While it won’t be set in stone for a little while yet, the Flames are on a collision course with the Colorado Avalanche in round one of the playoffs. Sure, there’s a chance Calgary could also see Arizona or Minnesota in the first round, but it’s most likely they’ll be hosting the Avalanche in less than two weeks. For a variety of reasons, that’s the best case scenario for the Flames.
Oct. 13, 2018: Calgary 3 at Colorado 2 (OT)
Nov. 1, 2018: Colorado 5 vs. Calgary 6
Jan. 9, 2019: Colorado 3 vs. Calgary 5
Calgary’s work in three regular season games against Colorado is encouraging. In sweeping the season series, the Flames significantly outplayed their opponent for the vast majority. Calgary was clearly the better team in the first two meetings, while the Avalanche were far more competitive in the final game. The aggregate totals below (courtesy Natural Stat Trick) show a decided edge for the Flames, based largely on the first two games.
One of the big reasons Calgary was able to go three for three was how they dealt with Colorado’s top line. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog have straight up thrashed teams at different times this year, but at least in terms of counting numbers, were fairly pedestrian against the Flames.
Knowing how the Avalanche stack up beyond that top line, seeing them combine for just nine points in three games is a promising trend. We’ll touch on Colorado’s depth a little later, but the Flames are set up well to handle teams of the more top heavy variety.
Scouting the opposition
The Avs’ spot in the standings is probably right where it should be knowing how they’ve played this season. They don’t do anything spectacular at five-on-five, while their penalty kill has been near the bottom of the league most of the season. Not surprisingly, Colorado’s powerplay is a top 10 unit; when you can roll out the forward talent they have along with Tyson Barrie on the back, goals are going to follow.
Calgary has a few advantages they should be able to exploit in a seven-game series. The Flames are a top five possession team (54.0%), which gives them a clear edge. Additionally, Calgary creates five-on-five high danger chances at a top 10 rate (11.4 per 60, 10th), while the Avalanche are a bottom third team on the other side.
The depth issue
To have an elite top line like Colorado does is never a bad thing. Beyond that trio, though, the Avalanche have struggled to get consistent offence from the rest of the depth chart. A look at the team’s top scoring forwards shows a steep and steady drop once you get past their top three.
Colorado forwards have combined for 209 goals this season with almost half (49.3%) coming from MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog. That’s not a lot of pop beyond three players, which makes the Avalanche a little easier to match up against from Calgary’s perspective.
The Flames boast an elite shutdown line of Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik, which is tailor-made for a head-to-head with MacKinnon. Calgary would be able to get that matchup far more often than not on home ice, while still getting it some of the time on the road.
In those circumstances, and assuming Colorado opts to put their top trio together when everyone is healthy, the Flames would have the ability to roll their top line against lesser opposition. Especially at home, the trio of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Lindholm could see a good chunk of Tyson Jost, which is a matchup you’d expect them to get the better of.
On the road, I’m curious to see if the Avalanche would go with Soderberg, their top shutdown centre, against the Monahan line, or opt to go power vs. power with MacKinnon. Nonetheless, Calgary has two lines really going right now, and if the top line gets their act together, I can see Colorado having a lot of trouble handling trios centred by Backlund and Derek Ryan game after game.
This was an area I was not confident in for the Avalanche a little while ago. More recently, though, things have come around between the pipes in Colorado, and I don’t see a decided edge for either team.
|Semyon Varlamov||19-18-9||0.910||0.918||David Rittich||26-8-5||0.911||0.924|
|Philipp Grubauer||17-9-4||0.916||0.926||Mike Smith||22-15-2||0.900||0.909|
While the conversation rages on about who should start Game 1 for the Flames, it seems like things are starting to settle in for the Avs. Grubauer has been dynamite over the last few months and has gradually started to take more playing time from Varlamov; Grubauer has a 10-4 edge in starts in March, for instance. When you take a look at his numbers during that stretch you can see why.
For a second straight season, it looks like Grubauer has a chance to take a night one playoff start away from an incumbent. He did it last year with Braden Holtby in Washington before taking a backseat after a pair of games. This time around, it looks like Grubauer is going to be the guy over Varlamov if Colorado gets in, at least to start.