Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Calgary’s most probable playoff matchup is also their best

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.

Season series

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.

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14 10 56.5 35 19

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.

Player GP G A PTS
Gabriel Landeskog 3 1 3 4
Mikko Rantanen 3 1 2 3
Nathan MacKinnon 3 2 0 2

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

CF% Rank HDCF/60 Rank HDCA/60 Rank PP Rank PK Rank
50.0 13th 10.9 16th 11.0 20th 22.5% 7th 78.1% 26th

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.

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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.

Player GP G A PTS
Nathan MacKinnon 78 39 56 95
Mikko Rantanen 74 31 56 87
Gabriel Landeskog 69 33 37 70
Carl Soderberg 78 22 25 47
Alex Kerfoot 74 12 27 39
JT Compher 62 16 16 32
Colin Wilson 61 11 14 25

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.

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Goalie Record SV% EVSV% Goalie Record SV% EVSV
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.

Starts Record SV%
10 7-2-1 0.955

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.

  • niong108

    Statistically, yes this looks to be the best matchup for the Flames. Only condition is to take them serious i.e. no more Brodie`s voluntary turnovers, Lindholm should actually shoot the puck more (he is averaging 1.4 shots on goal in last 10 games…toooo few), Johnny should be more sharp when making plays, no Smith`s risky unnecessary passes, Janko should score some even strength goals, everyone should CRASH the net more often etc… oh boy too many conditions for winning:) still i believe they can win the series in 5 or 6.

  • Rockmorton65

    Unless my math is off, if the Sharks lose tonight, the Flames clinch the West, correct? SJ would be 8 points back with only four games left and Calgary holds the tiebreaker.

    Am I missing anything?

  • Lazarus

    Be a nice little series to get the city amped up and ready for Round 2..
    (Just because I’m looking ahead doesn’t mean the team should)
    I don’t see the Avs beating Calgary with one line and suspect goaltending..can’t see it
    Go Flames

    • His Dudeness

      I really hope the goaltending is suspect. .955 save% for Grub in his last 10 games is a little worrying. I would like to see the Semyon Varlamov from the 3rd period of our second game lol.

  • Jobu

    But how many points did our club get against that line?

    It’s clear that line is strong on offense but how weak on defense?

    Hoping 3M will eat these guys for breakfast. Tkachuks agitation vs MacKinnons temper. Should be another thing in our favor.

    • His Dudeness

      Second line (Backs, Chucky, Fro, Bennett) has 6 goals and 5 assists in 3 games against Colorado. Frolik was out for the first game but Bennett scored. They are a combined +18 vs Colorado this season. Colorado top line is a combined -4. So they have performed exceptionally well so far against Colorado’s top line.

  • 31 Thoughts With Morgan Freeman

    What about Dallas? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Colorado passes them in the 4 remaining games. Colorado is playing hot right now. 7-2-1 in their last ten. If they run the table and Dallas goes .500 in their remaining 4, our first round opponent will be a team that the Flames haven’t beaten in two seasons. I still think Calgary wins the series, but Dallas would be real tough out.

  • The GREAT WW

    Another brilliant WW trade proposal:
    If the Ducks are going full rebuild; should we take Getzlaf off their hands for the last 2 years of his contract ($8m).
    Gives us that 1C for our window.


  • The GREAT WW

    When Rakell scored the Hattie in Edmonton, would it be bad to toss your Oiler jersey along with the hats……it’s not like you are delaying the game or anything…..

    I miss CHIARELLI…..


    • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

      I honestly think Keith Gretzky is as bad as Charielli. He passed on Barzal, Connor and Chabot in Boston who were all seen as good players falling and drafted stiffs from 2006-2012 in Phoenix as Head Scout. In that time in Phoenix only Mikkel Bødker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson would go on to be 300+ Point players for the franchise, but both were really high, hard to miss Top. 8 picks (a broken clock is honestly right twice a day). No one else even came close to hitting 100 Points as an NHLer with him in that tenure, leading he draft for seven years!!!

      I just have a funny feeling Edmonton is going to take off his interim tag, instead of hiring someone five times as talented in Mark Hunter or Kelly McCrimmon.

        • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

          I had this discussion with a couple of friends last week. I’m honestly not certain they would even want it, becuase they basically are stuck with Keith Gretzky breathing down their necks if they take it now, plus Katz is the owner (I know he’s busy in LA trying to pay celebrities to sleep with him, but that can’t go on all day)… Both Hunter and McCrimmon would undoubtably want to hire their guys as Assitant GM, Head Scout, etc and at least one of those would be a default role given to Keith Gretzky.

          • His Dudeness

            You are delusional if you think that Hunter or McCrimmon would not jump at the opportunity. It’s the GM position of an NHL team, with which comes a massive pay raise and the opportunity to prove yourself. Now I really hope they make Gretzky the GM. It would be amazing. The only thing better would be if the rehired mct or Lowe.

    • Harley Hotchkiss’s Ghost

      Colorado would basically have to win three of their final four games and Dallas would have to lose their last three. Colorado’s last four games are against St. Louis, Winnipeg, SJ and Edmonton (this game is actually a second game in two nights and they travel the night before, so it isn’t as easy as it sounds). Dallas has the tie breaker with way more regulation wins. I think we’re going to have the chips fall the right way, *knocks on wood*