big goal when a game is tied and it might just give you the momentum that game. Credit to Dallas as well, their depth has played very well in the first two games of this series. However, this also isn’t a team that is known to be deep offensively. So to be drastically outscored through two games, something needs to change.
Whether that thing is splitting up the big three to get other lines going, or simply mixing the bottom-nine together until you find the right combo, one thing is for sure, the Avalanche can’t go with just one line scoring. They need their depth to start chipping in.