Avalanche Preview: Barrie vs Karlsson


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The Colorado Avalanche are meeting the Ottawa Senators in the Canadian Tire Centre for the third game of their four-game road trip. The Avalanche are coming off of a disheartening overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs after recording their first win against the Boston Bruins.

The most intriguing storyline for this inter-conference match is the tale of two offensive defensemen. Head coach Patrick Roy called rover Tyson Barrie Colorado’s “best offensive defenseman” last season. However, this season Barrie has managed only a point in four games — though he’s had a lot of pep in his step and has 11 shots on goal.

On the other side is newly-named captain Erik Karlsson. Interestingly, he also has 11 shots on goal, in just three games, though. He has a goal and an assist for two points. Karlsson is renowned for being an elite offensive defenseman, a player about whom, as a rookie, legend Bobby Orr said:

"“You got a guy who can skate like that, let him go, for God’s sakes. That’s how he is most effective. I can’t imagine young Erik playing any other way.”"

Spoiler alert — Barrie is no Karlsson. But then, no one expects him to be — Karlsson is the cornerstone of the entire team, while Barrie is one of several nucleus players in Colorado. However, that doesn’t mean that Barrie can’t turn his eye Karlsson-bound, especially when the two are on the ice.

#1: Karlsson is Speedy

Probably wonder kid Nate MacKinnon is faster than Karlsson. Star center Matt Duchene? Maybe. Cornerstone defenseman Erik Johnson? If so, only because he has a longer stride. However, what makes Karlsson dangerous is he darts.

It’s not so much that Karlsson is explosive. In fact, he’s something like Duchene in that his legs start cycling, and the next thing you know, he shoots down the ice. Also, he can be at a dead stop, perform a little wiggle and somehow end up halfway across the width of the ice. True story — watch him do it to Jarkko Immonen (#26) in the Olympic game Sweden vs. Finland:

To be fair, Barrie has come back from the overlong summer not only completely recovered from his Cooke-induced knee injury, but in prime shape. (Interestingly, Karlsson is also a Matt Cooke victim.) Barrie might try copying that wiggle move, though.

#2: Karlsson is Scrappy

The Colorado Avalanche have to contain Erik Karlsson. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Karlsson is not a big man — he’s 5-foot11, 180 pounds. Yet he’s not afraid of the physical play associated with the game. According to Sporting Charts, in the 2013-14 season, Karlsson blocked 101 shots and delivered 122 hits. In fact, I first took notice of Karlsson in the Olympics because he delivered a hard body check to veteran Jaromir Jagr — most youngsters check their check, so to speak, in deference to Jagr’s age. (Jagr got even by immediately skating up ice and scoring, but that’s another story.)

Tyson Barrie is also not large at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds.  However, unlike Karlsson, he plays like a small man. According to Sporting Charts, he blocked only 57 shots last season and delivered 50 hits.

The discrepancy isn’t that large once you look at playing time, though — Karlsson logged a lot more minutes. Per 60 minutes, Karlsson’s blocked shots were 2.7 to Barrie’s 2.9. However, hits were 3.3 to Barrie’s 2.5 per 60. Indeed, Barrie flat-out commented:

"“I’m maybe 5-10, 195 pounds, so I’m not going to go out there and cause too much trouble.”"

He meant that in relation to facing Matt Cooke for the first time since the knee-on-knee hit. (To his credit, he did give Cooke a pretty good shove during the game at the Pepsi Center — to the delight of the crowd.)

It wouldn’t hurt for Barrie to pick up a little on the scrappiness.

#3: Barrie Pinches in More

On the flip side, Barrie has his own skill set. We all know he’s Mr. Clutch. (Which, presumably, is why he was on the ice against Phil “The Pill” Kessel in Toronto.) One reason Barrie’s so good at his clutch play is he pinches in — much more than Karlsson seems to.

Watch Barrie motor down the ice and all the way into the slot to score a go-ahead goal:

My favorite part is his whirligig celly after the goal. The kid’s got grace on skates.

The last time the Colorado Avalanche played in the Canadian Tire Centre, it was embarrassing. Not because they lost — the Avalanche beat the Senators 3-1 — but because of how they won. Colorado looked sluggish — they certainly didn’t bring their A-game. They almost seemed to win because it was their habit to do so, and because the Senators were reeling.

Well, that’s not going to be the case this time. Not only is it opening night in front of an extraordinarily enthusiastic fan base, but the Senators are coming off of two wins on the road. As for the Avs… well, we all know about their struggles at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.

The Avalanche can pull out a win — of course they win. The Minnesota Wild ruined our opening night — why shouldn’t the Avs do so to the Sens? However, if nothing else, perhaps Barrie can note some pointers for being a cornetstone offensive defenseman like Karlsson.