The Colorado Avalanche are entering an important stretch of games during which they can show what kind of team they truly are.
The Colorado Avalanche have 33 more regular season games to play over the next nine weeks. Right now, their record is 28-15-6. They’re solidly in the second seed of the Central Division, eight points behind the Blues with two games in hand. They’re two points ahead of the Stars with the same games played.
What all that means, Avs fans, is that it’s crunch time. As former coach Patrick Roy famously said, it’s time to put their b*lls on the table.
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Seem a little early for that, especially for a team that’s solidly in the playoff picture? Actually, the amount of remaining games and the playoff picture are exactly why the Colorado Avalanche need to show their mettle. Because they still have time to screw up and drop to a wild card spot.
Both the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks are only eight points back, though they’ve both played two more games. Still, eight points isn’t that great of a buffer to see the Avs drop to a wild card berth — or even out of the playoffs altogether. One bad stretch is all it would take.
And the Avs have had bad stretches before. We’re hoping that the slump they suffered from mid-December to mid-January is truly over. Unfortunately, an excessively long All Star break/bye week has put a pause on the momentum they gained from three straight home wins.
The Avalanche absolutely have it in them to dominate the next two+ months. They are a well-constructed team that’s healthy — the only player on injured reserve is Colin Wilson.
What’s more, their superstar, Nathan MacKinnon, is showing a level of consistency that’s akin to greatness. Likewise, their stud rookie, Cale Makar, really is a stud. He’s a Calder Trophy favorite even as a defenseman.
For some Avs fans — and a certain Avs goalie — the defense has been a cause for concern. Colorado runs a five-man system, which means all five skaters must be committed to defense. That’s a tough ask for a run-and-gun team.
The defensive corps itself is pretty solid. They have a good mix of two-way, shutdown, and offensive defensemen. They also have a good mix of youth and veterans.
A bigger cause for concern is the goal tending tandem. Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz both have at times shown dominance. They’ve also been barely league-average at times. I think we have a big question in whether that’s the goalie tandem that can take the Avs on a deep playoff run.
The special teams have also been streaky. Currently the Colorado Avalanche are #22 in the NHL for power play with a 18.6% conversion. That’s not good enough, and also very puzzling for such a high-scoring team — their goal differential is +36, which is #2 in the entire NHL.
The Avs are pretty much in a similar situation for the penalty kill. They’re #20 in the NHL with a kill rate of 79%. We really need to see better there, too. Many Avs fans have opined that special teams coaching is a problem. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
Despite not being perfect — and what team is perfect? — the Avalanche still have the pieces in place to keep challenging for top of the Central, or at least home ice in the playoffs. It’s all going to rely on their dedication to playing a full 60 minutes.
The major problem this season is letting opponents off the ropes. That funk they were in for a month saw them time and again give up third period leads. To be a dominant team, you must put teams away when you’re leading in the third.
That’s what I, personally, am going to be watching for as we head down this next stretch of games. When the Colorado Avalanche grab a lead early, or at any point, will they hold onto it?
That’s the “killer instinct” question for the final weeks of the regular season.