Getting to know the Western Conference Playoff Teams: The Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
1 month ago
If the Edmonton Oilers wish to win the Stanley Cup, facing the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in three years may be unavoidable.
Unlike the Dallas Stars, who we looked at in the last article of the series, the Avalanche are led by a handful of superstars and good depth pieces. The Avalanche are the highest-scoring team in the league, as their 285 goals clear the Stars, while they sit around the middle-of-the-pack in goals against. Their 102 points rank them second in the Central Division, just three behind the Stars for the lead.
Let’s take a look at their offence, defence, and goaltending…
Nathan MacKinnon’s Hart Trophy season and the rest of the offence
The three players bidding for the Art Ross trophy are likely going to be the finalists for the Hart Trophy. It’s not a stretch to say Nathan MacKinnon currently has the leg up on Nikita Kucherov and Connor McDavid, although in the case of the Oilers’ captain, it could be voter fatigue.
This season, MacKinnon has 48 goals and 130 points, which is good for second in the league behind Kucherov’s 133 points and four points ahead of McDavid. The 28-year-old has already surpassed his career-high by 29 points with six games still remaining.
Mikko Rantanen also has a 100-point season, as he has 40 goals and 101 points in 76 games. He’s just four points away from matching a career-high, but 15 goals away from matching his highest goal total he had set in the 2022-23 season. Either way, the winger is a dangerous player.
While their superstar forwards end at that point, the Avalanche still have some impact forwards. Jonathan Drouin is having a bounce-back season with MacKinnon (his Halifax Moosehead teammate), as he has 17 goals and 51 points. He is playing alongside MacKinnon and Rantanen on the top line.
Valeri Nichushkin has spent some time away from the team and has 26 goals and 50 points in the 48 games he’s played with the Avalanche. While he was day-to-day for a bit, he is set to return to action against the Oilers on Friday.
Colorado traded Bowen Byram to the Buffalo Sabres and acquired Casey Mittelstadt to fill in their second line centre need. With the Avalanche, Mittelstadt has four goals and eight points in 12 games. Alongside Mittelstadt are recently-acquired Brandon Duhaime and Artturi Lehkonen.
Their third line consists of Ross Colton (15 goals, 36 points) at centre, with veteran Zach Parise (four goals, nine points in 24 games) on the right and Miles Wood (nine goals, 24 points) on the left. Parise is a few months from turning 40, but still scored 21 goals and 35 points in a full season with the New York Islanders last season.
The Avalanche’s fourth line is centred by Chris Wagner, with former Oiler Andrew Cogliano on the left and Joel Kiviranta on the right. Of the three, Cogliano leads the way with six goals and 19 points, but just like the Oilers, depth scoring is an issue.
Captain Gabriel Landeskog hasn’t played since the 2022 playoffs and Yakov Trenin is listed as day-to-day.
Cale Makar spearheads a strong defence core
In 2021-22, right-shot defenceman Cale Makar won his first Norris Trophy, which will be the first of many. This season, he has 19 goals and 82 points, just four points shy of matching the 86 he had in his Norris Trophy season, but he’ll come nowhere close to the 28 goals he scored that season.
Still, he ranks second in defencemen points behind Quinn Hughes’ 86 points, while Makar’s 19 goals rank tied for second with MacKenzie Weegar and behind Roman Josi’s 20 goals. His defence partner is Devon Toews, who has 12 goals and 46 points and will likely hit the 50-point plateau for the third-straight season.
On their second pairing, they have Samuel Girard on the left side, who has three goals and 18 points. On his right is Josh Manson, the son of former Oiler player and assistant coach. The younger Manson has seven goals and 23 points this season.
The Avalanche were able to trade from their surplus of left-shot defenceman by moving Bowen Byram, who was playing on his off-side all season To replace him, they went out and traded for Sean Walker, who has three goals and five points in 12 games with the Avalanche. He plays beside veteran Jack Johnson, who has three goals and 16 points this season.
Alexandar Georgiev’s struggles between the pipes
Last season, Alexandar Georgiev had a fantastic season for the Avalanche when he posted a .919 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average in 62 games. Moreover, he had a 40-16-6 record between the pipes and led the league in wins. Surprisingly, the first Bulgarian-born player only finished seventh in Vezina Trophy voting.
Unsurprisingly, he will not receive Vezina votes this season as he has a .901 save percentage and a 2.84 goals-against average in 58 games played. While the team is still winning with him in net (37-15-4), he’s facing fewer shots and allowing more goals.
Their backup, Justus Annunen, recently signed a two-year contract extension and is looking like the netminder of the future. This season in limited action, Annunen has a .931 save percentage and a 2.24 goals-against average in 12 games, where the Avalanche have a 7-4-1 record.
It’s likely they’ll start Georgiev throughout the playoffs.
Wrapping up
The Avalanche won the first game in the season series, defeating the Oilers 3-2 in overtime thanks to a last-second goal. In addition to Friday’s game, they’ll have another meeting in Denver on April 18, which will be the final game for both teams.
Both teams are constructed similarly, they have one of the best players in the league (McDavid and MacKinnon), with a superstar sidekick (Leon Draisaitl and Rantanen), as well as a Norris-calibre defender (Evan Bouchard and Makar, with the latter being better).
With that being said, the Oilers have more forward depth with Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but the Avalanche have a better defensive core. If these two teams meet in the playoffs, expect a high-scoring series.
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