After a tepid start in the series opener, the Avalanche bowled over the Flames in four straight for a chance to be crowned Pacific Division Champs. Their opponent will be our good friends the San Jose Sharks in a reprise of the 2010 Conference Quarterfinals where Colorado picked up victories thanks to a late stunner in game one by Chris Stewart and a 51 save shutout by Craig Anderson in game three that was decided in OT by an own goal from Dan Boyle (credited to ROR).
The basic structure of the lines and pairs changed little during the series but in-game there was plenty of shuffling. JT Compher started on the 3rd line, was demoted to the 4th in game 2 then took Brassard’s spot at 3C once he took ill. Sven sat in the first 2 then entered as 4LW in game 3. Sam Girard was injured in game 2, Ian Cole took his spot on the shutdown pair in game 3 and Cale Makar began his NHL career at 3RD. Joe Cannata was the EBUG in the away games and Pavel Francouz at home. Dom Toninato and AJ Greer got to take warmups in the home games as extra forwards.
Scratch: Graves (All), Barberio (All), Sven (Gm 1&2), Cannata (Gm 1,2,5), Francouz (Gm 3&4), Toninato (Gm 3), Greer (Gm 4)
Injured: Girard (UBI – Gm 3,4,5), Brassard (Sick – Gm 3,4,5), Kamenev (Shoulder – All)
I think it’s pretty telling that shot share was close in the blowouts and dominated by the Avs in the two close games. In the blowouts the Avs were +136/-132 (50.7%) at 5v5 and in the two close games they were +131/-87 (60.1%). Just as a side note, this is part of why I don’t use score adjusted numbers often. I like the idea but the algorithms aren’t sophisticated enough to tell the whole story. What we’re all dying to know now is how much of this was the Avs dictating pace and how much was this on Calgary’s inability to counter. There’s been a lot of praise for what the Avs did in the series and a plenty of blame heaped on the Flames. We won’t find out the balance there until the Avs face their next opponent.
Tale of the tape at 5v5 was +267/-219 and shots in all situations favored the Avs 205-164. Most of the shot metrics fell between 55-60% for Colorado. Shot pace at 5v5 was fairly consistent around 124 per hour through the whole series.
The power play went 5-25 with one goal at 5v3. This was mid-pack in the league for the first round. The PK was 17-22 or 77% but they did have 2 shorthanded goals which makes that look a lot better. Overall special teams were a +7/-5 so surprisingly a positive.
The top 6 forwards at 5v5 were Mack & Landy (tie), Mikko, Kerfoot, Wilson and Soderberg. In all situations it was Mack (23:47), Landy (23:06), Mikko (21:11), Kerf (17:38), Carl (17:17) and Wilson (16:41). Gabriel Bourque was low man at 7:28 and 5:11 at 5v5.
The defensive regime went Barrie, Zadorov, Girard*, Johnson, Cole, Makar* and Nemeth. In all situations it was Barrie (25:06), EJ (21:06), Girard* (20:36), Cole (20:01), Zadorov (19:28), Makar* (17:57) and Nemeth (16:16). Ian Cole’s TOI jumped up by around 3 or 4 minutes after Girard’s injury.
– If we look around for an MVP of the series the obvious choice is Nathan MacKinnon. Thanks to a lot of score effect time his individual stats aren’t dominant but when it mattered he put the team on his back and willed them to victory. His overtime goal in game 2 was the turning point and the sheer volume of dangerous chances he created wore down the Flames defense and goalie Mike Smith. He led by example early and the rest of the team gained confidence from that and followed suit.
– Mikko Rantanen hadn’t played in a few weeks when he stepped on the ice in game one, and looked like it. As the games progressed he gathered strength and ended up leading the team in scoring and the whole league in points per game. Like Mack, he had an heroic OT goal and added a second GWG in the game 5 blowout.
– When Sam Girard was injured towards the end of game 2, familiar feelings of dread came back. He was dominant against Nashville last season and could have made the difference in that series. Ian Cole replaced him on the shutdown pair and along with EJ probably doesn’t get enough credit for his work there. Joe Sakic also deserves a ton of credit for addressing that need in the off-season. After Sam was injured last year the Avs were playing with a top pair of Big Z/ Barrie and a 2nd pair of Nemeth/Barberio. Yikes.
Cole took the spot on the shutdown pair but the Avs had perhaps the ultimate ringer to take Sam’s spot in the lineup. As luck would have it Cale Makar’s season ended just in time to make his NHL debut right when he was needed most. He scored what turned out to be the GWG in game 3 on his 7th NHL shift and assisted on Mikko’s GWG in game 5. His shot metrics were impressive and led the Avs defense in Corsi, xGF% and what have you. Now some people will tell you he was sheltered and had a 70% offensive zone start percentage, which is dumb and not true anyways. Yes, the staff avoided putting him in tough defensive situations but he only started one-sixth of his shifts in the offensive zone if you count like a normal person.
– Tyson Barrie (5A) and Gabe Landeskog (1G/3A) also had a big hand in driving play. Barrie & Zadorov were the de facto top pair and brought a complementary combo of skill and physical play that the Flames couldn’t answer. Landy struggled to finish for a lot of the series but still generated more individual scoring chances than anyone besides Mikko. What you won’t see on the stat sheet is how he did his usual fantastic job facilitating so Mack could do his thing. The narrative is always that the Avs are a one line team but the depth scoring is there if you care to look. Colin Wilson (one huge game & 2G/2A overall), Matt Nieto (2 key SHGs & 2 assists) and JT Compher (2 crucial goals that set up the OTs) all made big contributions when needed.
