Nick Haydon The Hockey Writers
Avalanche’s Offense the Best in the Central Division
The Colorado Avalanche boast one of the most explosive offenses in the NHL. Led by two of the most dynamic forwards, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, the Avalanche have taken steps to bolster their frontend to complement the deadly duo. The Avalanche have certainly seemed to find their stride, sitting only two points behind the St. Louis Blues who lead the Central Division. Depending on how the standings shake out, the Avalanche could face one of a number of opponents in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, there are two teams that – barring a catastrophic collapse – the Avalanche could face in the postseason, and it is worthwhile to see how their offense stacks up against the best in the Central Division.
St. Louis Blues
The reigning Stanley Cup champions have not slowed down this season. They currently sit atop the Western Conference and Central Division. The Avalanche, though, are not far behind. With one game in hand, the Avalanche are one point behind the Blues for first place. The Blues are riding an eight-game winning streak, and the Avalanche’s seven-game winning streak ended against the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. It is unlikely these teams will meet in the first round. But a showdown later in the playoffs seems destined, especially when considering a closer look at each team’s numbers.
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In four meetings this season, the Avalanche are 2-2 against the Blues. Both teams have won their two home games in the season series, indicating that home-ice advantage could be a factor in the postseason. With 225 goals in 66 games, the Avalanche maintain an edge over the Blues with 214 in 67. The Avalanche also have a positive goals for/goals against differential of 49; the Blues are plus-32. The broader statistics demonstrate how comparable the Avalanche and Blues are offensively.
The Avalanche have two players with over 20 goals; the Blues have three. Both the Avalanche and the Blues have ten forwards with at least ten goals. The Avalanche have 16 players with at least 20 points, and the Blues have 12. The similarities are remarkable. What the Blues do not have is a forward as dominant as Nathan MacKinnon, who has 88 points in 66 games. David Perron leads the Blues with 60 points in 66 games.
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Overall, the Avalanche may have an advantage with the explosiveness of MacKinnon and a slightly deeper offense. However, the Blues are a notoriously difficult team to play, just ask the Boston Bruins. Given that it is likely either the Avalanche or the Blues will finish in first place, should they meet in the postseason, it would be in the second or third round. A Western Conference matchup between these two teams could easily go seven games, and goaltending or defense could determine the winner.
The Avalanche currently hold a six-point lead over the Dallas Stars. In many aspects, the Avalanche appear to have the offensive advantage. Like the Blues, the Stars do not have a player even close to MacKinnon’s point total. Tyler Seguin leads the Stars with 50 points in 66 games. Furthermore, the Avalanche are third in the league with 3.4 goals per game. The Stars are tied for 23rd with 2.7.
Interestingly, the Avalanche have struggled this season against the Stars. At 0-2-2, they have yet to secure a win against and have only secured two of eight possible points. While the Stars may struggle offensively, they have many other important pieces, including strong goaltending from Ben Bishop and a talented defensive core led by John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. This potent combination has shut down the Avalanche during the heated division series, allowing only six goals in four meetings.
In addition to superstar defensemen, the Stars also have depth and youth on the front end. They have 13 players with over 20 points, and 23-year-old Roope Hintz has taken a massive step forward this year with 18 goals. The additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry provide a strong veteran presence to complement captain Jamie Benn’s leadership. The Stars may have struggled offensively, but they are by no means an easy team to beat.
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Unfortunately, the Avalanche do not play the Stars again this season. The Avalanche will have to exorcise any demons against the Stars come playoffs. With the Avalanche and Stars in second and third place respectively in the Central Division, they would meet in the first round if the playoffs started tomorrow. The Avalanche may have more offensive firepower than the Stars but that has not been enough to defeat the Stars during the regular season, and it will not be enough during the playoffs.
The Avalanche’s Playoff Hopes
With roughly 15 games remaining in the regular season, there are numerous scenarios that could materialize before the start of playoffs. Two points separate the Arizona Coyotes from the Winnipeg Jets, who occupy the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Three points separate the Jets from the Calgary Flames who hold third place in the Pacific Division. The Avalanche will most likely finish at the top or near the top of Central Division, so their first-round opponent could be any of these teams.
Given the success of the Blues and the Stars, it seems almost certain that the Avalanche will face at least one of them after the postseason begins in April. The Avalanche have incredibly offensive talent that can contend with and succeed against each team. Of course, there is more to playoff success than scoring ability. Nevertheless, the Avalanche’s raw offensive skill positions them to thrive against the Central Division’s best.
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