Upon the Colorado Avalanche's heartbreaking loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, the margin for error couldn’t be slimmer in regards to the Av’s playoff hopes. They managed to walk away with a point, which certainly helps, putting them at 93 on the season, however it may not be enough.
A win last night would’ve propelled them above the Ducks into the first wildcard, instead of settling for the second with a hot St. Louis Blues team a mere point behind with a game-in-hand. To make the playoffs, the Avalanche will need both to win games as well as have one of these three teams do poorly: the Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Blues.
All three of these teams neither have a spot clinched nor a large point advantage, as there is only a three-point range between Anaheim and St. Louis, the upper and lower teams of the group.
What makes things interesting is how much control Colorado has over its own destiny; they face both Los Angeles and St. Louis in two of their three remaining games. If they lose to either one of these teams their chances to make the playoffs fall precipitously.
However, if they get things done, the hockey world could very well see the Avalanche play either the Vegas Golden Knights or the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After the worst season by an NHL team in recent memory, a sight like that would be quite beautiful and one of the best turnarounds by a team in all of sports history.
To accomplish this feat, the Colorado Avalanche need to do several things right. These are areas that have been problematic for the team all season, and if they begin to iron them out, fans of the team will see them play some extra games.
Play some defense
This is probably the least likely to occur, as the Avalanche really have few in-house options at this point. The trade deadline has long past, and there are no call-ups from the AHL that could really make a difference in this area. Out of the eight defensemen currently on the roster (and not injured), really only three of them are legitimate NHL defenders: Nikita Zadorov, Tyson Barrie, and Samuel Girard.
The latter two are the smaller, more offensively-minded defenders. Neither one of them are horrific on defense, as some claim, but they more fall more into the category of being decent in their own zone.
That leaves Zadorov, who is good but not great. Other than these three, the Avs are left with Patrik Nemeth, Anton Lindholm, Mark Alt, Duncan Siemens, and David Warsofksy. All of them could easily be in the AHL, in fact, two of them are AHL regulars.
This is where the loss of Erik Johnson really hurts the team. He was the undisputed leader of the blueline, is seventh in the league in time on ice per game. Johnson wears an alternate captain patch, brings physicality and size, as well as being a stalwart on the penalty kill.
With him, the Avs are a bad defensive team, without him, their defense is a sieve. Again there are only three real NHL'ers on the blueline, two not known for their shutdown play in their own zone.
This all means that Jared Bednar is going to have to coach-up his team, or the forwards are going to have to step up in a significant way. The good news is that the team’s offense is quite young and can certainly learn.
At the least, they can hold the puck in the offensive zone so as not to regularly expose the shoddy defense. The Avalanche have proven themselves up to this at times, let’s see if they can at the most crucial time of the year. This leads us to the next point.
Get that top line going
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog have been the drivers of the offense all year, each having 94, 82, and 59 points respectively. Outside of them (and Tyson Barrie) there hasn’t been much at all. Meaning that the Avs MUST have them clicking at all times.
If they struggle the Avalanche will lose games, no question about it. In their last six games, each player has scored only three points each. That will not cut it, especially on such a top-heavy team.
It is definitely true that these players are the defensive focus of the other team, yet they’ve managed to deal with that all year with incredible success. They need to regain their scoring touch... and fast. They certainly have the talent.
The top-line putting up points is certainly crucial, but it is unrealistic to expect them to put up three goals or more every night. Meaning someone else needs to step up. Or a lot of someones.
Fortunately, given the earlier mentioned young forward group, this is feasible. This has been a reality all year, and it would be nice to see this change.
As the team sits, Colorado has essentially two legitimate lines; the undisputed number-one line of Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen, and the checking line of Nieto-Soderberg-Comeau. The former has gained quite a bit of attention, and rightly so, but the latter line is very underrated and under-recognized.
They fit perfectly in the third-line role, and score at a decent clip, with 24, 35, and 32 points respectively. That works quite well for the team, especially factoring in their defensive and penalty kill contributions.
This leaves the team with a mish-mash of remaining players that are regularly bouncing around from the second and fourth lines. Between Kerfoot, Jost, Andrighetto, Compher, Bourque, Yakupov, Wilson, Toninato, and Kamenev, none have accumulated many points outside of Kerfoot, as well as shown any remarkable chemistry.
However the hope does come from, again... the overall youth of the group as well as the high potential, especially with Kerfoot, Jost, Compher, and Kamenev. Jared Bednar has recently put Kerfoot, Jost, and Andrighetto on a line together, which is beginning to find success.
If this line can keep this up, Avalanche fans can breathe a bit more if the top line doesn’t perform. If Tyson Jost especially can tap into his potential more, which he is beginning to do especially after the two-goal performance against the Anaheim Ducks yesterday, Colorado is likely to see a massive boost in the likelihood of victory.
This may be a tall order for the young team, but it is one they have in them. It is unlikely for them to solve their defensive issues, at least this season. The offensive demands are doable though and given that this is their strength they absolutely need to rediscover if they want to play extra hockey.
Keep in mind though that even if the Colorado Avalanche miss the playoffs, the season was a fantastic success.
Will the Colorado Avalanche make the playoffs? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.