Good morning sports fans. The Avs begin their 2019 playoff run tonight against the Calgary Flames at the Saddledome. I’ve once again enlisted our trusty staff for their takes on the series and whatnot but before that let’s look at some fun facts about how this team ranks among the franchise’s all-time records.
– This is the first time the Avs have made the post-season two years in succession since the lockout. Not the most recent lockout, the one that killed the 2004-05 season.
– Their 90 points is the lowest they have ever made the playoffs with and matches 2015’s total when they missed by 9 points.
– Their 38 wins are the 4th lowest total in team history (in 82-game seasons) although they have had 39 win seasons 3 times (’97, ’15, ’16).
– 260 goals was good for 6th best since moving to Denver and a 3 goal improvement over last season. It’s also the highest goal total since Joel Quenneville’s 2nd season as Avs coach in 2007.
– Colorado is looking for their 20th Stanley Cup Playoff series win of all-time and first since 2008.
See? Fun stuff.
We’ll start off with some straight up staff predictions:
A fair amount of confidence but they don’t call us Burgundy Rainbow for nothing. For what it’s worth, stats maestro Micah McCurdy also bucked the mainstream trend and called for an Avs victory in 6 so I’m feeling pretty good on this one.
That’s the what, now for the how and why. I asked a few questions on some key points and here’s how it settled out.
Q1: Other than goaltending, which area of play do the Avs need to control in order to win the series?
Q2: Playoff series often have a hero that’s not part of a team’s core of dominant players. Which guy is your candidate to be that roleplayer that steps up?
Q3: The Avs have a major wildcard waiting in the wings with Cale Makar joining the team after UMass finishes their season. Will he play? If he does, what kind of role and impact do you see him having right off the bat?
Professor Oak – Avs in 6
Q1: The Avs need to dominate the special teams game. Calgary is clearly stacked top to bottom. If the Avs continue to bleed goals on the PK, then they’re toast. You just can’t give free goals to a team that good. If the Avs PP remains very good, and their PK can hold their own, then they have a shot. If it’s the opposite, then the series is over before it even started.
Q2: Colin Wilson has always been billed as good in the playoffs. He plays the right way, a power game that’s strong on the boards, to get those dirty goals that are always scored by those true “hockey hero” moments. Who knows, maybe we see another spinorama backhand goal.
Q3: I think he will play. He will certainly be over his head in terms of his first NHL games being in the playoffs against the top seed of the Western Conference. What he needs to do is be cautious, but also continue to do what he knows he can do, which is create dangerous plays. His teammates need to recognize his play style, and adjust to it in order to cover for him as he streaks down the ice or rotates down low (or as he makes mistakes). Give him some PP time on the second unit, some limited minutes and keep him away from the top six of Calgary as much as possible.
Steph – Avs in 7 because homerbias
Q1: Goaltending is easily the biggest card in the Avs favor right now. If we HAVE to exclude that, then it comes down to the neutral zone. You can’t let the Flames have free reign to just rush you all game. Neutral zone and zone entries against are key. Offense too–if Colorado decide their plan is to just play chip and chase they’re sunk–but mainly it’s stopping Calgary from exerting their will on the neutral zone.
Q2: JT Compher. This is pure guts, and I’m not expecting him to randomly have a point a game or anything, just to have a major impact a little beyond his normal. Hitting fools. Getting nasty with fools. Killing penalties. JT could have the kind of playoffs that make Avs fans overrate him obnoxiously all summer long. Let’s do it.
Q3: He’ll play, but I expect us to be fairly disappointed in his usage. Even so Makar should be good for at least a gasp-worthy play or two, better gaps than the Avs’ defensive minded defenders, and maybe a point or two. We won’t see him til game 3 at the absolute earliest but I’m excited anyway.
Jackie – Calgary in 6
Q1: For as much as the Flames are lauded for their depth the series advantage will go to the team whose stars show up and specifically on the power play. The Flames are dead last in the league on the man advantage in their last 25 games while the Avs are holding at mid pack over the same time frame. Getting Mikko Rantanen back should be a huge boost and especially on the power play as he’s the team’s leading goal scorer on it. If the Avalanche can grab a lead or make a difference when given the opportunity that will go a long way in pulling the upset. And Philipp Grubauer has to stay hot too.
Q2: The unlikely hero for me isn’t so much a bottom six forward but someone who has the chance to impact the game in a much bigger manner. Like big huge. And that’s Nikita Zadorov. He along with Gabe Landeskog are the only Avalanche players who can set or turn a game’s physical tone. He’s also sneakily scored two goals in eight career games on the Flames and he might just bring that unexpected big goal like he did last year in the series against Nashville.
Q3: Barring anything crazy like a sweep, injury or visa issues I expect to see Cale Makar in an Avalanche sweater by this time next week. The conservative prospect rule book will get thrown out the window and I expect he will play solid third pair minutes with second unit power play time and certain offensive zone draws. The only reason the Avalanche would even use him at all is that they see him as a difference Makar and will treat him as such. He should give the Flames a surprise and a lot to handle but will probably put up modest results. It takes just one big play or goal to make that difference though.
J.D Killian – Avs in 6
Q1: While Goaltending is a key, the Avalanche need scoring from all four lines. If they rely on just Nathan MacKinnon-Gabriel Landeskog-Mikko Rantanen to tally points, they are going to be in trouble. One of the best things to happen with the injuries in March, was the number of players who stepped in to fill the scoring void. Alexander Kerfoot became a beast on the top line. The defensemen moved the puck through the neutral zone to feed the offense. It was what should have been happening earlier in the season and I think it can only help them in the playoffs – assuming they don’t revert back to old habits with Rantanen’s return.
