After falling just short of the top seed in the Western Conference, the Avalanche are ready to begin Round 1 of the playoffs against the seventh seed Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes defeated the Nashville Predators in the Qualifying Round which marks the first time in eight years they have made the playoffs. There’s no doubt that they will have their hands full this series, with an incredibly deep, skilled and fast Avalanche team.
The Avalanche split the two-game regular-season series versus the Coyotes, with their victory coming in overtime. The Avs are looking to carry over a strong regular-season and round-robin play into the elimination round where the intensity and desperation levels are much higher and the margin for error is much slimmer.
The Coyotes play a hard-nosed style game, reflective of the way head coach Rick Tocchet played in his career and will go head to head with the speed and skill of the Avalanche.
|Regular Season Stats||Colorado||Arizona|
|Power Play Percentage||19.1%||19.2%|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||81.4%||82.7%|
The Avalanche were able to push through injuries all year long and now that everyone is healthy, except Colin Wilson, they have the full depth of their roster ready to contribute. With the power play and penalty kill percentages of both teams virtually a wash, this series may come down to which team’s special teams can get hotter.
Keys to the Series
- Clog the neutral zone – Limit the speed of the Avalanche attack off the rush.
- Strong special teams play – Capitalize on power-play opportunities as often as possible and don’t be afraid to generate offense while shorthanded.
- Strong play from goaltender Darcy Kuemper – He will have to be the team’s best player to shut down a potent Avalanche offense.
- Been there done that – Use the vast veteran presence and playoff experience to keep the youngsters disciplined and focused.
- Depth scoring – Use all four lines and get contributions on offense from your bottom six.
- Defensive zone breakouts – The Coyotes will look to establish a forecheck and the Avs will need clean exits in their own zone to transition to offense.
- Stay Patient – The Avalanche will need to remain calm and not get frustrated if the offense doesn’t come easy.
- Don’t get pushed around – The Coyotes are a physical team and like to take the body, so the Avalanche need to match that physicality.
Battle Between the Pipes
The Coyotes got off to a hot start to begin the regular season but fell off when they lost starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper to injury midway through the year. After failing to maintain a top-three spot in the Pacific Division to close out the year they were forced to play the underdog role against the Predators.
Although Kuemper does not have more than ten career postseason starts, the netminder played a major role in helping his team oust the Preds and has been the Coyotes best player thus far. He has made 39 or more saves in each of the three wins in the Qualifying Round and boasts a 2.77 goals-against average (GAA) and .933 save percentage (SV%) heading into Round 1.
The Avalanche are in a much different position goaltending wise as they have two viable options in goal, Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz. They have used both goalies throughout the season and they have virtually split the season starts evenly between each other. Like Kuemper, both Avs goalies come with limited experience in the postseason. Grubauer was the team’s goaltender during the 2019 postseason and still has only 17 postseason starts while Francouz saw his first postseason start when he pitched a shutout in the second round-robin game.
With the extra experience in playoff situations, Grubauer will likely be the team’s starter come Game 1 after posting a 2.46 GAA and .914 SV% over his last two starts. The good news is should Grubauer struggle early on in the series they have the luxury and confidence in Francouz to step up.
Coyotes Players to Watch
For the Coyotes to have a chance in this series they’re going to need contributions from throughout their lineup. The top line of Taylor Hall, Christian Dvorak, and Phil Kessel carried most of the load, as expected, accounting for a total of 11 points in their opening series.
Kessel has the most playoff experience on this line and will be relied upon largely to generate offense. These players will have to be at the top of their game offensively for the Yotes to have a chance to beat the strong goaltending duo of the Avalanche.
Besides the top line needing to do their part to carry the load offensively, the Coyotes will need significant contributions from the rest of their lineup, especially 2016 seventh overall pick Clayton Keller.
With the top line drawing the matchup against the Avs shut down defensive pair, the Coyotes will need to rely on Keller to be the game-breaking player they paid him to be in this series. He has had one point in each of the four games against the Predators and will be asked to continue that production.
There are a few players that could be labeled as X-Factors in this series for the Coyotes but Michael Grabner sticks out the most among the rest. Grabner has struggled to stay healthy since coming to Arizona but has been a useful asset when in the lineup. The speed Grabner possesses is what makes him so lethal as it allows him to blow by defenders for breakaway opportunities.
His speed is even more dangerous on the penalty kill which he put on display in Game 1 of the Predators series by adding a shorthanded goal in the victory. He had two goals in the Qualifying Round and will look to take advantage of some slower skating Avalanche defensemen too add to those totals.
Avalanche Players to Watch
It’s no secret the Avalanche are loaded with talent up and down their lineup with Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Hart Trophy finalist Nathan Mackinnon leading the way. Not to mention a rookie sensation and Calder Trophy Finalist in Cale Makar on the blue line.
Makar and Mackinnon were ranked number one and two in team scoring in the regular season with 93 and 50 points respectively. Offense is second nature to these players and their creativity and skill level make them extremely dangerous whenever they step foot on the ice.
The Avalanche has a deep lineup which allows them to spread the scoring. With head coach Jared Bednar moving Landeskog to the second line to flank Nazem Kadri to provide a more balanced attack a spot on the top line was up for grabs. After some experimenting in the round-robin games, it seems that Vladislav Namestnikov will take that spot.
The former Ottawa Senator was acquired at the deadline by the Avs to give the team another layer of scoring depth that can move up and down the lineup. He could really seize the opportunity to play alongside Mackinnon and Rantanen.
The big get the last offseason for the Avalanche was trading to acquire Kadri’s services from the Maple Leafs. This added some grit and physicality to the lineup without necessarily sacrificing offensive output.
Slotted as the second-line center Kadri will have every opportunity to prove his worth in the playoffs and will be a key contributor as the net-front presence on the top power-play unit. He is a player who straddles the line of playing on the edge. If he can keep his emotions in check, Kadri will play a key role in the Avs making a deep run.
The first game of this series kicks off on Wednesday at 5:30 pm ET with the Avalanche being the favorites to advance to the next round. The Coyotes have already been battling for survival in the Qualifying Round which could bode well in terms of the team’s intensity and desperation.
The Coyotes will be looking to pull off another upset against a very strong, skilled and well-coached Colorado team. Meanwhile, the Avalanche will be looking to make easy work of the Coyotes in what is predicted to be a deep playoff run for the burgundy and blue.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.