Avalanche Can Still Win 2022-23 Western Conference Crown

With about a month to go until the end of the season on April 14, three of four divisions and one conference are still up for grabs to make for plenty of dramatic tension. The record-chasing Boston Bruins have all but locked up the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, and Presidents’ Trophy, with their magic number for claiming the league’s best regular-season record sitting at 24 points. For everyone else, there is still a lot to play for.

Despite being forced to navigate numerous injuries to key contributors, the Colorado Avalanche are still in contention to win both the Central Division and the Western Conference. Here’s a look at how the defending Stanley Cup champions can accomplish both feats.

Avalanche Have Easy Remaining Schedule

The Avalanche boast a 37-22-6 (80 points) record through 65 games, sitting seven points behind the Dallas Stars in the division race and 10 back of the Vegas Golden Knights for the conference lead. They hold three games in hand on both clubs and face the Stars once more before the end of the season, giving them one final opportunity to make up ground in the division.

Also working in the Avalanche’s favor is their remaining schedule, estimated to be the second-easiest slate in the NHL, according to Tankathon. Nine of Colorado’s final 17 games come against teams ranked 22nd or lower in the standings, including a pair of match-ups against all three of the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Arizona Coyotes.

Cale Makar Colorado Avalanche
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Avalanche started to find their form in January, coincidentally, when they started to get healthy. Since Jan. 12, they have the third-highest points percentage (PTS%) in the league and seventh-highest since Feb. 1. They also own a 59% goals share in all situations over their last 25 games (ranked third) owing to a lethal offense (second in goals per 60 minutes) and consistently stellar performances from Alex Georgiev in the crease (sixth in save percentage).

For what it’s worth, Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic only gives the Avalanche an 18% chance of winning the Central, projecting them to finish with 101.5 points (from ‘NHL 2022-23 Stanley Cup playoff chances and projected standings,’ Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic, 03/15/2023). The Stars have a 70% chance of winning the division with a projected total of 105.6 points, while the Golden Knights are projected to win the Pacific with 106.4 points.

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The Stars and Golden Knights have the upper hand by creating a small cushion with relatively easy schedules down the stretch, but the Avalanche are projected to finish within only a few points of them. An unexpected win or loss here and there and, suddenly, that already slim gap is extremely tight, so don’t count the Avalanche out just yet.

Stars, Golden Knights Also Face Easier Schedules

As I mentioned, Tankathon estimates that the Stars (fifth-easiest) and Golden Knights (16th-easiest) will also face less demanding opponents over the stretch run. The NHL’s end-of-season shift to intra-divisional and intra-conference games will serve each of these hopefuls with a steady diet of the league’s worst teams. Most, if not all, of the basement-dwellers are focused on solidifying higher odds in the 2023 Draft Lottery. With a handful of elite talents on the line, who can blame them for (not) trying?

Don’t ignore the Los Angeles Kings either, with the California club facing the seventh-easiest schedule and only three points back of the Golden Knights (both are even on games played) with a game against Vegas still to be played. The Kings have also won 11 of 15 since the beginning of February, gaining momentum at the most important time of year.

Jason Robertson Dallas Stars
Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

While the Avalanche won’t be able to directly take points off the Golden Knights, the Pacific Division leaders and the Stars are scheduled to play each other on April 8. If either team loses in regulation, it would go a long way in bolstering the Avalanche’s chances of winning the division, conference, or both.

Gabriel Landeskog’s continued absence and the recent injury suffered by Artturi Lehkonen sting, to be sure, but the Avalanche can weather the losses, especially with most of their stars still in tow. Head coach Jared Bednar has never shied away from leaning heavily on his most-trusted workhorses, and that trend shouldn’t end anytime soon.

Central and West Crowns Still Up for Grabs

Although the Avalanche are within striking distance of the Stars and Golden Knights, time is running out for them to make up ground. The remaining games that pit two of the three against each other loom large and could have ramifications on the wider Western Conference playoff seeding.

Making it through the rest of the regular season unscathed is the goal at this point. When it comes to the playoffs, the Avalanche should like their chances against anyone when fully healthy and firing on all cylinders. Considering the team’s abysmal injury luck to date, that shouldn’t be considered a guarantee. Yet, it’s a comforting ray of sunshine to hold onto until the brighter days of mid-April (hopefully) roll around.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, the NHL, and Tankathon.

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