Colorado Avalanche: Focus Turns to Playoffs

DENVER, CO - APRIL 22: Fans of the Colorado Avalanche cheer prior to the game against the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on April 22, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - APRIL 22: Fans of the Colorado Avalanche cheer prior to the game against the Nashville Predators in Game Six of the Western Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Pepsi Center on April 22, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche turn their focus to the playoffs as they make their second consecutive appearance. Here are some thoughts as they prepare to face the Calgary Flames.

The Colorado Avalanche clinched a playoff spot with a game to spare against the Winnipeg Jets. Arguably, the Avalanche had been playing playoff hockey for a while now, staring down a points deficit in early March, coupled with the loss of two of the three best offensive players in their arsenal.

Then in the last 14 games, Colorado made their own luck, posting a 9-3-2 record, taking 20 of a possible 28 points, to clinch a playoff spot.

Secondary scoring showed up to support MacKinnon, which is good to see. Even Colin Wilson got to wave his magic wand and make a fool of Connor McDavid.

Colin Wilson did what?!

But that was only after MacK had reached his personal best of 40 goals for a season. His career high now stands at 41, with 58 assists, for 99 points. I’m sure that three figures will come next year!

MacKinnon’s slick tally

So, turning to business, as we now focus on our first round matchup with the Calgary Flames. Perhaps the first thing to note about this matchup is that the Flames went 3-0-0 against the Avs during the season. However, our boys in Burgundy & Blue avoided the whitewash, by taking one game to overtime and earning one of the 14 lucky loser points that helped us become a playoff team.

All thoughts of the regular season end at the final whistle, though. Everyone starts at zero again.

Another thing to note is that our team is a lot more mature than they were last season. A lot of the members of last season’s team were rookies and had not experienced NHL hockey, let alone NHL Playoff Hockey.

In fact, Avalanche skaters last season had only a total of 142 Playoff games played. And this counts Erik Johnson, who was injured and did not take part in the playoffs. Now, with an additional 93 games played between the remaining players and a few key additions, the team stands at a much more well rounded 392 games. Almost three times as many.

Now, this is why Ian Cole was brought in. I know that I’ve complained about his presence in the lineup during the regular season, but the 62 games of playoff experience he brings should prove invaluable to a defensive corps who has 42 games experience between the remaining seven members.

Similarly, the forward combinations will benefit from having Derick Brassard and his 90 games of playoff experience to add to previous most experienced forward, Colin Wilson (53 games).

In goal, the presence of Philipp Grubbauer’s 4 Playoff games may not seem like much, but his play down the stretch has taken a lot of strain off of Semyon Varlamov’s oft-injured groin. The fact that Varly has 26 games of playoff experience makes this year’s tandem more able to work in the higher pressure atmosphere of the playoffs than Bernier and Hammond last year (7 games between them)

Of course, we all hope that Mikko Rantanen makes his recovery before the end of the season, as I was hoping to see him tune up against the Sharks, before the trip to Calgary.

Our next question is who would you choose for the line combinations?

Well, with the way that he has distinguished himself on MacKinnon’s wing, I would certainly keep Kerfoot alongside MacK. I’m a little wary about keeping the 9296 line together, as putting all of our primary scoring threats on one line would make it easier to shut down. If you can have Mikko and maybe Landy develop a second line, freeing up MacK to make two players around him better (Kerfoot, plus one other), you have a more dynamic setup.

Will’s Proposed Line Combinations:

Compher – MacKinnon – Kerfoot

Landeskog – Brassard – Rantanen

Nieto – Soderberg – Calvert

Agozzino – Wilson – Jost

A couple of observations here – This would mean that Sven Andrighetto gets scratched, and the same goes for Rene Bourque. Neither of whom I think will be sitting for too long, if at all.

After all, Jost is the future of the club, so his playoff experience earned this season would stand him in better stead for next season, right?

The second observation is putting Derick Brassard as the second center, ahead of Soderberg and arguably Wilson. We know that as a Center, Big Ol’ Carl has been our second best all season long. The dependable Swede has even managed to make his presence felt on the second Powerplay unit.

I like the combination of him, Nieto and Calvert, for defensive purposes, mostly. I would rather that the first and second lines are there to score, with the third line for defensive zone faceoffs (it’s your PK unit, right?) and if they can get it to the other end to score, brilliant.

Next, Colin Wilson on the fourth line with Agozzino and Jost. Tyson needs some mentoring, so why not pair him with the daddy of the team in Wilson? Experience can pay dividends, here. I also prefer using one of the best forwards from the Colorado Eagles this season over Andrighetto in a coin toss. Nothing against either guy.

Will’s Defensive Pairings

Girard – Johnson

Barrie – Cole

Zadorov – Nemeth

Wait, weren’t you the guy who said we should bench Cole? Now you’ve got him on the second pairing with Barrie?!

Yes, I am that guy. I also know that playoff hockey is such a different beast and that when the slate is cleaned off, we all start from zero. Penalties get called less during the playoffs, historically, as officials try to let the game flow more. Let him play, let his experience come through.

Ryan Graves is a good healthy scratch here, as if / when injuries happen, he can slot in on the third pairing and push someone further up. His playoff experience will be more useful in years to come.

Will’s Goalie selection

Philipp Grubbauer

Semyon Varlamov

Why Gru? Well, reasons like this spring to mind:

Grubbauer robs Wheeler

More from Stanley Cup Playoffs

And yes, check out the Patrick Roy imitation – he goes back and knocks his blocker on the crossbar, to thank the post for saving his bacon. Just ask Nadia, she will tell you that Patrick Roy used to have conversations with his goal posts during games, to keep them on his side.

Editor’s note: I can confirm this.

Last season, Washington Capitals Coach, Barry Trotz let Grubbauer go out as the starter for the first game against the Blue Jackets, then come in as relief for starter Brayden Holtby in game 2. It didn’t go too well for the young German (8GA in 2GP) but then again, we have skated a lot of games since then and Grubbauer now sports a Stanley Cup Ring.

With Varly as your backup, I think that coach Bednar should do what he’s done all season and stick with the hot glove. Gru has developed as a player this season and after a forgettable start to his tenure in Burgundy & Blue, he has now established himself as Varly’s successor between the pipes.

Our opponents – the Flames.

Now, Calgary is coming into this series having the best record in the West – that’s how the playoffs works. According to’s panel, no-one picked the Avs to best the Flames. I can’t blame them for that – they have a guy who scored 99 points this season. Oh, wait, so do we.

I will admit that Calgary’s scoring depth is deeper than Colorado’s, plus their goalies have a slight edge, even if recent form would suggest otherwise – their save percentages are considerably lower, than the Avs’ goalies. However, one stat does not make a series.

Next. Evaluating the Draft Lottery. dark

Few people not wearing Avalanche colors expect the Avalanche to upset the Flames. And mark my words, it would be quite an upset. That said, we took the longest of any team going out of the first round to be eliminated out west last season. This team is better than they were last year and regardless of whether they win or lose this series, things are getting better in Avs Nation.