Preview: San Jose
– Late Tuesday night we found out that our next opponent would be San Jose after a controversial comeback late in game 7 against Vegas. While the Knights would have been a clash of somewhat similar styles, the Sharks present totally different challenges. The first of which is that the Avs have gone the better part of a decade without winning in San Jose. Chalk that up to being random for now and let’s live in the moment.
– The Sharks are very experienced and for the most part aren’t very quick. Their team strategy leans on suppression by possession, which is similar to Calgary in some ways. Their biggest weakness coming into the playoffs was goaltending but that gradually became a strength in the latter games of round one. While they are an experienced team they aren’t very deep and are already dealing with some key injuries.
– Special Teams: The Avs were fairly mediocre relative to the league in round one but they didn’t need to be any better. The Sharks PK got torched by Vegas and their power play was bad other than the 3 goals they scored at the end of game 7. On paper Colorado has a slight advantage here but I wouldn’t say it’s a strength for either team.
– Shot Metrics: The Avs piled on the shots vs Calgary while the Sharks got buried vs Vegas. Both of these are contrary to regular season trends so it should be interesting to see how this plays out.
– Avs Offense vs Sharks Defense: The Avs were second only to the Preds in round one expected goals per hour and that plus their ability to develop rush chances is a good candidate to be the deciding factor in the series. The Sharks defense was weak and Martin Jones goaltending has been suspect all season. The Avs dictate play from strong neutral zone tactics again and they’ll be fine.
– Sharks Offense vs Avs Defense: The Avs defense was buoyed by the aforementioned strong NZ play and ability to recapture the puck and quickly exit the zone in the first round. San Jose’s strength is wearing teams down with long possession shifts. If we see a lot of chipouts and instant reloads by the Sharks it’s going to mean trouble. Philipp Grubauer’s stats vs Calgary were great but he honestly didn’t have a large workload or lots of quality to deal with. If the ice is tilted towards the Colorado end then the staff need to make adjustments quickly.
– Avalanche Personnel Decisions: The Avs played the final 3 games without Sam Girard and Derick Brassard along with a bunch of guys sick or banged up. Word on the street is that everyone should be healthy for Friday night so some decisions have to be made at the bottom of the lineup.
6D vs 7D – this is probably the first question the staff will determine. There isn’t a good case for scratching any of the D that played in round one. Patrik Nemeth was consistently the 6th defenseman and played well. The reason they will consider it is to save wear and tear on the forwards but the 4th line crew played so little it’s not much of a consideration.
The 4th line – Brassard played 3C, ineffectively as usual, in the two games he dressed for. Andrighetto/Jost/Bourque were the 4th liners in the final 3 games. At least one of those four will be scratched and two if they go with the 7D strategy. Pros and cons of scratching each:
Sven: Was scratched for first two games, had the fewest shifts per game when he was in the lineup, didn’t impact the scoresheet despite generally solid play
Bourque: Played fewest minutes per game of all forwards, while he was one of the better forwards on PK the PK wasn’t all that great anyway, no scoring impact
Jost: Played well just not that much, found his way on to the 2nd PP unit, no PK time, no points
Brassard: Experienced, 2nd PP unit, no points, no PK, took 3 penalties in game 2
While I think that Andrighetto’s attitude and skills are a plus he’s probably the easiest guy of the four (plus Nemeth) to scratch. Bourque doesn’t play much but the staff have consistently valued what he brings for the last two months. Brassard is worthless but old-school mentality has a way of keeping a guy like him in the lineup regardless of how much he drags the team down. Jost shouldn’t even be in this conversation but I don’t think he’s 100% safe either.
It’s going to come down to how the staff perceive the benefits from scratching one out of Nemeth, Bourque, Brass and Jost. The easy call for me is Brassard with Bourque a near 2nd but I doubt it plays out like that.
– I think we’ll find out pretty quick how this series is going to go. I don’t think it’s going to go all the way to 7 games, probably 5 one way or the other (watch, it’ll definitely go 7 now). One nice thing about defeating the best team in the division right off the bat is there’s nowhere to go but down. Jared Bednar had a very solid game plan against Calgary and preparing for playoff series is something he’s done very well at all levels.
The keys to the series for me, beyond the obvious like getting solid goaltending, being able to score goals and avoiding injuries, go like this:
- Need to be able to break the Sharks cycle game, capture the puck and exit the zone quickly with possession.
- Exploit San Jose’s weak team speed and defensive zone play
- Get Mack and Mikko rolling
- Break the Shark Tank curse
I like the Avs chances here so I’ll pick them in 5.
Burgundy Narrative Metric
– “Best guys being your best guys” gets a (+) Yesss
– Quality vs Quantity gets a (+) quality was just ok but quantity was overwhelming
– Power Play Watchability gets a (-) inconsistent and generally weak
– The Dreaded Turtle gets a (+) Even with the blowouts there wasn’t much sitting back
– Starting Goalie Battle% gets a (+) Grubi’s got another level like we saw down the stretch but the fact that he got it done without tapping into that yet is very encouraging
– Referee Oppression Index gets a (+) All it took was a few glances at the 7 other round one matchups to gain appreciation for the officiating in the Avs series. The most controversial call was Sam Bennett’s goalie interference resulting in a goal being waved off in game 5, and that went our way. We can only hope this trend continues.
The Avs begin the Divisional Finals in San Jose Tonight at 10pm ET/8pm MT
Thanks as always to the NHL and Natural Stat Trick for numbers and visuals