Playing in their fourth game off a seven-game hiatus, the Colorado Avalanche faced their toughest matchup in the top-seeded Vegas Golden Knights. The Avs may have already clinched a playoff berth, but they still have their sights set on that highly sought-after top seed in the West, as nine games remain in the season. Unfortunately, the Avs inched further away from that spot in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Golden Knights.
Here are three takeaways from the Avs’ loss.
Avs Have Depth, Yet Lacked Too Many Key Pieces
Time and time again, the talk of the Avs’ success this season has revolved around the team’s great depth behind a star-studded front. But as the last three games have shown, even a team like the Avs can only go so far without several key big names. Many of the player absences this time were due to COVID protocols. These players include defenseman Jacob MacDonald and Bowen Byram, forwards Brandon Saad, Matt Calvert, and Logan O’Connor, but most importantly, forward Mikko Rantanen and netminder Philipp Grubauer.
The last two names are the two any team would dread to be without in a season like this. Rantanen currently sits at third in the league with 26 goals scored. The team’s attack was unable able to get anything past the net against a formidable Golden Knights defense. Meanwhile, Grubauer is having a career season, carrying the team as one of the top goaltenders in the league. Goaltending depth is the Avalanche’s major area of need.
Defense Continues to Score for Team
One of the things that make this team unique is their ability to get scoring from their defensemen. Their defensive unit will make the Avalanche that much more of a threat in the postseason, given their ability to create chances from various points and distances on the ice. Wednesday’s scoring confirmed this, as both of the team’s goals came from defensemen. The first was by Devon Toews, who has formed a remarkable duo with Cale Makar on the top blue line pairing.
The second came on a shot up high in the second period by Ryan Graves on a pass from MacKinnon. This extended MacKinnon’s point streak to 15 games, the longest of any player this season. If their defense can keep scoring like this when the Avalanche have their full roster back, they should continue to be a nightmare in any opponent’s zone.
Does the Team Still Have a Chance at the Top Seed in the West?
With nine games remaining, the Avalanche are six games behind the Golden Knights for that top seed in the West Division. How important is that top seed? Well, with three of the four teams in the playoffs, it’s pretty clear who the Avalanche’s opponents might be. If they stand as the second seed or drop down to the third seed, they will likely face the Minnesota Wild. If they get the one seed, however, their first opponent is still up in the air. The St. Louis Blues, Arizona Coyotes, and San Jose Sharks are all still contenders for that last playoff spot. The Avs are an identical 6-2 against the Wild and Blues, though they have seen some of their more dominant performances this season in the games against the Coyotes. Either way, they should be favored in their first-round matchup.
But the Avalanche will need some help from the Golden Knights if they are to get that top seed. The Golden Knights are showing no signs of letting up as they are currently riding a 10-game winning streak. The Avs only play the Golden Knights one more time in the regular season but should be every bit prepared for a competitive second-round matchup with them in the playoffs. This will require the Avalanche to figure out a way to utilize their speed past Vegas’ elusive defense and netminders.
Ben Rossi covers the Colorado Avalanche for THW. He can also be found writing and co-hosting the Exit Velo Podcast for the website BackSportsPage. For BackSportsPage he covers hockey, the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball news, and other sports stories that stretch beyond the playing field. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Denver where he covered the Denver Pioneers college hockey program as an undergraduate staff writer for the DU Clarion.