The opening Round-Robin series for the Colorado Avalanche can be more of a proving ground than initially advertised, it’s all in how you watch the game.
After the completion of the July 29th exhibition against Minnesota, the Colorado Avalanche have completed their last hurdle in the return-to-play checklist. The sights and sounds of the on-ice return of the Burgandy and Blue were thrilling even in a game with no bearing on the upcoming playoffs.
Some have even argued the significance of the first-round series for the Avalanche because the wins and losses translate into seeding order not elimination from the playoffs. As many fans and talking heads approach this series as an extension to the exhibition games I quote the great philosopher Lee Corso “Not so fast my friend!”
The Colorado Avalanche open their Round-Robin series against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on August 2nd. At the pause of the 2019-2020 season, the two teams were separated by just two points in the standings after splitting their season series at two games apiece.
In this round-robin series, the Avs have the chance to assert themselves as a cup contending team by handing them an early loss in this seeding tournament, pushing them closer to a second-round draw with the high powered Edmonton Oilers. This game will hinge heavily on which offense can get started first because when these two teams matched up in-season, the winner of the matchup had more than 3 goals. Both teams rank in the top 5 in the league of “wins after scoring 3 goals” with Colorado coming in at .692 and St. Louis with a .640 so the defense will also play a part in slowing the other from reaching that threshold.
The key factor that will determine the outcome of this game is simply this: Power Play. The Blues have the number 4 ranked power play in the league and the 19th ranked penalty kill, the Avs adversely have the 17th ranked power play and the 9th ranked penalty kill showing that these two emotional teams can easily put themselves in an early bind. If the exhibition games proved anything going forward, the Avalanche need to swing emotion and momentum early their way because if things get chippy it can be a tall hill to climb.
The Colorado Avalanche match up next with their regular season kryptonite the Dallas Stars on August 5th. The Stars made it a habit of slowing the Avalanche offense to a crawl and taking them out of their element. The Stars finished the ’19-’20 season with a 6 game losing streak, while also suffering back to back shut outs to Nashville who again shut them out in their exhibition game.
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They open the Round-Robin against the very physical Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas would be looking at just surviving the game to make it to a more familiar foe in Colorado. The Avalanche will be looking at Dallas for the first time since January, however, these Avs will be sporting a healthy roster with a few new faces. In contrast to the Blues matchup, this game is where we will focus on defense and goalie performance and how they can close the gaps on the offensive attack.
Cale Makar, Ryan Graves, and Samuel Girard have evolved their play in getting a quick transition back into the offensive attack, and winning the puck in the defensive zone will be crucial. The one advantage the Stars will carry into the game with the Avs is their ability to win faceoffs with the 5th best average in the league at 51.8% while the Avs come in at 19th with a 49.6%.
Then to end the Round-Robin series on August 8th, the Colorado Avalanche will face the Vegas Golden Knights. Out of all of the opponents in this opening series, the Avalanche have had the most in-season success against the Golden Knights winning both of their matchups. In both regular-season games former Golden Knight, Pierre-Edward Bellemare tallied a total of 3 goals in 2 games against his former team.
The Golden Knights play a strong physical game however rank 18th in the league in penalties, providing the Avalanche one last physical test before they get reseeded for the first round of the playoffs. After the pandemic imposed a 5-month break in the action, this will be a true test of physical fitness and durability for the remainder of the grueling playoff schedule.
The thing to watch in this series will be the body language of the Avalanche, Nate MacKinnon is notorious for wearing his heart on his sleeve and how he reacts during this game can lend insight on the psyche of the team as a whole. This matchup will come after matchups with the defending champion Blues, an in-season Achilles heel in the Stars, and then a heavyweight presence in the Golden Knights and how the team perceives itself will become visually apparent around the end of this game.
The opening Round-Robin series for the Colorado Avalanche can be more of a proving ground than initially advertised, it’s all in how you watch the game. The top seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs doesn’t automatically qualify you for an easier road to the finals, but this opening Round-Robin against the best in the west can prepare us for the trip.
Don’t be so quick to write off the importance of this series, because if you look at the game within the game you can gain a better understanding of where we are heading. This is the moment we have all been waiting for, Hockey is finally back, the Cup is on the line and its time for the Avalanche to learn where their place will be in history.