Q2: My top three picks have already been covered – Colin Wilson, J.T. Compher and Nikita Zadorov. In an attempt to not be redundant, it would be awesome to see Samuel Girard kick his game up a notch. He’s already good at taking the puck through the neutral zone, feeding the offense, stealing the puck from opposing forwards. If Girard started scoring, that could be a difference maker.
Q3: Cale Makar should only play if he stays exempt in the expansion draft. If I was Joe Sakic, I would want that in writing from the league office. If that happens, whether he plays should depend on how the Avalanche are doing when he’s available. If they aren’t finding ways to make things work, why not take a flyer and see if he can make a difference? But if the defense is clicking on all cylinders and the pairs are working, let Makar sit. If one pair is struggling and Makar looks good in practice, throw him in. His usage should depend on how the guys who made it to the playoffs are doing. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is, try adding Makar. If they do add him, he would probably be on the third pairing and he could definitely beef up that duo’s offensive potential. He is also extremely good at stealing the puck and moving it through the neutral zone, which could be a difference maker. If the Avalanche are struggling to get goals, he could be the guy to break things open.
Vlad – Avs in 6
Q1: This is going to be a very broad term, but the Avalanche absolutely must control play at even strength. Given the struggles on the power play and with power play chances becoming less frequent in the postseason, success at even strength is essential. This will be challenging to do in a hostile Canadian environment that hasn’t had home ice advantage in the playoffs in many years. Coach Bednar will have to make sure that he gets the matchups that will maximize Colorado’s chances on offense. Getting the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line free from being lined up against Mark Giordano on defense will be critical, but it can’t all fall on the shoulders of the top line to drive the offense. As long as the Avs can keep the Flames guessing at even strength, Colorado ought to have the edge in overall talent to push the series in their favor.
Q2: He was my unsung hero in yesterday’s column, and so I once again will choose Matt Calvert to be that roleplayer that will step up for the Avs this postseason. While a part of me wanted to go with either Colin Wilson or Carl Soderberg, I’m going with Calvert again because he will make life difficult for Flames players matched up against him. He may not be doing things on the scoresheet (but I won’t be upset if he can contribute the odd point along the way), but if Calvert can bring that same hustle that he brought during the regular season, he can help slow down the Flames and force them to outwork him if they want to try to dictate play against him and his linemates. Further, if he can get under the skin of the Flames, any time spent on the power play will be a bonus for the Avs, especially if they have been able to dictate the flow of the game at even strength.
Q3: Cale Makar will not play this postseason for the Avalanche. While it is very tempting to see what our fourth overall pick from 2017 is capable of, throwing Makar into the heat of a playoff race is far from ideal. Yes, he would give Bednar another option on defense. However, a strong showing through two years of playing NCAA hockey is inconsequential when it comes to the demands of NHL playoff hockey. It would be ill-advised for the coaching staff to throw Makar into the pressure cooker of the playoffs with zero experience playing at the NHL level. If, however, he does play, I do not expect him to log many minutes, and he will probably see duties against the Flames’ least dangerous line. His immediate impact will be minimal at best and, given his lack of exposure to NHL talent, negative at worst. It’s not worth the risk to start the clock on Makar’s entry-level contract and risk exposure in the upcoming expansion draft, especially if his usage does not put the Avs into the second round of the postseason.
earl – Avs in 6
Q1: It sounds extremely specific as a key to an entire playoff series but my view is that it’s all going to come down to if the Avs can control play at their own blueline. Breakouts and zone exits have been very inconsistent all year. If Colorado falls into the pattern of constant “cleared but not out” they won’t have a chance. Chip-outs and turnovers at their blueline will hand Calgary exactly what they crave. If the Avs can attack the middle of the ice and gain the neutral zone with speed then they’ll have a big advantage in controlling play. The second part of that is denying Calgary easy zone entries, especially with speed. This is something that outside of Nikita Zadorov no one on the Avs really excels at. Gaudreau loves to cherrypick and get behind the D, that can’t happen. The Flames in general love to counterattack with numbers from the neutral zone. If the Avs can minimize these situations and turn the puck the other way instead they’ll be fine.
Q2: I’m tabbing Matt Nieto for the surprise hero of the series. He had the highest assist-to-goal ratio of any Avs forward at close to 5:1 (no other forward with more than 10 points even made it to 2:1) and it’s not because he’s a gifted setup man. He’s good at turning the puck over and getting it moving forward in transition. This is the #1 way to counter-attack the Flames counter-attack strategy. If forwards like Nieto can create steals and catch Calgary overcomitting then the Avs can pour in the points on the rush. If Nieto can get to 4+ points in this series then Colorado will move on easily.
Q3: We’ve been waiting nearly 2 years to see Cale Makar in an Avs uniform and the time is drawing near. Logistically it’s nearly impossible for him to make it for game 2 but game 4 should be easy. I’m hoping he debuts on Monday for the Avs first home game. The only scenario where the Avs should think twice is if they get blown out 3 straight before he puts on the burgundy and blue.
I’ve caught quite a few UMass games over the past 2 years and there’s no doubt in my mind anymore that Makar can noticeably effect the Avs positively. I think he would start out as a 6th or perhaps 7th defenseman with a tendency toward offensive zone situations and some power play time. The recent swap of Big Z and Cole foreshadows this kind of usage, with Cole prepping for the role of veteran minder when the time comes. This isn’t to say that Makar is all offense and no defense, far from it, but it’s going to take a few games for trust to build with the staff and his teammates. If the Avs manage to make a run I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he ends up playing in the 16-20 minute and point per game range. He’s that good.
Thanks again for everyone’s time and thoughts here. Get your snacks and beverages ready and enjoy!