It’s hard to argue the Colorado Avalanche were overly formidable in the regular season, landing with a 38-30-14 record good for fifth in the Central Division and squeaking into the last playoff spot three points behind the Dallas Stars.
But in the post-season, the Avalanche came alive and pulled off some surprises. First they dispatched the Calgary Flames in five games, then pulled every ounce out of the San Jose Sharks before going down in Game Seven. It was a playoff performance that bested their regular season results and their top unit pushed their opponents hard.
Colorado scored 260 goals in the regular season, putting them fifth in the Western Conference but 10 goals behind the Chicago Blackhawks. They scored 13 more goals than the Cup-winning St. Louis Blues.
The Avalanche allowed 246 goals against in 2018-2019, which put them pretty much in the middle of the pack. Their plus-14 goal differential was seventh in the Western Conference, five behind the Vegas Golden Knights and six ahead of the Stars.
Colorado had four players with over 20 goals and three players with over 30. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine who led the club in scoring, with the lethal top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen shouldering the load. MacKinnon finished the campaign with 41 goals and a total of 99 points.
In fact, the top unit scored over 40 percent of the goals for the whole team.
Centre Carl Soderberg had 23 goals and 49 points, but he was a minus-five and that’s where the picture is illuminated.
MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen finished first, third and fourth in plus/minus for the Avalanche in 2018-2019, with defenceman Nikita Zadorov posting a plus-19 for second overall. After Sven Andrighetto, the rest of the top nine are defencemen.
What this amounts to is what most people already know: Colorado is as close to a one-line team as you can get. When it falls to other units or other players, the defensive end of the spectrum falls apart and there’s not enough secondary goal-scoring. The likes of Alexander Kerfoot, signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and J.T. Compher weren’t enough to keep the home fires burning in 2018-2019.
Digging deeper, no other Avalanche forward allowed more scoring chances against at even strength than Compher.
With Kerfoot and Soderberg among those out the proverbial window, Colorado has answered the bell to locate secondary scoring. Nazem Kadri should fit the bill, finally granting the club that second line centre they haven’t had since the departure of Matt Duchene.
In terms of goaltending, it’s hard to say that Semyon Varlamov enjoyed a great year. And with him off to Long Island, the era of Philipp Grubauer is fully underway. Under Grubauer, the Avalanche is a better team. Under Varlamov, they were cautious and seemed to wait for a return to his Vezina finalist form of 2013-2014 that just never came.
The Avalanche have deals to make and RFAs to handle, with Rantanen at the top of the list, but it does look like general manager Joe Sakic is addressing a great deal of what went wrong in 2018-2019.
Kadri will provide depth, as will Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi. That should take some of the pressure off the top line. And if the team can gather behind Grubauer and provide adequate defensive support, the Avalanche should have an easier time getting into the playoffs in 2019-2020.
(Lead photo credit: NHL.com)